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BDSL primer for premier, championship division finals

The Buffalo & District Soccer League's championship Sunday at Nichols School never fails to draw a crowd, especially for the premier and championship division title games, both scheduled for 6 p.m.

If you just love local soccer as a whole, matches will be going on from 1:30 to 8 in the same place. Some of the best high school players in Western New York, dating back decades to the present day, aim for men's amateur soccer hardware.

In premier, No. 1 seed Amherst Sharpshooters bounced pesky Clarence, who would raise the Tehel Cup later in the week, while SoHo FC edged BSC Raiders in dramatic fashion.

East Aurora continued their torrid late-season form, upsetting top-seeded Southtowns in one championship division semifinal, while a goal-fest at Nichols saw Buffalo Bantu too clinical for Wolfpack. Look back at the detailed sums from those semis.

Here's the primer for Sunday, the last of these posts until May 2017. Come back early next week for the final "scores and sums" post.

PREMIER DIVISION TITLE GAME

No. 1 seed Amherst Sharpshooters vs. No. 2 seed SoHo FC
6 p.m. Sunday at Nichols School

2016 meeting: 2-0, Sharpshooters, on May 15, as Regan Steele doled out two assists.

Last playoff meeting: 2015 - Amherst knocked off SoHo, 2-1, in the premier semis. Ben Mozg and Steele scored for Amherst, while Kevin Brenner picked up a red card for SoHo, which received six cards as a team.

Keys for Sharpshooters to win: The absence of leading scorer Regan Steele -- who's in the middle of coaching the Canisius College men during their preseason -- will hurt Sharpshooters, without a doubt.

Fortunately for managers Brendan and Trevor Lawler, Steele has scored only a quarter of the team's goals this year (vs. 34 percent in 2015), and former Lazio stalwarts Eric Brodfuehrer and Brandon Loncar are lethal on their own. Trevor Lawler will attempt a return from injury, too, as his ability to battle with a physical SoHo defense should create chances for his teammates.

Ultimately, though, it will be Sharpshooters' legion of glue-guy midfielders who will make the difference. Zach Schwartz, Tom Fusillo, Eric Steinmetz and Ben Mozg bring different elements to the squad, from high-level experience to pure pace to technical ability, and if they can succeed in the dirty work, Sharpshooters should triumph.

Keys for SoHo FC to win: Former University at Buffalo and Akron High School star striker Andy Tiedt is nothing if not consistently productive. He's notched a goal and an assist in each of the last four games, and his presence unquestionably makes strike partner Ryan Mangano and attacking midfielder Pablo Ordonez more dangerous.

It won't be easy for Tiedt, as he'll have as tough of a physical match-up as he's seen all season against Sharpshooters' Graham Harris, but the crafty vet likely won't be completely quiet.

While Bobby Ross and Jake Rinow, previously linchpins of the SoHo defense, haven't been central figures this year, it's been Matt Romano and Dave Hogan, as well as Josh Hall and Nate Griffiths, who've taken up the mantle in helping goalkeeper Bryan Staniszewski hold foes at bay. Steele's absence should bolster SoHo's confidence, but the No. 2 seed shouldn't underestimate the rest of Amherst's attack.

Soho FC players all wore No. 7 earlier this season to honor the life of Chris Pepper. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Soho FC players all wore No. 7 earlier this season to honor the life of Chris Pepper. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Sharpshooters' player to watch: Loncar. He's one of Amherst's smartest players with the ball at his feet, and Sharpshooters would be wise to run their attack through the former Buffalo State Bengal. Although he's fought myriad injuries throughout the season, he's healthy enough to start against an opponent that will try to knock him around.

SoHo FC's player to watch: Mangano. Tiedt will have his hands full with physical specimen Harris, but Mangano has the knack for being in the right spots at the right times, a golden trait for a forward. If he scores twice, SoHo likely triumph.

Prediction: 2-1, SoHo FC, in extra time. Mangano strikes in the second overtime, which spells finals heartbreak for Sharpshooters for the second consecutive season.

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CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION TITLE GAME

No. 2 seed Buffalo Bantu vs. No. 5 seed East Aurora FC
6 p.m. Sunday at Nichols School

2016 meeting: 1-1 draw at Bantu on June 19; home side got their goal from Mo Hussein, while Parker Healy struck for EAFC

Last playoff meeting: No previous meetings

Keys for Bantu to win: Unlike undermanned Rangers and physical, organized Southtowns, Bantu will happily play the fast-paced -- at times reckless -- tempo that East Aurora prefers. Jama Ali's squad comes at you with attackers galore, and they're all fast and gifted: Mo Hussein, Hassan Sabtow, Mohamed Musse, Omar Sundi, Zein Abdulaziz and Adan Mukumbira are electric if they're on the same page.

If Bantu can generate chances at will and force East Aurora to commit numbers defensively, they'll be able to hide an average defense that Wolfpack sliced up last Sunday before running out of gas. Prince Saysay, the team's best defender, loves to get forward and help the attack, while Peter Schmidt and Abdulaziz Abdulaziz are a little more conservative.

After several championship-less years with Lykan, keeper Jason Kuczmanski has a chance for his first trophy since 2010.

Buffalo Bantu's Adan Mukumbira plays the ball forward as Wolfpack's Michael Costanza pressures. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Buffalo Bantu's Adan Mukumbira plays the ball forward as Wolfpack's Michael Costanza pressures. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Keys for East Aurora to win: Arguably the title favorites entering the season, East Aurora FC summoned a surprising late-season surge to carve out a place in the final and promotion to premier. They proved that they can win grind-it-out matches in beating Southtowns, and center-back partners Shane Healy and Michael Jackson make up the best tandem in the division, if not the entire BDSL.

Vucic has been kicking NBA Jam-style fire balls recently, bagging a silly five goals in two playoff games after a shaky regular season. He, along with SUNY Fredonia teammates James Ritchie, Myles Taylor and Ryan Keller, should make it a long afternoon for the Bantu defense.

Bantu's player to watch: Musse. You never quite know where Musse will pop up - he'll drift deep into the midfield or roam around the half-circle above the 18-yard box, but he'll be on the ball frequently, and he's finished with aplomb this season. Somehow, he tends to get better as the game goes on, as Wolfpack learned in the championship semifinal.

East Aurora's player to watch: Vucic. Yes, that's five goals in two playoff games. He's pacy, relentless and now confident. Watch out.

Prediction: 4-2, East Aurora. Bantu's back-line stands little chance against Vucic, who's brimming with confidence.

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FIRST DIVISION TITLE GAME

No. 1 seed Panthers vs. No. 2 seed Williamsville Willies
3:30 p.m. Sunday at Nichols School

Primer: What a year it's been for the debut club Willies, a collection of predominantly Williamsville North graduates who advanced to the Far West Regional last fall. Jeff Bellinger is flying for the No. 2 seed, which actually toppled Panthers, 2-0, on July 17, handing the eventual league champions their only loss of the campaign.

With Panthers likely missing the services of Mark Howlett and Francesco Cardillo -- both in England coaching the Buffalo State men's soccer team -- the quartet of Kurt Schulz, Jerome and Alex Lee Yaw, and Nick Cortese will need to pick up the slack.

Prediction: 3-1, Willies. An older Panthers team will struggle to keep up with the Willies on turf.

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SECOND DIVISION TITLE GAME

No. 3 seed Pendleton United vs. No. 4 seed Crimson Fire
3:30 p.m. Sunday at Nichols School

Primer: Crimson Fire will miss starting keeper Dylan Guarino, who earned a red card in the penalty kick shootout against Rampart in the semifinal, which is a colossal loss. Jamie Asbach and Dan Tarbell, who combined for a whopping 29 goals this season, could still carry Crimson, but Pendleton -- a collection of recent Starpoint HS grads -- are simply better rounded.

Outside back Matt Pickard's late-season availability is a huge edge for a team already boasting K.J. Maldiner, Ryan Schuup, Chris Kufchak and Sam Wagner, as well as UB goalie Mike Juszczak, who plays center back for Pendleton. This match might not be close.

Prediction: 4-1, Pendleton. Guarino's absence is too much to overcome, as Maldiner pots a brace.

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THIRD DIVISION TITLE GAME

No. 1 seed Dutch vs. No. 3 seed FK Bosna
1:30 p.m. Sunday at Nichols School

Primer: The Dutch boast several players who once played for higher-division clubs, as leading scorer Mark Tellgren (11 goals) played premier last year for defunct Chelsea, while Kevin Au and Chris Waclawski suited up for defunct Rush. Due to uneven scheduling, Bosna and Dutch did not meet during the regular season.

Bosna, buoyed by Semir and Admir Kadric and leading scorer Smajil Mulahmetovic (seven goals), gave premier club Rogue FC a run for their money in Tehel Cup, then bounced No. 2 seed Youngstown Marksmen, who beat Dutch earlier in the season, in penalty kicks last Sunday. They are not to be taken lightly.

Prediction: 2-1, FK Bosna, in extra time. This is honestly a toss up.

Email Ben Tsujimoto, who doesn't think the premier and championship finals should be played at the same time, at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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