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10 homegrown players who should be on FC Buffalo's radar

For FC Buffalo's first four years, much of the team's roster was familiar to local soccer fans. Medaille College, University at Buffalo and Canisius College were represented well, and players who returned home from college for the summer also had a chance to stay sharp.

The NPSL club didn't boast the budget to house visiting players for the summer, so the owners and coaches were limited to Buffalo, Rochester and occasionally Syracuse connections for whom they pursued.

That changed in 2014, the second year of head coach Brendan Murphy's tenure, as FC Buffalo had enough resources to house out of town talent. Suddenly, a trio of players joined from Point Loma Nazarene in 2014, then three more were brought in from Marist College in 2015 to spend a summer in Buffalo, keeping the Wolves deep and skilled enough to compete with the rest of a surprisingly robust Midwest Region.

Sure, Point Loma's Tyler Allen and Marist's Kevin Kappock and Dylan MacVane became important pieces for the Wolves, perhaps encouraging FC Buffalo to look outward more than inward in the future.

The danger, of course, is pulling away from the club's #ForOurCity mantra, at least in terms of personnel. Just like the high school, college, youth academy and premier programs locally, FC Buffalo -- at least in its present form as a professionally-run amateur club in the U.S. fourth tier -- has an innate responsibility to raise the level of play locally.

Commitment to locally developed players is often rewarded, too. While I wouldn't go as far as Landon Donovan and Abby Wambach in their criticism of Jurgen Klinsmann's preference for naturalized Germans over U.S.-born players for the national team, wearing an FC Buffalo kit will be more meaningful and demand a different kind of intensity than a passing visitor.

Chris Walter, left, poses with Rochester Rhinos USL Championship MVP Asani Samuels, a former FC Buffalo player. (via FC Buffalo)

Chris Walter, left, poses with Rochester Rhinos USL Championship MVP Asani Samuels, a former FC Buffalo player. (via FC Buffalo)

Think of the Wolves' fan-favorites: Chris Walter, another Nichols School alum, who won fans because of how hard he plays (and how hard he slides); Brian Knapp, a former UB star who grasped what Buffalo had done for him and proved he cared about the community; Jake Rinow, a Lancaster grad who would happily tell you with how much pride he wore the kit; and Kendell McFayden, a former Williamsville North star who parlayed a strong start to his FC Buffalo career into 18 months of professional soccer, then even after he was let go, returned to galvanize the Wolves' defense.

All four of these players took immense pride in wearing "Buffalo" on their shirt, and they've helped FC Buffalo become a team that draws 1,000+ fans for each match.

Look at Bobby Shuttleworth's path -- Nichols School, the University at Buffalo, Buffalo City FC (an NPSL predecessor of FC Buffalo's) for a short spell, then eventually the New England Revolution.

Western New York's commitment to Shuttleworth -- and his commitment to his roots -- molded one of America's best keepers in our own backyard.

A young Bobby Shuttleworth, right, watches as former Canisius College keeper Nick Christou lends an example. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News file photo)

A young Bobby Shuttleworth, right, watches as former Canisius College keeper Nick Christou lends an example. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News file photo)

My argument is not that the Wolves should field an entire team of locally based players -- Western New York probably isn't churning out enough talent yet to vault FC Buffalo to an NPSL title -- but for the ownership and coaching staff to not lose sight of what's made the Wolves part of the community fabric.

The first of two tryouts for FC Buffalo is from 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 28 in Sahlen Sports Park. More information here. BN Soccer will be on the scene and plans to report after.

Here are 10 players whom FC Buffalo should consider, in no particular order:

1) Andrew Crawford, defender at Rider University (Empire Academy)

Why they'd want him: I've never seen Crawford play, but I reached out to one of his former teammates for a scouting report. "Incredibly smart and technically very sound. He reads the play really well. He's always calm and steady. Rarely ever makes a mistake."

The Empire Development Academy product stands 6'0, 165 pounds -- a little light for a modern center back -- but he's likely added bulk over the course of his first year at Rider.

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2) Shane Greene, defender at Canisius College (Hamburg HS)

Former Hamburg HS star Shane Greene was the Western New York Player of the Year in 2014. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo)

Former Hamburg HS star Shane Greene was the Western New York Player of the Year in 2014. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo)

Why they'd want him: The 2014 Western New York High School Player of the Year is an athletic marvel; his combination of size (6'2, 186), speed, acceleration and leaping ability is the best the area has seen in some time. Outspoken and confident, Greene has the potential to be a college soccer captain at some point in his career.

Technically, he's still rough around the edges, and while center back seems to be his natural position, we won't know for sure until he carves out meaningful minutes, as he redshirted his first year with the Griffs.

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3) Abdulqawi Mohamed, midfielder at Erie Community College (Lackawanna HS)

Why they'd want him: After graduating from Lackawanna in 2011, one year after winning a high school national title in wrestling, Mohamed fell a bit off the soccer grid. In summer 2015, he proved to be one of the most dynamic midfielders in the Buffalo District Soccer League with Championship victors FC Yemen, who also captured the Tehel Cup.

Mohamed went to Erie Community College this fall, where he was two-time Region III Male Athlete of the Week and a member of the All-Western New York Athletic Conference team. Small but scrappy, the gifted No. 10-type boasts outstanding vision, quick turns away from pressure and underrated finishing ability.

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4) Drew Braun, defender at Erie Community College (Iroquois HS)

Drew Braun, No. 9 in white, starred for Iroquois High School. He's pictured above against Sweet Home in 2011. (John Hickey/Buffalo News file photo)

Drew Braun, No. 9 in white, starred for Iroquois High School. He's pictured above against Sweet Home in 2011. (John Hickey/Buffalo News file photo)

Why they'd want him: Another former Empire Academy player, Braun is one of the best pure defenders in the area. His prowess at locking down an attacker, timing on last-ditch tackles and previous experience as an attacker could make the Iroquois graduate a serious option at outside back.

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5) Ben Noel, forward from New Hampshire (Empire Academy)

Why they'd want him: Explosive forwards do not grow on trees, and FC Buffalo has lacked a true No. 9 -- save a few matches of Ngwese Ebangwese last year -- for much of their existence. Noel earned a role as a freshman for a strong New Hampshire team (NCAA Division I), averaging just shy of 20 minutes per game over his nine matches.

FC Buffalo's training environment -- plus the likelihood that he'd see meaningful minutes -- could do wonders for his development.

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6) Hunter Walsh, forward at University at Buffalo (St. Joe's)

UB freshman Hunter Walsh sees minutes for the Bulls as an energetic forward off the bench. (UB Athletics)

UB freshman Hunter Walsh sees minutes for the Bulls as an energetic forward off the bench. (UB Athletics)

Why they'd want him: Walsh wasn't even supposed to suit up for UB this year, but when the recruitment of a prized Real Madrid Academy import fell through at the last minute, the St. Joe's grad was pressed into action.

He didn't just sit on the bench for the Mid-American Conference runners-up, though -- he saw action in 15 games, scoring one goal and drawing a penalty kick, as a forward sub who'd relentlessly pressure the opposing back-four.

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7) Troy Brady, midfielder from Grand Island High School (college undecided)

Why they'd want him: The electric midfielder is a two-time All-Western New York selection, the 2015 WNY Player of the Year and a first-team All-State pick. He was exceptional for Grand Island in its run to the state tournament, accruing 27 goals and 15 assists in his senior campaign.

Incredibly poised in the attack, Brady beats defenders with sharp cuts and quickness rather than tricks, and his finishing -- with both feet -- is lethal. No question that Brady would benefit from the professional atmosphere fostered by FC Buffalo.

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8) Matt McCraith, midfielder from Naval Academy (Empire Academy)

Why they'd want him: The Navy midfielder is another player I haven't seen in person, but a local coach familiar with him described his ability. "He's a play-maker. Either a No. 10 or could play as a winger. Great ball skills, quick, sees the field and makes things happen."

A valuable substitute in his first college season (17 games, 195 minutes), the Canisius High School graduate captained a premier and ODP team in his past.

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9) Frank Cotroneo, midfielder from Empire Academy (committed to Villanova)

Why they'd want him: The Development Academy product has some truly attractive traits: his versatility in the midfield and in the back, sheer athleticism, edgy style of play and confidence with both feet.

To prepare to play in the Big East, though, a summer season playing against men would likely ease Cotroneo's transition to the college game.

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10) Abdi Sabtow, forward from Riverside High School

Why they'd want him: The wild card of the bunch, but freakishly fast with a nose for goal. Sabtow loves to take on defenders and plays with flair. Maybe he's a project, but you can't teach his pace and tenacity.

[An earlier version of this article confused Hassan "Abdi" Sabtow of Riverside and Abdi Sabtow, who played at International Prep.]

More to mention: Will Smith, Hamburg HS; Ali Sawish, Lackawanna HS; Ryan Keller, SUNY Fredonia; Justin Figler, Daemen College; Eric Albrecht, Empire Academy; Joey Keem, Sweet Home HS; Parker Shetler, Lancaster HS

(Also, worth noting: Liam Callahan of Syracuse and Ezana Kahsay of Akron would be on this list, but both played for other teams outside of the NPSL last summer.)

Email Ben Tsujimoto at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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