If "a cold night in Stoke" is the English Premier League's version of the least ideal conditions in which to play soccer, perhaps the Buffalo & District Soccer League's comparison is a 4 p.m. match on Nichols' turf during a 93-degree afternoon.
And hey, that's just what's happening in the final week of the amateur men's league's regular season! Fortunately for the upper half of the table, the Week 11 result is less do-or-die than it is a chance to escape a first-round playoff match-up, as all six playoff teams are in pen already.
The relegation zone, however, is where the Week 11 excitement lies. First, let's peek at the table:
*BN Soccer Match of the Week*
Preview: No, this isn't because BN Soccer has a crush on Celtic United (though, from our recent coverage, it's probably open to debate). The real meaning of this match is for FC Yemen, the defending Tehel Cup winners in their first season in premier. A loss in Week 11 would point to a very short stay in the top flight.
With BSC International already relegated, FC Yemen is essentially in a three-way fight with BUSS and Roos to avoid the second relegation spot.
[Look back at scores and sums from the entire BDSL in Week 10]
Unfortunately for Taha Omar's squad, BUSS and Roos each have a game in-hand because of the Fowler Cup, and if both win on Sunday and FC Yemen lose, then Yemen will be relegated and the result of BUSS vs. Roos on July 31 won't matter. [More playoff scenarios, courtesy of the BDSL]
Will FC Yemen show up with enough players for the clash against United? They only had nine last week in the 6-1 drubbing to Inter, so it's no sure thing. For Celtic, the chief goal of Week 11 is to secure a home quarterfinal game, but it's not a must-win. The small, rocky field at Lackawanna High School will favor the underdogs, but Celtic did just fine on a hard, bumpy pitch in Tehel Cup play.
Prediction: 3-1, Celtic United. An unfortunate ending for FC Yemen's first premier campaign. Galanti, Loecher and Schulz score United's goals.
Preview: Both teams have clinched playoff berths, but there's reason to push for a result. SoHo can avoid a first-round playoff game with a win (or a Raiders loss), while Yemen Elite has an outside chance at a first-round home game, should they win and Clarence lose in decisive fashion.
Elite are only 1-1-2 at home this season, and they're not in the friendly confines of The Cage, so maybe it's a moot point. Expect both teams to do their best to stay healthy and stay in form, as the crucial games are yet to come.
Prediction: 2-2. Ryan Mangano scores both for SoHo, bringing his season total to 11. It will be quite the hill for BUSS' Kyle Clifford (8), Roos' Alex Reid (7) and Sharpshooters' Regan Steele (8) to climb. We doubt anyone will catch Pablo Ordonez's 10 assists for that crown. Due for a goal, Max Chirwa gets one for Yemen Elite.
Preview: It will be so hot on the Nichols turf that plastic boots might melt and players' feet will be on fire. Still licking some wounds, Sharpshooters could probably use a first-round bye more than the other two clubs in contention.
Plus, surely Amherst have not forgotten the 1-0 loss to the Yotes that dumped them from the Tehel Cup, and defender A.C. LaFlore's presence against his former mates is an additional storyline. Trevor Lawler and Regan Steele are both expected to return to regular duty from injury, although Sharpshooters are expected to miss forward Eric Brodfuehrer and invaluable midfielder Zach Schwartz.
Though it's been a dream season for Clarence -- a playoff berth in premier and a semifinal place in Tehel Cup -- the 1-0 loss to Yemen Elite last Sunday is a little worrying for a team for which the well of goals sometimes runs dry. They'll defend collectively at a higher level than probably any other premier team, but their lack of a go-to scorer could ultimately be their undoing.
Prediction: 2-1, Sharpshooters. A tight match and probably preview of a semifinal or final game.
Preview: Raiders' curious string of draws ended last Sunday in a 3-2 win over SoHo FC and, because of their progress in Tehel Cup, the three-game suspension to Casey Derkacz might not play as crucial of a role as we originally thought. Should SoHo tie or lose to Yemen Elite, Raiders would be wise to secure three points from Rogue and enjoy a relaxing July 31 far away from a soccer field.
Was Rogue's late implosion against Sharpshooters inevitable? The early-season darlings actually led in the 60th minute against Sharpshooters before Ricky Martinez's goal opened the floodgates. In other words, it doesn't take much to unravel Rogue, even though transfer addition Alex Stephan and Francesco Strangio are coming off strong matches.
Prediction: 4-1, Raiders. The league season ends with a whimper for Rogue, while Raiders narrowly earn a bye due to SoHo's predicted draw. Matt Grabowski and Tony Mermigas each get on the score sheet for Raiders. Can Rogue pull it together for their Tehel Cup run?
Preview: It's Lorne Maxime's world; we're just living in it. The Buffalo State College striker is coming off a five-goal effort for Inter against nine-man FC Yemen, and he's a dark-horse in the race for premier division Golden Boot despite only entering his fourth game (no, it won't happen, but what a story that would be!). He'll quickly find that running against Michael Malcolm, Josh Hammer and Rich Williams is no walk in the park.
BUSS enter the softest part of their schedule: last-place Inter and then 11th-place Roos. Fear of relegation hasn't bugged BUSS since 2013 - a 3-7-1 season in which they finished second-last but stayed in the top tier after a reshuffling of teams. Four points from the two games will be enough for Bobby Calvaneso's side to remain in premier.
Prediction: 4-2, BUSS. Kyle Clifford is hungry for that Golden Boot, too, and he's our prediction. We'll give him three at Sahlen's.
Preview: While Queenston is safe from relegation, the 2016 season can't be seen as anything other than a disappointment for a veteran team with good chemistry and top-notch goalkeeping. Their final match of the season comes at home against Roos FC, who can alleviate any pressure on their rescheduled game against BUSS with a win over Parliament, coupled with an FC Yemen loss.
Should FC Yemen win, then Roos would need to win their final two matches to avoid relegation. The searing pace of Alex Reid and Sam Greco could easily dust a not-especially-fast Queenston backline, putting pressure on John Netter to astound between the pipes.
Prediction: 3-1, Roos. The victors have something to play for, the losing side does not.
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who's back over 1,000 words, at email@example.com