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Buffalo District Soccer League earns Elite Amateur status from USASA

The United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) approved the Buffalo District Soccer League's application for Elite Amateur status on Tuesday, meaning that teams from BDSL's Premier Division are eligible to enter four major tournaments: the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the U.S. Amateur Cup, a U.S. Over-30 Cup and a U.S. Under-23 Cup.

If you're unfamiliar with the BDSL, the Western New York-based soccer league includes 63 men's teams broken into five divisions -- Premier, Championship, First, Second and Third, in that order -- and totals roughly 1,300 players. A promotion-relegation setup levels competition but gives new clubs the chance to work their way to the top.

BUSS's Anthony SaySay, left in foreground, jostles for a ball with BSC Raiders' Kyle Rogers. (Brandon Chiarmonte/Buffalo Soccer Council)

BUSS's Anthony SaySay, left in foreground, jostles for a ball with BSC Raiders' Kyle Rogers. (Brandon Chiarmonte/Buffalo Soccer Council)

The Premier Division, for which this news is particularly relevant, boasted 12 teams in 2015, with the BSC Raiders winning the title.

Because this news involves a whole lot of acronyms and not much clarity, let's try to make sense of it:

What this means: Essentially, the BDSL has now officially joined the fifth tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid, one step below FC Buffalo and the National Premier Soccer League. (Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League and United Soccer League Pro make up the first three tiers, in that order.)

In one respect, the "Elite Amateur" designation is status symbol in relation to other city men's leagues across the country, as well as increasing the possibility of funding from the USASA. Also, a BDSL Premier team can now be eligible to participate in the four tournaments mentioned above.

Final BDSL table for the Premier Division in 2015.

Final BDSL table for the Premier Division in 2015.

What it took: Membership with the USASA is a direct product of the BDSL's connection to the Western New York Soccer Association (WNYSA), but additional elements were necessary to reach "Elite Amateur" status. While there's no monetary cost, aspiring leagues must meet certain criteria to earn the label.

Via the USASA site: "For consideration as a Premier League, USASA looks at affiliates with teams that participate in high level competitions administered by USASA or member State Associations. Other factors for review are those associates with a significant history as a member of USSF or USASA and leagues that promote through uses of media outlets, the internet and social media." [Read the membership policy here].

BDSL's growth, structure, sheer number of participants, social media prowess and longevity all played a role in getting accepted. Certainly the history of the Tehel Cup, which claims to be the longest running amateur soccer tournament in the U.S. -- dating back to 1925 -- didn't hurt, either.

Championship Division team FC Yemen won the 2015 Tehel Cup, igniting a celebration among the team and the Yemeni soccer community. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Championship Division team FC Yemen won the 2015 Tehel Cup, igniting a celebration among the team and the Yemeni soccer community. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Who made this happen: The five-person BDSL Board -- president Bryan Staniszewski, vice presidents Eric Kolber and Michael Schieber, treasurer Ken Kirk and secretary Jason Morgan -- approved the initiative, while Schieber spearheaded the process and directly handled the application.

BDSL's co-vice president Michael Schieber (foreground, left, in green) was particularly instrumental in getting "Elite Amateur" status for the league. He also plays for Roos FC, a premier team. (Brandon Chiarmonte/Buffalo Soccer Council)

BDSL's co-vice president Michael Schieber (foreground, left, in green) was particularly instrumental in getting "Elite Amateur" status for the league. He also plays for Roos FC, a premier team. (Brandon Chiarmonte/Buffalo Soccer Council)

Who else does this involve? To get more technical, the BDSL and Rochester District Soccer League (RDSL), which has long held Elite Amateur status, both fall under Region I member Western New York Soccer Association (WNYSA). There are 14 different state associations in Region I, and four regions total across the country.

Since the WNYSA can only send one team to Region I tournaments, there will likely be more matches between BDSL and RDSL teams coveting this opportunity. More to come on this, but it's neatly timed due to the dawn of the NPSL's Rochester River DogZ as a geographic rival for FC Buffalo.

What's the U.S. Amateur Cup? This is where the announcement's impact begins to get more complicated and murky, unfortunately.

Due to the demise of the Werner Fricker U.S. Open Cup, which will no longer be nationally sanctioned by the USASA, amateur teams can either participate in the USASA Amateur Cup or a new three-tiered regional qualification system for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup that's organized by the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). (Eastern New York, from which the Fricker family is based, is defiantly holding its own Werner Fricker U.S. Open Cup.)

Let's start with the Amateur Cup, of which more is known. Eligibility to play in this amateur-only tournament, which begins in April and concludes in June, is the main benefit of BDSL's new Elite Amateur league status.

Lakeside FC and Roos FC compete in South Buffalo in a 2015 Tehel Cup match. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Lakeside FC and Roos FC compete in South Buffalo in a 2015 Tehel Cup match. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

As previously mentioned, a BDSL team must knock off an RDSL side to represent state association WNYSA in this competition. The winner will then compete against Region I champions from the other 13 state associations, and if WNYSA wins this single-elimination tournament, then they'll be crowned regional champions and earn the chance to play against the three other regional winners in the USASA National Cup Finals.

In 2014 and 2015, the winner of Region I of the Amateur Cup automatically earned a berth in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, although this appears to be no longer the case now that the USSF -- not the USASA -- oversees all qualifying rounds. I've sent an email to the USASA for confirmation on this change, but have yet to receive a reply.

What does this mean for BDSL and the U.S. Open Cup? At this stage, it makes more sense for the WNYSA to enter a team (or perhaps multiple teams, TBD) in the USASA Amateur Cup, as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup now has its qualifying rounds in the fall (when local college players, who've greatly aided the BDSL's growth, are at school).

These early qualifying rounds are unfolding now [see the first round and second round results], and it's much too late to enter a WNYSA team into the 2016 U.S. Open Cup. Stay tuned to see if there are plans to get involved next fall, but I am skeptical.

Before the USSF took over, USASA teams competed in four separate regions for the Werner Fricker Open Cup in summer 2014, and the winners and runners up of each region and three wild cards earned spots in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which ran April through September.

FC Yemen, in red, and Yemen Elite maintain some camaraderie in a heated 2015 Tehel Cup semifinal at the West Seneca Soccer Complex. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

FC Yemen, in red, and Yemen Elite maintain some camaraderie in a heated 2015 Tehel Cup semifinal at the West Seneca Soccer Complex. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

[Confused? This specific example of how Philadelphia-based West Chester United got the short end of the stick after winning the Werner Fricker Cup should help.]

Now, instead of the denounced Werner Fricker Open Cup acting as the national amateur qualifying tournament a year in advance, the USSF-driven Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup amateur qualifying began with two rounds in fall 2015 and concludes with the third qualifying round in April 2016. Fifty-six amateur teams from the USASA, USCS and USSSA were eligible, and only eight of these teams can make the U.S. Open Cup.

How the participants in this tournament will be decided for the 2017 U.S. Open Cup is unclear, although state and regional competitions would make sense. For the 2016 Open Cup setup, U.S. Soccer presents further information here.

The top teams from the Premier Development League, National Premier Soccer League and United Soccer League have already qualified for 2016 Open Cup participation from their summer 2015 finish, and these clubs will clash with the surviving amateur teams in the first round of the Open Cup.

Thirty-six teams from PDL, NPSL, USL and amateur leagues -- dubbed the "Open Division" -- will then face the MLS, NASL and USL Pro teams, all of whom automatically qualify.

Since the league's birth, an MLS team has won every year except 1999, when the A-League Rochester Rhinos hoisted the trophy. In 2014, Southern California-based amateur club PSA Elite advanced to the fourth round, losing to the Seattle Sounders, the eventual champion.

What clubs are in the BDSL Premier Division as of now?

The league has yet to announce its alignment for summer 2016, but we anticipate 12 teams in the Premier Division again. Below is a list of teams assured to compete in the tier with Elite Amateur status, barring something unforeseen. (Note: This list takes into account the recent merger of Amherst Sharpshooters and Lazio.)

BSC Raiders, Amherst Sharpshooters, Queenston FC, Buffalo United Soccer Stars (BUSS), FC Yemen, Yemen Elite, BSC International, SoHo FC, Roos FC, Clarence and Celtic United

It's presently unclear whom the 12th team will be.

What standout players have played recently in the BDSL? The Rochester Rhinos' USL Pro Championship game MVP Asani Samuels spent the summer of 2014 with the Amherst Sharpshooters; a former professional in Ireland, Matt Stedman, still plays; as well as Steve Butcher, who was rostered with the now-defunct NPSL's Buffalo Blizzard.

Former and current FC Buffalo players like Ian Mort, Kendell McFayden, Chris Walter, Brian Knapp, Ryan Walter, Casey Derkacz, Mbwana Johnson and others are on teams, while well over 100 current and former college players compete.

Further reading:

-- More information on the role of the USASA in relation to the U.S. pyramid, via Doherty Soccer
-- U.S. Cup Soccer's website
-- How the BDSL described itself in its Elite League application

Email Ben Tsujimoto at btsujimoto@buffnews.com if you have any amateur soccer epiphanies

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