While it was difficult to separate the top four teams of the National Premier Soccer League's Great Lakes East Conference in Friday's power rankings, it's even harder to narrow down a Best XI through the first half of the campaign.
Not only is it virtually impossible to see all matches - many teams have streams of varying quality - but amateur players come and go during the season for various reasons. Some may be required to return to their college programs early, others miss time to commitments such as weddings or work obligations.
And that doesn't even take into account players who arrive late due to unusual college semester structure or those who take extra time for their International Transfer Certificate to be approved. Needless to say, it's rare for an NPSL team to trot out the same XI in May as they do in July.
Still, it's worth taking the time to recognize the efforts of the conference's standouts through the first half (and change) of the season, even if few will likely agree with all of the selections.
BN SOCCER'S NPSL GREAT LAKES EAST MIDSEASON BEST XI (3-5-2)
GOALKEEPER: Will Banahene, Rochester Lancers
Why: Before the season, the Buffalo State College alum was probably the last keeper we'd expect making this list; we weren't even positive he'd beat out the Lancers' No. 2, Tyler Brew.
After Rochester lost the season opener to Dayton, Banahene got his chance between the pipes and has not looked back; the former Niagara University recruit has not conceded a goal in nearly 400 minutes of action, stretching back to June 2. He's recorded four straight clean sheets entering Friday's clash with Buffalo.
Honorable mention: Jorge Alvarez Prendes, Erie Commodores.
DEFENDER: Baye Ibra Kebe, Dayton Dynamo
Why: Throw his age (38) out the window; Ibra Kebe can still ball. The Senegalese defender has much of the pace that vaulted him as high as the UEFA Champions League in his prime, and his anticipation and long legs let him to get stuck into tackles where most other defenders would be a step away.
Take into account his ability to track defensively, provide help over the top and occasionally join the rush forward, and you have an immensely valuable piece. Read this quality Dayton Daily News piece on Kebe from early June.
DEFENDER: Fox Slotemaker, FC Buffalo
Why: The former University at Buffalo center back will play his final college season with Old Dominion after his previous school eliminated men's soccer, and the Kiwi is primed for a massive senior campaign. Slotemaker's terrific ability to read the play allows him to cut out opposing attacks with precise timing, and he doesn't shy away from tackles.
Although he's not flashy with his feet, his dominance in the air poses a threat from set pieces, and he's vocal in organizing his back four.
DEFENDER: Shane Wiedt, Erie Commodores
Why: The University of Akron defender has formed such a solid partnership with Guillermo Lazcano that it's difficult to determine who's been more valuable in a back line that's permitted just two goals in six matches. Wiedt is a modern center back in his sheer athleticism, 6'3 frame and strong dose of nastiness; the former AFC Cleveland back's play is reminiscent of the old rugged Erie Admirals squads.
Honorable mention defenders: Jack Webber, Fort Pitt; Matthew McDyer, Fort Pitt; Jake Schindler, Rochester; Guillermo Lazcano, Erie; Chris Cvecko, AFC Cleveland.
MIDFIELDER: Admir Suljevic, AFC Cleveland
Why: One of the best players in Cleveland State soccer history wears the armband for the Royals, taking virtually all set pieces in the offensive half and directing play as the conference's premier attacking center midfielder. The No. 10 has struck for three goals so far this season, and his absence from the lopsided loss to Rochester was glaring from a creativity standpoint.
MIDFIELDER: Christopher Dupont, Dayton Dynamo
Why: The Dynamo's attacking trio of Tate Robertson, Matt Kinkopf and Tristan Lyle receive most of the attention, but Quebec native Chris Dupont - a Wright State alum who played on the reserve squad for FC Metz (France) - has been Dan Griest's linchpin in the midfield this summer, potting two goals and keeping the attackers involved.
MIDFIELDER: Bayley Winkel, FC Buffalo
Why: Winkel might be the fastest player with the ball at his feet in the conference, but the Robert Morris University midfielder has buoyed that strength into creating a bounty of scoring chances for the Wolves. With more clinical finishing from his teammates, the left winger - who's almost unmarkable when he veers inside onto his right foot - could have five assists.
MIDFIELDER: Nate Bourdeau, Syracuse FC
Why: The Syracuse FC midfielder should be known for more than his tweet's inclusion in a LeBron James Kia commercial (although it's a cool story). After winning the 2015 United Soccer League title as a member of the Rochester Rhinos, Bourdeau is back near his hometown of Baldwinsville to captain the expansion NPSL squad.
From his goal that beat Dayton for Syracuse's inaugural victory to his 40-yard heat-seeker that upset FC Buffalo, Bourdeau is a bright spot for an otherwise middling 'Cuse side.
MIDFIELDER: Tate Robertson, Dayton Dynamo
Why: Robertson has an engine that never stops, and he's productive to boot, with two goals and two assists to his name. The All-Mid-American Conference second-team midfielder hasn't seen a full complement of matches for Dayton this summer, but when he's been on the field, the Dynamo are a much more complete side.
Factor in Robertson's ability to play as a pacy, pesky second striker, too, which provides Griest's side with tactical flexibility, and you have one of the most dynamic players in the conference.
Honorable mention midfielders: Tom Beck, AFC Cleveland; Rafael Godoi, Rochester; David Enstrom, FC Buffalo; Yianni Sarris, AFC Cleveland; Lukas Fernandes, Rochester.
FORWARD: Will Stone, Rochester Lancers
Why: The English No. 9 - who carried two dominant years at Genesee Community College into a full scholarship to Wright State - has deposited four goals this summer before his leap to NCAA Division I.
Stone isn't a lumbering striker - he's deceptively fast, as FC Buffalo's Jordan Sinclair learned in the first meeting between the two teams - and he's developed soft feet for a big man. He's clever at finding small pockets of space in and around the opposing 18-yard box, allowing him just enough room to fire a shot on target. Read more about Stone's story from Pickin' Splinters' Kevin Oklobzija.
FORWARD: Ezana Kahsay, Erie Commodores
Why: Finding a position has been tough for Kahsay, a native of Eritrea who played his high school soccer in the city of Buffalo. The supreme athlete with a fierce competitive streak got noticed and signed by superpower Akron, then spent the first three years of his college career making the transition from defense to midfield to forward.
As it turns out, Kahsay has finally found his form as a striker, leading the Great Lakes East in goals (six in just six games) and tormenting opposing defenses with his relentlessness and improved composure in front of goal. He tends to find the back of the net in bunches, too, scoring a brace against Dayton and then a hat-trick against Fort Pitt.
Honorable mention forwards: Vinny Bell, AFC Cleveland; Matt Kinkopf, Dayton.
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