One of the advantages Tonawanda boys soccer coach Dave McKay sees to having been around the game for 30-plus years is the opportunity to see the best players Western New York has produced.
McKay estimates he has seen as many as 1,000 local soccer games and most of the players in the area in his career, which includes stints in the Niagara Frontier League and in ECIC.
"I've had the opportunity to see a lot of great teams and great players," said McKay, who took over the varsity program at Tonawanda in 1962 after three years as a junior varsity coach at Tonawanda and Park School. "It's been a wonderful experience."
Asked to pick his all-time top 11 players, McKay cautioned that such a task was difficult. "There have been so many great players to come out of this area, that obviously someone will be left off, but these are some of the names that stand out in my mind."
Here are McKay's rankings, with school, position and final year:
11. Andy Wright, Wilson, forward (1994): "Andy moved out of the area after his junior year, but still managed to finish fourth all-time with 105 goals. He still holds the record with 56 goals in one season as a junior."
10. Bobby DiNunzio, Kenmore East, forward (1981): A current Buffalo Blizzard defender, DiNunzio made up for a lack of size with quickness and a sharp mind for the game. "He was small, but he could control games with his quickness."
9. Mark Snell, Lockport, goaltender (1978): "Mark was solid. His team was not a powerhouse, but he made them real strong for a few years."
8. John Piezia, Sweet Home, forward (1991): Scored 34 goals in 1991, ninth all-time in a single season. "Piezia played on strong teams and he was definitely the strongest of the strong."
7. Chris Tassy, Grand Island, forward (1994): "Tall and strong, he could dominate at will."
6. Jake Tassy, Grand Island, forward (1989): "Chris' older brother, and was a similar player. Very skillful and very good in the air. Also, he always took a good shot."
5. Jake Kunselman, Tonawanda, forward (1998): "What can you say about 113 career goals? He could score with either foot and just took over games."
4. Nick Giammoso, Williamsville North, defender (1991): "Very strong, he was part of some very good teams."
3. Steve Butcher, North Tonawanda, forward (1995): Currently plays at UB and was a varsity player at North Tonawanda as a seventh grader. "Butcher could play forward, midfield, sweeper, anywhere and he scored over 100 goals (102, sixth all time)."
2. Andy Leardini, Lewiston-Porter, forward (1993): "He possessed outstanding speed and was a superior player who went on to play at West Virginia. He finished with 139 goals, which is second all-time."
1. Eric Dade, Mount St. Joe's, defender/midfielder (1991): "Simply the best I've ever seen. He was a defender and midfielder who had unbelievable ball control. Along with that he was very quick. These skills have led Dade to a successful professional career in various indoor and outdoor leagues.
"The best part of all of this," McKay said, "is that I've seen the sport evolve in Western New York. When I started playing at Kenmore East in 1962, most guys played soccer because they couldn't play football. Now the kids play year-round, and it shows."~ Off to a quick start
In ECIC's Division III, Iroquois has jumped out to an unbeaten season at 8-0-0 (5-0-0 in league).
The Chiefs returned seven starters from last year's league-winning team that finished 16-1-3 and 10-0-2 in division. Senior and top goal-scorer Scott Dayer has six goals this season, with foreign exchange student Karl Thorbergsson (Iceland) adding four tallies.
"I expected to have another strong season, but I didn't expect to win them all right off the get-go," said Iroquois coach George Glinsboeckle.
Perhaps most impressive was the Chiefs' two victories at the East Aurora Invitational in the beginning of the season. Iroquois defeated Fredonia and host East Aurora, both strong teams.
"We played exceptionally well in those two contests," Glinsboeckle said. "Those are high-ranked teams and we ran with them the whole way."
Other returning starters include junior defender Kevin Obershmeimer and goalkeeper Branden Hayes. Hayes, a junior, has started all seven games in net and has two shutouts.
Iroquois passed its first true test Monday defeating division rival Amherst, 2-0. The teams will meet again Oct. 20.
"Amherst is the other exceptional team in our division," Glinsboeckle said. "Right now our depth is our strength. I'm carrying 22 kids and we're running them all into the game."
Haefner stingy so far
Amherst goalkeeper Matt Haefner hasn't been kind to opposing scorers this season, allowing only three goals in eight starts.
The senior has helped the Tigers to a 6-1-1 record. Besides Monday's game againstg Iroquois, the only other goal he allowed came in a 3-1 victory over Depew. A four-year starter, Haefner already has gained attention from some Division I colleges.
"He's starting to come into his own as far as leadership and positional play," Amherst coach Ted Lesh said. "He's technically sound and tries to own his 6-yard box."