As far as men's league soccer is concerned, this week has smiled upon Chris Berardi.
The former Canisius College midfielder scored a game-winning goal for the second straight game, and strong defense from his Celtic United teammates made the 1-0 lead stand in a Tehel Cup quarterfinal win over Southtowns FPFC on Thursday at West Seneca Soccer Complex.
With a scoreless game entering the second half, United capitalized on a beautifully orchestrated counter attack in the 53rd minute. Former St. Bonaventure defender Steve Carcaterro picked out Vinny DiVirgilio's run up the right wing. The recipient picked up his head quickly and saw an unmarked Berardi scooting toward goal.
"Their defense -- I don't know where they were -- so I was just wide open in the midfield, and I told [DiVirgilio] to play it early, and it was just an easy finish in the middle," Berardi said.
[Read: BDSL scores and sums for Week 10]
Berardi's goal was similar to his goal Sunday in the 1-0 win over Queenston FC, which clinched Celtic United's place in the BDSL premier division playoffs, and fit snugly into how United prefer to attack.
"It's usually how we've been scoring our goals," winger Sammy Wasson said after the match, "just getting the ball out wide and crossing it in, and usually Berardi is there."
The defensive lapse was uncommon for Southtowns, the championship division regular-season champions who had conceded just three goals all season. Despite the absence of center back Rob Booker, Hamburg High School graduate Will Smith and former Buffalo State College defender Steve Fox were commanding throughout the night -- with the exception of the lone goal.
Southtowns keeper Bill Littere was called upon for two big stops in the first half: a 21st-minute dive for a bouncing Berardi header of DiVirgilio's service and a 40th-minute sprawl at the near post to engulf Luke Loecher's outside of the foot shot.
Much of the match, however, was a dogfight in the middle of the field. The pitch was short, painfully hard and unforgiving, leaving several players slow to get up after tackles. With Phil Pinzone and Sean MacLean as Southtowns' ferocious ball-winners in the midfield, undersized Celtic United would have been punished if they were forced into too many 50-50 situations.
"We just had to move the ball a little quicker because we knew they'd come in hot and hard," Wasson said.
"I think we chose the pitch poorly and it kind of suited their strengths more than ours," Berardi reflected, "but we held out -- it could have been more than one goal, but we'll take the win. It's all we really need."
Celtic United keeper Nick Augustyn was forced to come off his line several times in the match -- including two punches away from danger in the second half -- but Carcaterro and center back partner Chris Barbolini were sturdy in clearing dangerous services, and Augustyn avoided any clear-cut chances.
HE SAID IT: Wasson, a soon-to-be junior at Buffalo State, on his BDSL teammate Berardi: "I've played with him in Clarence -- we've always had a good connection together, and he's a good role model to look up to because he's such a technical, gifted player. It's a lot of fun."
WHAT'S NEXT: The victory propels Celtic United to a semifinal match-up with the winner of Rogue FC and Wolfpack, which had to be rescheduled due to an unplayable field. Last year, United advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Queenston, 4-1.
THE STARTING ELEVENS:
-- Southtowns FPFC: Bill Littere; Nick Rodriguez, Steve Fox, Will Smith, Mike Anders; Scott MacLean, Phil Pinzone, Stephen Galante, Will Lange; Wade Bergum, Travis Hicks
-- Celtic United: Nick Augustyn; Ian Brown, Chris Barbolini, Steve Carcaterro, Tommy Huebsch; Sammy Wasson, Chris Berardi, T.J. Kaszubski, Vinny DiVirgilio; Kyle Wiatrowski, Brandon Galanti
-- If you're confused as to who Southtowns FPFC is, they were known as Lakeshore SC until the 2016 season.
-- Smith and goalkeeper Bill Littere share our man of the match honors for Southtowns.
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who waited until the end to give a shout out to Hobart Soccer, at firstname.lastname@example.org