The BSC Raiders don't always play pretty soccer, but their punishing style is enough to wear down opponents.
In the Buffalo District Soccer League club's 1-0 win over Italian-Americans SC on Sunday in Sahlen Sports Park, the Raiders won the physical battle in midfield, tackled decisively on defense and rode a first-half goal from Ryan Walter to a place in the USASA Amateur Cup.
Just after the 10th minute, a cheeky through-ball from BSC's Regan Steele found left back Kyle Rogers' run behind IASC's defense. The University at Buffalo grad and former FC Buffalo player tried to chip the ball over goalie Paul Kausmen, who could only graze the ball with his fingertips. Walter, stationed by the far post, tapped the ball home before defenders could converge.
[Look back at 10 things to know about the BDSL-RDSL match]
"I thought [Rogers] was going to put it in, but the goalie made a nice save," Walter recounted after the match. "It's probably one of the easiest goals I'll score, but it's good to get it in, and Rogers -- all credit to him to get it done."
After striking first, Raiders sustained the attacking pressure over the next 20 minutes, as Kendell McFayden and John Grabowski narrowly missed chances to double the lead. The momentum swung around the 30th minute, though, as Italian-Americans forwards Ngwese Ebangwese and Isaac Kissi became more of a menace -- the former nearly won a penalty kick when he was dragged down from behind by BSC's Jake Rinow, but the referee chose not to award it, much to IASC's chagrin.
A crucial tackle by Grabowski on Ebangwese quelled one promising IASC attack, while Chris Walter, guarding the far post on an Italian-Americans indirect kick just outside Raiders' six-yard box, sprawled to toe a deflection away from his goal line.
Matters turned dire for Raiders in the 40th minute, as Ryan Walter earned his second yellow card for a violent foul near midfield, leaving BSC down a man for the final 50 minutes.
"We were knocking the ball and passing and moving, but after [Italian-Americans SC] generated a couple chances, we started getting nervous and whacking it out," BSC defender Matt Waddington explained. "But with the red card, you just have to stay tucked-in shape and hope to counterattack."
After BSC regrouped at halftime -- leaving McFayden up front and pushing Steele back into a wide midfield role -- a cynical tackle by an Italian-Americans SC midfielder on McFayden resulted in a straight red card, leveling the sides once again.
When asked if he was surprised when he saw the second red card, Waddington said: "Yes, but [our] red was given so early that sometimes refs look to even things up. That [IASC] guy took a pretty good whack at [McFayden's] leg."
[Listen to BDSL co-VP Michael Schieber talk about the context of this game]
For the remainder of the match, Raiders center backs Waddington and Rinow held their own in physical challenges with Kissi, an ex-Rochester Rhino, and Ebangwese, who starred for FC Buffalo late last summer.
With only 10 men, Ebangwese was shifted to a wide midfield role, putting him a great distance from goal and allowing more Raiders defenders to get behind the ball. BSC fullbacks Rogers and Chris Walter refrained from forays forward in the second half, but defended with aplomb.
"It's about keeping shape," Waddington explained. "If you're one on one with [Ngwese or Kissi], it's only a matter of time before they break one, so we just tried to keep everything compact in the back -- tucked in -- and forced them into dribbling by two or three guys rather than one."
The physicality of the back-line was infectious, as Grabowski, Ian Mort, Rudy Pikuzinski Jr. and substitute John Occhiuto won important duels in the midfield.
"That's part of our identity," Ryan Walter admitted. "We like to play on the edge and be intense and that's just the way we are. We have to be tough."
Goalie John Netter, in his first action with Raiders, was superb in defending crosses and denied Kissi twice point-blank, robbing the striker with a kick-save early in the second half and then snaring a snap-header from six yards out.
"With Netter in net, I feel strong back with him back there," said Rocky Palmeiro Sr., Raiders' manager. "He made some big saves, especially in the first half [off the indirect kick]."
The victory means that Raiders will represent Western New York in the USASA Amateur Cup, with a match scheduled against a Pennsylvania side (to be announced) on
April 3 [Update, 1:30 p.m. March 21: The BDSL has confirmed that Raiders will face Eastern Pennsylvania side Phoenix Majors in a Regional Quarterfinal on April 17 at a Buffalo site to be determined, due to Western PA dropping out of the tournament].
For now, BSC is thankful for the opportunity handed to them by the BDSL.
"The BDSL is awesome," Palmeiro praised. "It's an awesome league. Ski [league president Bryan Staniszewski] and [co-VP Michael] Schieber do a phenomenal job. All we have to do is show up. We started in 2003 here and it was nothing like it is now. It's first-class right now, and it's because of Ski and Schieber."
For the players, it's a chance to keep playing meaningful matches.
"I think this is a huge tournament, and for some of us, this is all we have to play for anymore, just creating a name within an organization or a league, and we want to come out here and win," Waddington added. "On St. Patrick's Day, for zero guys to have a beer [before the game], that means a lot."
Watch the match, courtesy of Blizz TV.
Email Ben Tsujimoto at email@example.com
Story topics: BDSL/ BSC Raiders/ Buffalo District Soccer League/ Chris Walter/ Isaac Kissi/ John Netter/ Kendell McFayden/ Matt Waddington/ Ngwese Ebangwese/ RDSL/ Rochester District Soccer League/ Ryan Walter/ USASA Amateur Cup