We've reached the best part of the conference soccer season, as most local college teams are either fighting for a spot in the conference tournament or jockeying for a higher seed. Although Western New York is bereft of a college club in first place, several are not far from clinching postseason play.
Why you should care: It's win and you're in for Buffalo State, which must either beat New Paltz at home Friday or league-leader Oneonta at 1 p.m. Saturday to reach the SUNYAC playoffs for the second time since 2008. After a hot start to conference play, Mark Howlett's Bengals have suffered two consecutive double-overtime losses -- to Potsdam and Plattsburgh -- making this weekend more desperate.
Why it's a big game: The playoff implications are obvious, as Buffalo State would rather not go into Saturday's home match needing a win. New Paltz presents its own issues for the Bengals, though, as six of the Hawks' starters are 6'0 or taller, and both of their starting forwards, Jason Gonzalez and Tyler Lundgren, are Division I transfers.
Why you should care: Any Battle of the Bridge match-up heightens the tensions between two rival schools, but Canisius would like nothing more than to play spoiler on their nemesis' turf. The Griffs must win their last three Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference contests to finish top six and reach the postseason, while a win for the Purple Eagles clinches a playoff spot. Niagara stays at home for a 1 p.m. Saturday match vs. MAAC-leader Monmouth.
Why it's a big game: It's the 40th all-time meeting between the two schools, with Niagara boasting a comfortable lead at 22-15-2. The Battle of the Bridge is a competition across all men's and women's sports from the two rivals, and the Purple Eagles already have a 1-0 edge this year (via women's volleyball). In women's soccer, Niagara ended Canisius' season last year in the first round of the MAAC Tournament, which avenged a 1-0 loss to the Griffs in the conference tourney in 2013.
Why you should care: In its first season with Micky Blythe at the helm, Medaille has survived a mass exodus of players and remained in the top echelon of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC). If you're keen on supporting WNY high school players who've continued their soccer careers, here's a list of local Mavs who've started at least six games: GKs Brian Arcara (Orchard Park), senior defender Ian Brown (Akron), senior defender Alex Pollak (Orchard Park), junior defender Prince SaySay (Riverside), his brother, senior midfielder Anthony SaySay (Riverside), senior midfielder Jaime Salcedo (Akron), senior forward Yggor Zignago, freshman striker Nick Dumond (Starpoint) and junior forward Junior Geegba (Riverside).
Why it's a big game: If the AMCC playoffs began today, these two teams would play each other as the No. 4 and 5 seeds. Starting keeper Arcara has missed the last two matches, both Mavs' losses. Expect Medaille to pummel Hilbert (1 p.m. Wednesday), but La Roche will offer much stiffer resistance in what could be a playoff preview.
Why you should care: The Blue Devils don't have a realistic shot at the SUNYAC playoffs, but they did put a shock into Division III's No. 12-ranked team in the country, Plattsburgh, tying them 2-2 away last Friday off a brace from Ryan Keller. The East Aurora High School graduate is the team's engine -- his work-rate is magnificent, he gets stuck in on tackles and he's underrated technically. There aren't many players in nearby D-III soccer who are more fun to watch.
Why it's a big game: Neither match is a big game in terms of the standings, and given the amount of talent on this Fredonia roster, it's surprising the Blue Devils are already all but out of the postseason discussion. It doesn't help that Fredonia is already on its fourth starting goalie -- 5'8 freshman forward Jeremy Bari has been between the pipes for the last two games.
Why you should care: Simply because of the rivalry. While the Griffs have underachieved this year, there's still a sliver of hope that the team will peak at the right time for the MAAC Tournament, for which every conference team qualifies this year in Disney. Canisius did pick up its first conference win last weekend -- 1-0 over Quinnipiac behind a goal from Lucian Preis and a shutout from Andrew Coughlin -- and should be heavily favored over Niagara, ranked second-to-last in the nation in RPI.
Why it's a big game: Rivalry games can bring out special performances in players. It's the last time that many -- like Big 4 Best XI selections Andrew Ferguson, Nicolo Baudo, Andrew Coughlin and Alex DeCarolis -- get to play their despised neighbor under the lights.
Email Ben Tsujimoto at firstname.lastname@example.org