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BN Soccer's NPSL Great Lakes East midseason power rankings

The National Premier Soccer League's kooky schedule has teams in the same division with significantly more games played than other squads. In the Midwest Region Great Lakes East Conference, the disparity is greater than anywhere else - creating a rather muddled table.

For instance, the Dayton Dynamo have completed nine matches - three-quarters of their schedule - with Erie, AFC Cleveland and Fort Pitt all at the halfway point.

Here's the conference table, via NPSL.com, through June 22. The top two teams advance to the Midwest Region playoffs at the end of the 12-game regular season. (The schedule is balanced this season, finally, with each team playing the rest of the conference home and away).

Standings for the National Premier Soccer League Great Lakes East Conference as of June 22. (via NPSL.com)

Determining the power rankings for the conference isn't quite as simple as going straight down the standings (although the GLE is definitely split into two clear tiers right now).

BN Soccer's NPSL Great Lakes East midseason Best XI

When you take into account remaining opponents, games in hand, home and away tilts, present form, strong parity and late-season roster additions, the table becomes a little less predictable. One major note we've picked up on over eight seasons of covering the NPSL: Grinding out points on the road, even if it's a draw against a team lower in the standings, is typically necessary for a playoff team.

In the name of fourth-tier U.S. Soccer, let's take a crack at how we think the standings will shake out when the regular season concludes July 15.

NO. 7: FORT PITT REGIMENT (1-7)

Best result: 1-0 win over Rochester, May 24

Worst result: 4-0 loss to Erie, June 20

Away record: 0-5

Remaining matches, home in bold: DAY, @SYR, FCB, SYR

Outlook: Sorry, Fort Pitt, but it looks like you're destined for the cellar, but with nine points within reach in the final three games of the season - plus three home matches in the final stretch - a late leap up the standings isn't impossible. But recent form has John Kowalski and the Regiment in dire straits: a 4-0 thwacking at home - plus the strong likelihood of missing the postseason - could encourage a lack of commitment to the squad.

Despite trotting out an aggressive 4-3-3 in Buffalo and boasting terrific numbers for an away clash, the Regiment - who took 2016 off to reorganize as a club - were not especially difficult for the Wolves to shut down.

Solid pieces such as goalkeeper Brenden Alfery, center back Jack Webber, fellow defender Matthew McDyer, experienced midfielder Nicholas Kolarac and club veteran Jesse Scheirer haven't been enough - a lack of killer instinct in the final third and suspect depth of talent (even 1-11) are among the downfalls of the Pittsburgh-based team.

*****

NO. 6: SYRACUSE FC (2-5-1)

Best result: 1-0 win over Dayton, June 3

Worst result(s): 5-1 losses to both FC Buffalo (June 11) and AFC Cleveland (May 20)

Away record: 0-3

Remaining matches: @ERIE, @AFCC, FPR, @FPR

Outlook: The tension between Syracuse as an Upstate New York youth hotbed for soccer and Syracuse FC as an expansion NPSL club has contributed to an uneven start to the inaugural campaign.

Under head coach Matt Tantalo, who guided Rochester in its first season as a club in 2016, there's been marked improvement the last two weeks, perhaps prompted by the massacre at the hands of FC Buffalo (a match in which Syracuse had no true center backs available).

The turnaround has been partly due to player availability as it has been a tightening defensively and a little more grit; the 2-1 upset of the Wolves three days after the loss was truly impressive, and drawing table-toppers Erie a few days later suggests a corner has been turned.

Syracuse are more dangerous when forward Logan Roberts is in the XI, as opponents can't sell out to stop dynamic midfielder Nate Bourdeau, who's been the unquestioned best player for Tantalo's unit. If the head coach can count on a consistent back line over the final four matches - as well as solid player availability - Syracuse could finish strong. But don't expect a trip to the playoffs.

*****

NO. 5: FC BUFFALO (2-4-3)

FC Buffalo’s Bayley Winkel has been one of the team's most dangerous offensive players. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo)

Best result: 5-1 win over Syracuse, June 11

Worst result: 2-1 loss to Syracuse, June 14

Away record: 0-3-1

Remaining matches: @DAY, ERIE, @FPR, AFCC

Outlook: The four-day stretch where FC Buffalo smashed Syracuse at home, 5-1, then lost, 2-1, on the road to the same squad is a microcosm of the Wolves' season so far.

Finishing has been agonizingly elusive for FC Buffalo this season, and it's not for a lack of quality chances.

Failure to take a point from the opener against Dayton and three from the home draw with Rochester set the Wolves back from the get-go, and the last three weeks have been a desperate attempt to make up ground in the standings.

Getting played out of the park by Rochester for 80 minutes at Aquinas was the nail in the coffin, as FC Buffalo are all but eliminated from postseason contention. Credit to the Wolves for a gutty, come-from-behind draw against Dayton just two days after the demoralizing loss to the Lancers.

Goalkeepers Jeremy Figler and Cameron Hogg have been competent rotating between the pipes, while center back Fox Slotemaker has made a case for the conference's best defender.

Striker Akean Shackleford has had an up-and-down campaign - it wouldn't be tough to argue he should have more goals to his name - but the newcomer has been outstanding over his last three matches, potting four goals in that span.

*****

NO. 4: ROCHESTER LANCERS (5-2-2)

Best result: 3-0 win over AFC Cleveland, June 11

Worst result: 1-0 road loss to Fort Pitt, May 24

Away record: 1-1-2

Remaining matches: @ERIE, @AFCC, ERIE

Outlook: How a team can crunch the defending NPSL champions 3-0 but also lose 1-0 to Fort Pitt is a testament to the "any given day" nature of the league (that, and the Royals left as many as seven potential starters at home).

The softest part of Rochester's schedule is behind them, though, and it wouldn't be a shock to see a modest regression. A home-and-home with undefeated Erie and a trip to the revenge-minded Royals is far from the ideal closing slate, but Friday's 2-1 victory at home over FC Buffalo has Rochester's sights set squarely on the playoffs.

Like the River Dogz of '16, the re-branded Lancers are a tough out; the side is littered with overachievers who compete well as a unit. Striker Will Stone has been a one-man wrecking ball up front, while Rafael Godoi, Michael Cunningham, Lukas Fernandes, Alex Harling and Jake Schindler have all had strong campaigns. The biggest surprise? Buffalo State alum Will Banahene's prowess in goal.

*****

NO. 2: AFC CLEVELAND (4-3-1) (previously No. 3 before two-win weekend)

Best result: 4-1 home win over FC Buffalo, June 9

Worst result: 3-0 road loss to Rochester, June 11

Away record: 2-2

Remaining matches: SYR, ROC, @ERIE, @FCB

Outlook: The defending NPSL champions are too good to miss the regional playoffs one year after claiming the title, right? Maybe not. We tentatively have AFC Cleveland narrowly missing the second playoff spot to Dayton, but Rochester are very much in the hunt as well.

Where have things gone awry? The Royals have a tendency to travel poorly - last year's white-washing against FC Buffalo at All-High was a prime example - and the Lancers made sure AFC Cleveland knew that a B squad wouldn't get it done this year at Aquinas.

Even though Cleveland took six points from a home-and-home with bottom-of-the-table Fort Pitt to close their June slate, there's still work to be done to fend off Rochester and Dayton. The likelihood Mike Sesar's side would taste the playoffs has soared with the recent results, however.

At full strength, the Royals are still the class of the conference in terms of talent. Veterans Vinny Bell and Tom Beck have either slowed the time machine or simply feasted on competition that's weaker than years past, while scary depth in the midfield (Ryan Ware, Ryder Bell, Skye Harter, Brian Potocnik, Yianni Sarris) supports elite attacking center midfielder Admir Suljevic.

Toss in the addition of two gifted attackers from nearby Cleveland State - Lawrence Karpeh and Gianluca DiFranco - and it's suddenly become a headache for Sesar to select an 18.

A straight red card and lengthy suspension to starting holding midfielder Mike Derezic has been a blight on the season, but it's not the sole reason Cleveland stumbled in the early going. Derezic's late goal to oust Fort Pitt was a redemptive moment.

The Royals are talented enough to salvage 2017 from becoming a lost season, but shocking results have them in danger of a championship hangover.

*****

Dayton's Ibra Kebe, right, has been one of the league's top defenders. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

NO. 3: DAYTON DYNAMO (5-2-3) (previously No. 2, on June 23)

Best result: 2-1 road win over Rochester, May 21

Worst result: 1-0 loss at Syracuse, June 3

Away record: 2-2-1

Remaining matches: @FPR, ERIE

Outlook: Dayton's busy early-season slate - from which they took 13 points from their first five matches - has them in a good spot for the stretch run, even if their recent form offers a cause for concern.

The Dynamo's five wins look daunting to the other contenders, minus Erie, and should Dan Griest's side takes care of business on the road at last-place Fort Pitt, Dayton should seal a spot in the playoffs.

The Dynamo will rue a 3-3 home draw against FC Buffalo, blowing 2-1 and 3-2 leads with the Wolves' Shackleford answering each time, including a late equalizer in the 88th minute.

When available, midfielder-striker Tate Robertson has proved arguably the most lethal in the conference, displaying rare pace to get in behind defenses and composure when chances present themselves.

Chris Dupont is a steady piece in the middle of the pitch, while former Senegalese international Ibra Kebe is a joy to watch, even at 38.

NCAA Division III All-American Matt Kinkopf is clinical in front of goal, while Eric Hutton, Conner Hughes, Nick Hagenkord, Austin Kinley and Tristan Lyle have all logged quality minutes for a side that concedes less than a goal per game.

*****

NO. 1: ERIE COMMODORES (4-0-2)

Best result: 2-1 road win over AFC Cleveland, May 28

Worst result: 1-1 draw vs. Syracuse, June 17

Ezana Kahsay, No. 7, complains about a yellow card while FC Buffalo's Chris Walter flashes a grin. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Away record: 2-0-1

Remaining matches: SYR, @FCB, ROC, @DAY, AFCC, @ROC

Outlook: John Melody's Commodores pace the fleet of contenders, but with six matches left on the season, they cannot simply sail into the postseason.

Still, Erie are the toughest, most organized and most consistent side in the Great Lakes East, and the breakout campaign of University of Akron forward Ezana Kahsay must sting for FC Buffalo, whose backyard he grew up in.

Fiery center backs Shane Wiedt and Guillermo Lazcano protect the spine in front of athletic keeper Jorge Alvarez Prendes, while a flurry of Silvas are fixtures in the midfield.

The biggest mystery is Brazilian newcomer Thaylan Moreira Sanches Silva, who's scored twice in as many appearances this summer. Lewis Osborne is a quintessential No. 9, whose hold-up play and physicality complements Kahsay's pace and sheer athleticism.

The leadership and experience of Austin Solomon and Luca Campos will be key down the stretch of the season, but the Commodores will ultimately go as far as the crop of college kids takes them. Erie have back-to-back two-game weekends to open July, so the quest gets more grueling from here on out.

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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