BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — There’s a lot that’s new within and surrounding FC Buffalo, as the team preps to take the pitch for their home opener on Saturday.

The club is playing in a new competition this season, making the jump to USL League Two, which is widely regarded as the highest level of competition in semi-professional U.S. soccer. They have a new home field, too: they’ll be playing their home matches at Williamsville South High School after a long run at All-High Stadium and a short stay at D’Youville University’s field over the past decade-plus.

Finally, there’s a new head coach leading the squad on the sideline: Hamburg native Casey Derkacz.

Derkacz has been on the coaching staff of the UB women’s soccer team since 2014, helping lead the Bulls to one of their greatest seasons in program history last season. Prior to that, he was an assistant for two years at Slippery Rock University and played collegiately at Penn State as well as UB.

He takes the helm at FC Buffalo almost a decade after he played for the Wolves in 2014.

“It’s a really special and unique opportunity,” Derkacz said. “These opportunities are rare, and to do it in my hometown, Buffalo, and for a club that I played for … it was pretty easy to say yes to.”

With his history both in coaching and as a player in and around Buffalo, Derkacz brings a surplus of experience and a strong soccer mind to the Queen City club. However, his longtime coaching partner says Derkacz’s ability to connect with players may be his skill that stands out the most.

”Everywhere he goes, his players react and his players play for him — I think that’s what speaks the most volumes about Casey,” UB women’s soccer head coach Shawn Burke said. “A lot of times, you see great soccer minds that don’t translate because they can’t get it across to their players, but he’s the opposite. … I wouldn’t be surprised to see success follow [at FC Buffalo].”

Derkacz helped coach the UB women to a 15-2-4 record this past season. (Paul Hokanson/UB Athletics)

Playing in a semi-professional league where the vast majority of players are made up of out-of-season college players, it can be a challenge to effectively implement a system and culture in a short span.

Derkacz touched on the fact that a lot of the FCB squad hails from many different places, and with roughly a week of practice prior to the season’s start, it takes time for things to gel — but it’s a process he’s familiar with and willing to take on.

“The idea that we can understand what’s important for a lot of these guys who come from different backgrounds [is crucial], everyone has certain objectives and why they want to do this,” Derkacz said. “You want them walking away from this and reflecting on, ‘Man, that summer I spent in Buffalo was a great time. I enjoyed that.'”

FC Buffalo played their first match in USL2, as well as under Derkacz, this past Saturday — a thrilling 3-3 draw against Cleveland Force that saw the Wolves overturn a 2-0 second-half deficit by scoring three goals in seven minutes to take a 3-2 lead. Cleveland went on to equalize in the 89th minute.

As a former defender himself, Derkacz didn’t love the fact his side conceded three goals and was cautious to say fans of the club and Western New York soccer enthusiasts alike can expect 3-3 thrillers every week.

However, he’s confident supporters will see a squad that plays with heart and embraces the City of Buffalo.

“I finish basically every training session we have talking with these guys, these out-of-towners, about how we want to play with pride,” Derkacz said. “I think Buffalo is a really proud community. We love our sports here. I want our community to be proud of what we’re doing and to back us. I want them to enjoy their experience.”

FC Buffalo plays their first home game of the season against Fort Wayne FC on Saturday, with kickoff scheduled for 3 p.m. at Will South. Tickets for the match start at $10 and more information can be found here.

Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.