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BLIZZARD WARY OF AMBUSH AS IT PUTS HOME WINNING STREAK ON THE LINE

It's clash of the titans time tonight when the Buffalo Blizzard plays host to the St. Louis Ambush at Marine Midland Arena (7, Radio 107.7).

The pregame scripts don't get much better than this.

Each is a defending division champ currently in first place in a division of the National Professional Soccer League's National Conference.

Buffalo (9-6) tops the North Division. St. Louis (12-3) leads the Midwest Division with the league's best overall record.

Buffalo -- owner of the NPSL's best home record (7-0) -- seeks a team-record eighth straight home victory. St. Louis, the league's top road warrior, hopes to improve its gaudy 5-1 mark away from home. The Ambush is one of only three NPSL teams with a road record over .500.

Both teams come into the game off come-from-behind overtime victories at home.

Buffalo defender Bobby DiNunzio scored the winning goal in Saturday's 11-9 win over Detroit. Mark Moser was the hero of St. Louis' 18-16 victory against Montreal on Sunday.

Each team is sparked by a red-hot goalkeeper. Buffalo's Bill Andracki leads the league in points-against-average (9.53) and is second in minutes played (894) to St. Louis' Jamie Swanner. Swanner leads the NPSL in minutes (922), wins (12) and ranks third with a 9.88 paa.

"They're a strong physical team. A big team," Buffalo defender Marco Rizi said. "Their forwards can post up well and control the ball well, and that makes it difficult for us. They like to play a ball in and then knock it off to one of the midfielders running through."

St. Louis, which holds an 8-5 lifetime edge in six seasons against Buffalo, beat the Blizzard, 20-12, on Dec. 12 in St. Louis.

Rizi, who scored a goal then, said the game -- which Buffalo led, 10-8, at halftime -- was closer than the score indicated.

"Apart from one quarter, I think we played them really well. We just gave them too many restarts," Rizi said.

"I think when you do that, you're putting yourself in trouble. They're very good at it (restart goals). They've got three or four players who can really hit 'em -- (Mark) Moser, (Joe) Reiniger and Daryl (Doran), who can really come around and swing it with his right foot.

"The key to victory, obviously, is to limit free kicks in and around their area," Rizi said. "We match up well against them. We've always played well against them. The key is restarts, not to give them too many."

Whether Reiniger or Doran will play tonight was questionable Monday. An Ambush spokesman described them as "day-to-day" with injuries.

Reiniger, the Ambush's top scorer with 67 points (21 goals, 18 assists), has been nursing a groin pull and a strained right knee. Doran, a defender and player/coach, has been active in spite of a sore knee caused by ligament damage.

Meanwhile, Buffalo coach Carlos Salguero said Andracki and forward/assistant coach Rudy Pikuzinski missed practice Monday at Elma Sports Park because they were "under the weather" with a touch of flu. Andracki and Pikuzinski are expected to play tonight.

Salguero, who has 17 players for 16 roster spots, said he had not decided on the odd-man out. Saturday it was forward Nassib Olabi. The previous weekend it was forward Alex Villalobos.

Michael DiNunzio, an original Blizzard defender who was cut before last season by former coach Gary Hindley, has been practicing with the team since Friday.

Michael, younger brother of defender Bobby DiNunzio, spent the last year at school and is working to get back into game shape.

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