FC Buffalo Sets Its Sights on Europe, Hoping To See “NPSL Pro”

FC Buffalo is headed to Germany in Spring 2019 to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. Ten seasons is a long time in lower league US soccer. Most professional teams below Major League Soccer do not make it that long, let alone semi-professional teams.  Even a few MLS teams failed to pass the 10 year mark.

Bold projects like an European tour are typically beyond the reach of clubs living within humble means.  Lower league clubs do not have access to the media rights deals that MLS is included in, so staying afloat that long is often a matter of developing a loyal hardcore support, disciplined gameday execution and careful financial management.  Yet as they celebrate their upcoming tenth season, FC Buffalo is breaking from that norm by becoming the first National Premier Soccer League team to head to continental Europe.*

*UPDATE: An earlier version of this article said FC Buffalo would be the first NPSL team to play across the Atlantic.  The Temecula FC twitter account pointed out that Temecula FC went to England and played Queens Park Rangers.

FC Buffalo will venture to Germany from May 5 -12, 2019.  They already have FC St. Pauli II lined up as an opponent for the trip.   FC St Pauli was interested in playing the team in part due to very active FC St Pauli supporters groups in Buffalo and Toronto.  It also helped that the famous Hamburg club played Detroit City FC earlier this year, so they are familiar with the NPSL. Buffalo are sealing the deal on another match or two on the trip with opponents of similar caliber to FC St. Pauli II

Buffalo remains one of the few “major league” markets without a full season pro soccer team.  We caught up with Nick Mendola, co-owner of FC Buffalo, to talk about their trip to Germany and the potential of the club joining “NPSL Pro” in the future.

1. Congratulations on 10 years.  To what do you credit FC Buffalo’s longevity?

I would start with the supporters.  I know that sounds like PR but it really is true.  We have a small staff, and so their efforts are gargantuan. If you don’t have people who are willing to have your back, you are not going to get anywhere.  The business community has also been big for us. There is a lot of passion for the idea and ambition of the club

2. What is your proudest moment from this 10 year run?

The first game of every season.  When you walk in the door and set things up, and the first couple hundred people come through, you say “Alright, we are doing this again.”  That is what I am most proud of, each year. If you want to pin me down to an individual event, it would be our friendly in the second season in which we beat English club Bedlington Terriers F.C. in front of a near sellout crowd around 3,800 fans.

3. I read that this is the first time an NPSL team is doing a European tour.   We just talked about your longevity… this seems expensive! How are you guys pulling this off?

The Lord Mayor of Dortmund visited Buffalo last year for the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship between our cities, and when I met him I said hopefully one day we can bring our team over.   A few weeks later, our contact Greg with the Buffalo Dortmund Sister Cities Committee called me and said the Lord Mayor’s office was inviting us to bring the team to Germany. We had no idea if we could make it happen, but were hopeful. We looked into all the different ways we could pull it off.  After some analysis, we decided that we can do it. We are doing fundraisers to help support the trip, so we can do even more with the opportunity.

Our goal for the trip is to leave a strong positive impression about Buffalo and the United States in general. In this day and age, where the international perception of Americans is at a relatively low point, we want to go over there and make friends.  We want the people we meet in Germany to feel good about Buffalo and America because we did a good job representing our community.

4. You are going to play FC St. Pauli II, who lined up against Detroit City FC last year.  Can you share which other teams FC Buffalo will be matching up against on this trip?

We have several teams who are interested in playing with us that are at a similar level as FC St. Pauli II.  These teams should present a similar challenge, clubs that have been around for almost 100 years.

Fellow NPSL club Detroit City FC faced St Pauli earlier this year, FC Buffalo will face FC St Pauli II in Germany next May

5. The trip kicks off on May 5, 2019.  Are you going to be using college players primarily or you going with semi-pro/amateurs who are not in college?  

We are going to have players from a wide array of backgrounds.  We have our returning guys, and some of them have graduated college already.  A good deal of them are slated to come with us. The first thing I did was checkout which NCAA Division I and Division II schools to see who might be able to release players for this opportunity. We hope this will be a good recruiting tool for the NPSL season, since the exposure this tour will give the players will be a great experience for them.

6. It was just election night so famous Buffalo native / FC Buffalo fan Wolf Blitzer was all over TV screens across the country.  Is Wolf involved with the team?

Wolf Blitzer is a big local success story in Buffalo. He is the type of guy who has not forgotten where he has come from despite his success, which is part of why he is so highly regarded in Buffalo. His parents ran a market near the soccer supporters bar when he was growing up.  He had us on CNN for an interview once, and is a huge Buffalo sports fan especially the Bills. We are doing a Wolf Blitzer bobblehead doll as a fundraising effort, and he is signing some bobbleheads for us.

7. You are actually the first NPSL team I ever interviewed.  When we spoke last time, getting to the pros one day was on your mind.  As it happens a report published on Front Row Soccer recently linked FC Buffalo with “NPSL Pro” for the 2020 season.  Is this something you guys are looking at and have the investors to support?

It’s not my place to discuss any specific “NPSL Pro” idea but I do think it’s an idea whose time has come.  We know there are some dominoes that need to fall to for us to be able to make the next step, and the existence of something like NPSL Pro would be very attractive to those dominoes.  We have asked to be kept abreast of any developments with an NPSL Pro plan, and we look forward to being a part of the growth of something like it.

8. What else is going on at FC Buffalo that the readers of Midfield Press should know about?

I would encourage everyone to support the local team in their area (and if you don’t have one, then us. Support us).  Every dollar helps, whether it is $5 or $10 for a ticket, or whether you drop $50 on a season ticket. Buying merchandise is great. It means a lot around to all of these community based teams around the country.  Teams like San Francisco City and Minneapolis City have been really helpful and/or inspirational to us. I’ve been waiting to become a member of Minneapolis City myself. Support local soccer, and anyone who covers or publicizes their local clubs.

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