BDSL Manager Interview: SPAL Buffalo FC
Today's interview takes us to D1 side SPAL Buffalo FC and their manager, Matt Greco. We talked about league structure, his sides changing dynamic, and a cool back story about his club. Thanks to Matt for his time.
BDSL: Thanks for agreeing to talk with us Matt! So can you tell us more about the origins of SPAL Buffalo FC and how you have assumed the manager role? I for one am not sure I know what SPAL stands for (if it even does).
SPAL: Happy to be interviewed, look forward to sharing this Q&A with the rest of the league thank you for the opportunity. The origin of the team name is a story dating back to well before I joined the club in 2011 so I had to go through endless chapters of text spending hours and hours reading about our storied existence. Actually, in reality Ankur was a big help and clued me in. SPAL Buffalo FC's original manager was from Ferrara, Italy and supporter of his hometown club Societa Polisportiva Ars'et Labor, Italian professional team currently in Serie B. He adopted the SPAL moniker for the BDSL team. That player ended up in a bad car wreck resulting from seizures he frequently got and unfortunately passed away. To honor him, when Ankur took over around 2009-ish he kept the SPAL name and we continue to this day honoring our origins.
I took over as manager after the 2015 season from Ankur. He is one of the best refs we have in the area and as his schedule became more demanding with higher profile collegiate and professional games he decided that he couldn't commit the time or effort it took to manage the team. I was happy to step into the role and upon taking over the team I wanted to bring a new identity to SPAL. We earned the double in 2013 with division title and Wood Cup champs and then we kind of went stagnant for a few years, too much turnover year after year on the roster, which led to dysfunction with a lot of bickering on and off the field. It honestly got to a point where I didn't look forward to Sunday's in the summer. It became stressful and just not fun anymore and that personally was a tough mindset to have playing a game that has been a huge part of my life for over 20 years. That was my #1 goal as a manager, to purge the players no matter what their talent level was, that detracted from the joys of soccer. I wanted SPAL to be a squad that was competitive and won games but also a roster that carried a true team mentality, players that supported and played for each other no matter what the circumstances were. I believe with last year’s mass turnover by only bringing back 7 players from the 2015 roster we exemplified that message by adding a new core of talented players, starting something that can grow into a special team in the BDSL.
BDSL: Love a good origin story. That's pretty honest assessment of your roster. With your overhaul being a large scale one do you expect that it might time to build success then? Squad may need time to learn to play together and gel one could say. Or have you used your offseason prep at Sahlen's and that to get a jump start in hopes of a quicker transition?
SPAL: Initially that was the thought going into preparations for the 2016 season, that it would take time to build success. The Sahlen's indoor "pre-season" was fully intended to build team chemistry first and foremost. I knew there would be growing pains and trust me there were but to my surprise we were able gel together quicker then I could have ever imagined. I think last winter was one of the best showings ever from SPAL for the 11v11 indoor league not only picking up W's against teams in higher divisions but equally important no matter who we played knowing we could run with and compete with, in many instances, premier teams was a great feeling.
Using that time in indoor to build chemistry I think paid off for the 2016 BDSL season. Having the hardest schedule in the division and playing a majority of the year with a back-up keeper we still only accumulated 2 losses the entire regular season. And, again it’s about getting the right players on this roster. Take for example the Alden game last year when we went down 2-0 early. I feel like SPAL teams of the past would have imploded over the course of the remaining 70 minutes, but we have players now that know bumps in the road occur, goals will be scored against us, mistakes will be made but its how we respond that determines outcomes. We ended up winning that game 5-2. While we didn't achieve our ultimate goal of a title and promotion, for having a brand new roster I still consider what we achieved in 2016 a successful season and with the additions we have made this season I have full confidence we can reach those goals in 2017.
BDSL: Again love the internal recognition here. Sometimes it’s hard to give your own side some tough love and introspect. Clearly your side might be one of the favorites of the divisions with 4 of the 6 playoff teams moving up. Do you consider your side that or would you rather play a more underdog role?
SPAL: That's a great question. I would like to hope we are the favorites based on our record last year but with the league expansion and therefore the increase in divisional teams there is a lot of unknown going into 2017. I think the dynamic of D1 will be interesting this year. You have your high school teams in Pendleton, Crusaders, Tri-Town, & GI that have been playing together for years and bring talented youth players to the league so I wouldn't take them lightly even though they are new to the league. Then you have veteran teams like Tonawanda, Polonia, West Side, etc. that we know will be competitive week in and week out. We would love to play the underdog role hoping teams don't consider us a threat but having the best record in D1 last year of the teams that didn't move up we know that's probably not going to be the case.
BDSL: Do you think that D1 seems to have a lot of changes team wise? Does that keep it fresh and exciting or would rather have more consistency and know what to expect so you can plan better? Or is it somewhere in the middle?
SPAL: I do think D1 has a lot of changes. I know I'm conducting this interview with the President but I am actually against putting new teams in D1 from the outset like the league does. I understand why it occurs because of league parity and skill level assessment but even what was maybe once a more recreational division in D3 now has very good competitive teams like Dutch, Marksman, Bosnia, etc. for example in 2016. Like many other teams throughout the league, we had to earn our way up through the ranks to get to where we are, it wasn't long ago we were in D3. Just my 2 cents but I feel like a team that was relegated the prior year should hold more weight to stay in the division over an unknown team. I believe new teams shouldn't be gifted their position so I would like to see some more consistency on that basis now that the league continues to grow and therefore become more competitive and the skill level continues to rise throughout all the divisions.
BDSL: I agree with a lot of what you say here for sure and can certainly understand these points. Sticking with the new team theme, do you think the amount of new sides has watered down the league? Might be more teams over but its hurt the depth of other sides? Or does this speak more towards the number of quality players in the area and the popularity of soccer and the BDSL?
SPAL: It's 2 fold right. I think the record number of teams this season is a great testament to the local growth of the game. But the admittance of all the new teams does hurt potential depth for veteran teams, a talented youth player can now run with his graduating HS varsity team, which many of the new squads seems to be, instead of branching out. Overall though it's great to see the attention our league is receiving both locally and nationally with the USASA Elite Amateur status, that is nothing but positive.
BDSL: All very valid points. What are your thoughts are returning to the spilt cup system? Where do you rank Tehel Cup success as a team goal?
SPAL: Love it. As previous Wood Cup winners ourselves I think it is great to bring that tournament back. In all honesty and no discredit to talent throughout the league but I can understand how teams in lower divisions may have thought it was a waste to have every team in Tehel as upper division teams are always going to be holding the trophy in the end.
I think in this 2nd year from the complete roster makeover we conducted last year, winning the league and gaining promotion is our main goal, I honestly think it could have happened last year but injuries just got the better of us losing 2 of our top scorers and our starting keeper for our playoff game so we are ready to take the league this year. That being said Tehel Cup success for SPAL is definitely highly ranked as well. I truly feel the new additions to this year’s roster make us able to compete with any team in any division and I look forward to see what kind of run this roster can make. With the parity in talent throughout the league's upper divisions I can only imagine how exciting the entire Tehel cup will be this year.
BDSL: So with all the roster changes for your side has this also made you change your tactics? What sort of of style would you say you guys play now vs how you played in the past?
SPAL: I'm not giving away our tactics to the whole league! No, I think our new additions this year have changed our play style in a minor way. I feel like SPAL teams of the past have played kind of a boot it up and let's see what happens kind of game and fortunately that was successful to a large degree cause we had skilled possession Forwards like a Ryan Conti or Jackson. Also we would get killed in the middle of the pitch getting roasted frequently on counters. Last year I tried to combat those past deficiencies by playing a single striker and 5 mids emphasizing a more possession based style, moving up and down the field as a team. I wont give away much but I will say this years squad allows players to play in their more natural position getting guys like Scotty Barrett from CAM to F and Wes Rider from CDM to CAM have me very excited for the possibilities of this years roster. We have also upped our Defense depth as last year we had no problem scoring goals but we also gave up a lot more then any other team in the top 8 of 1st Division so that was an area we needed to address. Bringing in players like David Gordon an athletic outside back, Mike Dibenedetto, a physical CB and 1st team All-Mons. Mart. player, and Kyle Bork a former Hilbert player who gives us flexibility along the back line and adds a ton of skill and solid play allow us to play the style we are aiming for. There are a couple others I haven't mentioned but up and down this roster there is nothing but talented players who no doubt will make a huge impact for SPAL this year.
BDSL: Is there a team in the league you would say is a role model for other BDSL clubs? Or maybe one you think highly of outside of your own?
SPAL: I would say there are a lot of great clubs throughout the league that are run extremely well, its not easy being a manager with all the time we give up and logistical aspects that are required (payments, jerseys, fields, sponsors, etc.) so props to all the managers out there. One team I always thought highly of is Clarence. Not only do they play a game that's visually appealing but also it seems like they keep a majority of the same players year in and year out. I mean just look at Len not many teams in the league especially a premier team can say they have a 50+ year old guy between the pipes and still have the success they do is a real testament, definitely respect how JJ and those guys run that team and happy to see their Tehel Cup success last year very well deserved.
BDSL: Is there anything you'd like to see changed added or new in the BDSL?
SPAL: MED KITS, GAME BALLS!!!! No in all seriousness while I would like to see those things that's a pretty loaded question. There is so much that goes into running the league that there can be a point/counter-point to everything right? With the popularity of the league, if teams continue to be added I would like to see another division created, but that means a more robust schedule, more fields, more refs needed, etc. so is that really feasible? Also not sure if there is an age limit but I would like to see that put in place. Perhaps needing to be at least 19 to play or maybe each team being allowed 3 roster spots for youth players as some sort of reserve team that can be called upon if the team needs players any particular week. Just free-wheelin' ideas but I just think that high school kids still have avenues to play whether it be travel, club, youth premier if they're forming BDSL teams might be taking away a potential spot from teams/players out of school looking to get into the league. 70+ teams, 1,500+ players I cant imagine conducting a season to be an easy task for the board let alone getting changes implemented so kudos to all you guys do.
Thanks for the interview Mike. Best of luck to all the teams this season.