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Nick Mendola: Sports Radio Host, Soccer Co-Owner

Get to know a Buffalonian...

In honor of the ongoing World Cup in South Africa we spoke with Tonawanda native Nick Mendola, sports radio host and co-owner of the National Premier Soccer League’s FC Buffalo. When he’s not on the air weeknights on WECK-1230, you can find Mendola at Buffalo’s All-High Stadium, where this weekend his “Blitzers”—as they are known—take on FC Lehigh Valley and the Pocono Snow. [Saturday June 19 at 3pm, and Sunday June 20 at 3pm respectively.]

Why is mainstream America reluctant to fully embrace soccer like the rest of the world? Is there room on the Buffalo sports fans’ plate for the “beautiful game”?

Honestly? It’s not the people, it’s the media. A lot of older talking heads are afraid of what they don’t know and try to belittle the game at every turn. Within 10 years, the Rochester Rhinos built themselves a 15,000-seat stadium and Seattle Sounders sell out a 38,000 venue in Washington. There’s room for every sport, and we aren’t going away just because of some xenophobic meatballs on ESPN Radio who think we should care about the Denver Broncos long-snapping situation in May. Look at my old employer, WGR, who wouldn’t touch the NBA or World Cup broadcasts for years and now are promoting the games on their airwaves. Welcome to the party, boys, now you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Tell our readers how FC Buffalo got the nickname “Blitzers”.

We asked our new supporters to suggest a WNY-themed nickname for the team. We received submissions that I adored: Rust, Spokes, Blue Collars. But one suggestion had dual meaning. Blitzers refers to both the lightning all over our remarkable city flag and locally-raised CNN personality Wolf Blitzer. A lot of publications and TV stations ran with the story -- Wolf even had myself and co-owner Scott Frauenhofer on “The Situation Room.” Fans voted it No. 1, and how could we overturn it?? Wolf said he’ll come to a game.

Who are some of the FC Buffalo players to watch? How much balance emphasis on recruiting local players and bringing in outside talent?

Midfielder Daniel Stevens is great to watch because he never quits and has great vision. Andy Tiedt also has a relentless motor and wonderful ball skills. Our goalkeepers are talented, especially Dan Panaro. Mike Unwin’s flash, Scott Zorn’s toughness... I could go on and on. The best part is that all of these fellas appreciate every minute on the field and every fan in the stands. We want all locals, all-the-time. Would we turn down Wayne Rooney? Of course not, but we want players who go away to school be able to come home for the summer without losing the chance to play at the highest level. This really is for both Buffalo and soccer.

Would you like to see a promotion/relegation system applied to the American Soccer Pyramid?

I’ll go further than that. I want it in all sports. You won’t see the Islanders or Grizzlies playing for a higher draft pick in February if their failures could have them hosting the Hershey Bears the next season and cost them their best players. Not only that, but it would allow teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates to compete for the right to go up a division instead of trading their entire outfield and trying to draw fans by booking post-game concerts with Collective Soul.

Who are you rooting for in the World Cup? Do you have an under the radar team to keep an eye on?

I’m rooting for the States super hard. We play a blue-collar but over-aggressive style that’s fun to watch. I also like Holland and most of the African clubs. I rooted for Italy for the longest time -- being of Sicilian heritage -- but their style stereotypes the game for those who hate it.

A good underdog is Chile. They play a very fun style that forces their opponent to run. I also like Serbia, though Nemanja Vidic and company aren’t off to a sterling start.

Have your loyal listeners from WGR followed you over to WECK? Do you have any regular callers you look forward to hearing every night?

I like to think so. It’s still overwhelming to me that anyone cares what I have to say. I’m just the one guy out of my friends who happened to get a microphone. The most fun I’ve had is hearing from longtime emailers who were either intimidated or turned off by what they call the arrogance of other radio hosts in town. I think folks are looking for a less-jaded outlet, one that isn’t shrouded in fart jokes, pessimism, Foreigner songs or awful music aimed to capitalize on puberty.

Are Buffalo sports fans too pessimistic? How does listening to the irate callers color your enthusiasm—personally—as a fan?

No, but the most vocal ones are often too negative. Buffalo sports fans are a perfect microcosm of Buffalonians. I believe it’s a matter of getting Buffalonians to tune out those who are simply spewing rhetoric and get examples. My enthusiasm hasn’t been colored on a full-time basis, but knowing that some callers and many web-posters can hide behind anonymity with their pessimism, hatred and ignorance would drive me crazy if I didn’t know how many good fans -- and people -- there really are behind the scenes.

On what specific issue or topic has a caller challenged or changed your opinion the most?

Whether the Bills will stay in Buffalo in the great scheme of things. I used to believe that even a massive business like the NFL appreciated its history, but callers and guests have made me realize it’s almost all lip service. Look how they treat their retirees, for example. I’ll rue the day it happens, but believing the NFL wouldn’t let the Bills leave Buffalo was a challenge I lost.

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