The contest to decide which city will represent Western New York in the USASA Amateur Cup arrives March 20, as the Buffalo District Soccer League's BSC Raiders take on the Rochester District Soccer League's Italian-Americans SC Bakshi.
Here are 10 things to know in advance of the game:
1) Where and when: The game kicks off at 5 p.m. inside Sahlen Sports Park (7070 Seneca St., Elma) on Field 45. Walk through the main doors, go straight past the pro shop, TVs and tables, then turn left down the first hallway. Admission is free.
2) Match details: The two sides will play a full 90-minute match, split into two 45-minute halves, with two 15-minute overtime sessions and penalty kicks if the match remains tied at the end of regulation. The substitution rules are just like the National Premier Soccer League -- each team can use all seven of its subs, but players cannot reenter once they've been replaced.
3) Track records: Managed by Rocky Palmeiro Sr., the Raiders are the two-time defending champions of the BDSL, fighting off a slew of contenders in an increasingly competitive premier division. The Italian-Americans are also two-time defending champions of the RDSL, compiling a flawless 14-0 record in 2015, outscoring their opponents 53-5.
4) Rosters: You can find the rosters for both teams in this post on BDSL.org. Given the Amateur Cup's lenient roster rules, the Italian-Americans Bakshi will trot out 16 of the 26 players on its 2015 roster, with the only two newcomers being Justin Mercer and Tim Crawford, while four of BSC's players (John Netter, Regan Steele, John Occhiuto and Jake Rinow) for the Amateur Cup play-in game will make their Raiders debuts.
[Podcast: BDSL co-VP Michael Schieber talks about the league's participation in the Amateur Cup]
5) BSC Raiders' advantages: Call it a small edge, but Raiders should benefit from hosting the match, playing on familiar turf in front of what should be a decent number of supporters. There's a lot of tenacity and grit in the side, as well as considerable NPSL experience.
Kendell McFayden, Ian Mort, Chris Walter, Ryan Walter, Jake Rinow, Kyle Rogers and John Grabowski have all featured more than 10 times for FC Buffalo.
6) Raiders' disadvantages: Simply put, there's not a lot of youth on this side, especially defensively. Not to get overly nerdy, BSC's average age is 28, compared to the Italian-Americans' 24.8 years. Will that make a difference in a 90-minute match with seven subs? I don't know for sure, but it could.
7) Italian-Americans' advantages: Jake Schindler and Tim Crawford should be in-form, as the Syracuse Silver Knights teammates just wrapped up their Major Arena Soccer League season and, with striker Isaac Kissi, will play for the brand-new Rochester River DogZ this summer in the NPSL.
The likely striker pairing of Ngwese Ebangwese and Kissi is especially fearsome, and there are plenty of collegiate options in the midfield and on defense.
8) Italian-Americans' disadvantages: Will they be tough enough to tangle with a nasty Raiders side? Though fitness may be an advantage, Rochester's contender must prepare for crunching tackles and considerable intensity -- and perhaps the flaring of tempers. Can they stay under control?
9) Raiders' Player to Watch: McFayden was selected to the All-NPSL Best XI last summer, and he's a difference-maker at either center back or at striker. He'll likely start up front on Sunday, but if the Raiders need to protect a lead, he's a shutdown defender.
10) Italian-Americans' Player to Watch: Ebangwese starred for FC Buffalo late last summer after spending the majority of the season training with USL-champion Rochester Rhinos. He'll be the best player on the pitch and a real handful for the Raiders' back-line. The size-speed combination is something that the Raiders wouldn't see in the BDSL.
*What's next: The winner represents the Western New York Soccer Association (WNYSA) in the first round of the USASA Amateur Cup on April 3 against a squad from Eastern Pennsylvania. WNYSA will host that match.
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who's embarrassed he calculated each side's average age, at firstname.lastname@example.org