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BN Soccer's local NCAA Division I Best XI

With just three men's NCAA Division I programs remaining in the area, there's less variety to choose from in determining a local Best XI. Given Canisius' outstanding season and St. Bonaventure's trip to the Atlantic 10 Tournament, 10 of the 11 spots are dedicated to those two programs.

GK: Marco Trivellato, Canisius senior
Stats: 9-4-4, 1.31 GAA, 77 saves, six shutouts, 18 starts

Why: The Italian backstop was both reliable and consistent; his ability to read a match and understand positioning was underappreciated, as he rarely needed to recover for an acrobatic stop. A very good defense in front of him offered protection, but Trivellato excelled at the subtle things goalkeepers must do - control rebounds, distribute effectively and avoid soft goals.

St. Bonaventure's Luke Iacobellis was tested more frequently and likely made more highlight-reel saves, but Trivellato, who many around the program believe could play in Major League Soccer, earns the spot by a hair.

*****

DEF: Nicola Bonso, St. Bonaventure freshman
Stats: 19 games, all starts, three goals, two assists, eight points

Why: Bonnies head coach Kwame Oduro badly needed a stalwart along the back line, one with some tooth in the tackle but enough technical ability to play out. Bonso, an Italian import from the same area as Canisius' Filippo Tamburini and Manuelle Cavazzoli, proved apt at both, showing a composure that belied his age and rarely made costly blunders.

Bonso's eight points ranked third on the Bonnies, and each of his two assists came in St. Bonaventure's first two Atlantic 10 wins. It's possible he'll score no bigger goal in his college career than the game-winning header to beat nationally ranked Virginia Commonwealth in the final contest of the regular season.

*****

DEF: Bjarki Benediktsson, Canisius red-shirt junior
Stats: 20 games (all starts), 10 assists, 10 points

Why: Benediktsson's pure left-footed service off free kicks earned him a spot in many a game write-up this year - and his 10 assists likely won't be topped by another defender soon - but it was his transition to center back that was perhaps more impressive. The Icelandic defender is a step ahead in his reading of a game, allowing him to anticipate and break up plays.

While he's not a towering ball-winner like his defensive partner Alex Grattarola, Benediktsson's touch allowed him to wriggle out of tight spaces often. It's a crime he wasn't an All-MAAC first teamer.

*****

DEF: Alex Grattarola, Canisius sophomore
Stats: 19 games (all starts), seven goals, two assists, 16 points

Why: The leap between Grattarola's freshman and sophomore years was obvious, and a big reason Canisius advanced to the MAAC final. The 6'6 Frenchman proved aerial dominance isn't solely about height - although his frame surely didn't hurt.

The All-MAAC pick disguised his runs in the box well on corner kicks - opponents defended him different ways, often with several bodies, and as Grattarola continued to produce, he was regularly mauled in the box.

*****

DEF: Hakeem Milson, Canisius senior
Stats: 20 games (16 starts), one goal, three assists, five points

Why: Milson's conversion from striker to left back - not a move many seniors would accept gracefully - played a major role in the Griffs' success, too.

The responsible positioning of Canisius' center backs lent the Jamaican freedom to maraud forward, and his deceptive footwork and gliding stride were threatening enough to create odd-man situations, opening space for wingers like Troy Brady or Rico Strauchen.

*****

MID: Kieran Toland, St. Bonaventure senior
Stats: 17 games (15 starts), four goals, six assists, 14 points

Why: As mentioned in our all-conference snubs list, the gutsy Toland worked his way into game shape without the aid of preseason, then caught fire to lead the Bonnies in scoring and propel the team to its lone Atlantic 10 tournament berth in his four years on campus.

The Scottish midfielder was lethal on set pieces, whether swinging in corner kicks with pace or rifling set pieces on goal. No one on this list has a heavier shot than Toland, who leaves Olean with 30 points in 63 matches.

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*****

MID: Zulfikar Karimi, Niagara sophomore
Stats: 15 games, two goals, one assist, five points

Why: The Afghani midfielder stood out in a dark season for Niagara, leading the Purple Eagles in shots and shots on goal, while depositing a brilliant strike against St. Bonaventure that stole a point from the Little 3 rival. On a team that couldn't really figure out the offensive third, at least "Zulf" was assertive and tricky with the ball.

With Mack Roach failing to build upon a promising freshman season and Bauti Pedezert asked to shoulder perhaps too much responsibility, Karimi - as well as marauding left back Matt Krucko-Moeller - are at least two reasons for hope moving forward.

*****

MID: Paul Afful, St. Bonaventure senior
Stats: 16 games (15 starts), three goals, three assists, nine points

Why: If the Atlantic 10 kept such advanced statistics as "ground covered," the Ghanaian midfielder would surely pace the conference. With Bonaventure choosing to employ a back five for long stretches, Afful assumed the arduous role of transitioning a defensive-minded team into the offensive third, often beginning his forays forward even with the center backs.

It's too bad Olean had only two years to appreciate the skills and stamina of the Paul Pogba-style player.

*****

MID: Melvin Blair, Canisius junior
Stats: 18 games (16 starts), four goals, six assists, 14 points

Why: Although the Jamaican midfielder has developed a bad habit of coming into preseason out of shape, Blair quickly righted the ship once the season began. While his four goals might seem a little disappointing on the surface, the All-MAAC pick proved more creative, exhibited better body language and even upped his work rate defensively from previous seasons.

Blair is silky smooth with the ball at his feet - even storming forward at full speed - and can change the entire complexion matches with one run.

*****

FWD: Filippo Tamburini, Canisius freshman
Stats: 19 games (15 starts), 11 goals, four assists, 26 points

Why: When asked if he knew what he was getting with the Italian freshman forward, Canisius head coach Dermot McGrane grinned and nodded. The 6'4 target is the total package in a forward - he's adept at holding the ball with his back to goal and laying off to teammates, a competent finisher with his head and feet, and possesses the softest first touch of any local forward I've ever seen.

He won't sneak up on anyone next year, so it wouldn't be a shock to see his statistics dip a bit, but Tamburini is so well rounded that he'll be difficult to stifle.

*****

FWD: Troy Brady, Canisius sophomore
Stats: 20 games (19 starts), nine goals, two assists, 20 points

Why: The easy choice for local Comeback Player of the Year was rewarded for his dedication to offseason ACL recovery, storming out of the gate offensively and potting a memorable overtime goal to down Rutgers.

Brady's production dwindled down the final stretch, but it was not without cause; defenders respected his speed a bit more, and the Grand Island High School alum adopted a bit of a deeper-lying role on the wing and spent less time as a second striker.

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[Look back: Local NCAA Division I Best XIs from 2015 and 2016]

*****

Bench:

Will Pauls, Canisius: The Griffs' spark-plug was Mr. Steady, rarely conceding possession and regularly moving the ball where it needed to go.

Kosi Nwafornso, St. Bonaventure: Although he led the Bonnies in scoring, Nwafornso could have had an even bigger year. Consistency and finishing remain concerns, but the Nigeria could be set for a massive senior season.

Bautista Pedezert, Niagara: Credit Pedezert for his loyalty to the Purple Eagles' program and his mental and emotional toughness to bear three difficult seasons. The box-to-box midfielder deserves a memorable senior campaign.

Lucian Preis, Canisius: The selfless, motivational leader converted to outside back when Nick Szabo and Wes Rider went down with injuries, and the German's gritty, intense play translated smoothly to the new role. Like Pauls, Preis' impact doesn't show up on the score sheet, but he's invaluable.

Jordan Acevedo/Luca Pacheco/Matt Krucko-Moeller, Niagara: These three Canadians represent Bill Boyle's top recruits from last year's class, and their seasoning as freshman should prepare them for the next three years. Acevedo's aggression in the middle of the park stuck out at times, while Pacheco showed flashes of brilliance (and flashes of being a freshman). Krucko-Moeller, who carved out a spot on the MAAC All-Rookie Team, projects as a two-way force at left back.

Luke Iacobellis, St. Bonaventure: As previously mentioned, Iacobellis nearly nabbed the top goalkeeper spot from Trivellato, as he single-handedly kept the Bonnies in games. A serious consideration for Most Improved Player locally, the Toronto native still has two years left in Olean.

Isaiah Barrett, St. Bonaventure: The Wilson High School graduate's college career was in limbo as of late August, when the former Binghamton Bearcat finally decided to play for St. Bonaventure and Kwame Oduro. After a sluggish start, Barrett rounded into form during Atlantic 10 play, coinciding with the Bonnies' stretch of four wins in five games.

*If you like Best XIs, here's another Best XI:

BN Soccer NPSL Great Lakes East end-of-season Best XI

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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