Conference play is heating up across Western New York college soccer, and even though the Big 4 teams are struggling mightily, there's quality soccer to watch across the area.
Here are five home matches to keep an eye on -- either by attending in person or monitoring on social media.
Why you should care: The unbelievably short conference schedule for the Mid-American Conference leaves little room for error, especially when you drop your first match. Friday evening brings a chance at redemption for the Bulls, who gave one of the country's best teams all it could handle last Friday in a 2-1 loss to Akron.
Why it's a big game: The Mountaineers may be just 6-6 overall, but they've played nine teams in the RPI Top 100, including an impressive 1-0 conference win over Western Michigan. The Bulls will have to be mindful of WVU's Jamie Merriam up front, but it's reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Joey Piatczyc, with at least twice as many assists (12) as anyone in the conference, who drives the bus.
Why you should care: The Bengals have won nine straight games and haven't suffered a loss since Sept. 9. Perhaps more impressive is that six of the last seven results have come by just a goal; good teams win close games. They're tough to mark, too, as six different players have scored two goals or more. Sophomore Breanna Knight has been the Bengals' standout recently scoring in two of her last three matches and earning SUNYAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Why it's a big game: Six teams make the postseason in SUNYAC, and Buffalo State is in the driver's seat with 15 points (second place with a game in hand). Both the Bengals and the Cardinals will have played Friday before facing each other Saturday, and it won't be an easy task for Nick DeMarsh's side to beat Plattsburgh keeper Nichole Gibson (five shutouts, just 14 goals allowed in 13 games).
Why you should care: The 2015 conference slate has been much rockier than the Bulls' special 9-0-2 campaign last year -- which concluded with an NCAA Tournament appearance -- but head coach Shawn Burke insists that this year's team is rounding into form, especially after scoring their most goals in a match since 2008 in the 4-1 win last Sunday over Northern Illinois.
Why it's a big game: Friday's contest against Toledo -- part of a men's and women's doubleheader at UB Stadium -- positions the Bulls as clear favorites, as the Rockets are 2-7 on the road, but the Chippewas, Sunday's foe, are the only Mid-American Conference team to defeat East Division leader Miami, and only lost to 6-0 Ball State 2-1. Central Michigan will certainly not cower in front of the defending champs.
Why you should care: The top six make the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC) tournament, and D'Youville is currently tied for fourth with their Saturday foes. The Spartans dropped a difficult 1-0 match to conference leader Pitt-Bradford on Tuesday, while La Roche nipped bottom-feeder Mount Aloysius, 1-0, snapping a three-game losing skid in which they were outscored 14-3.
Why it's a big game: At least statistically, these two teams could not be more even. Examining the results more closely, though, suggests that D'Youville is the favorite, although the Spartans are just 1-3 at home this year.
Why you should care: It's been an absolutely dreadful year for the Bonnies, but two-win UMass should be a winnable match for the Bonnies, who showed signs of life in a double-overtime loss to Davidson on Wednesday.
Why it's a big game: Kwame Oduro's team badly needs some good news -- Jimmy Barrios' second-half goal vs. Davidson was the program's first since Sept. 13, covering a span of 742 minutes. Morale must be shaky in Olean, as losing breeds discontent. A win would provide some hope for the remainder of the conference slate.