The true elimination matches are now upon us. With the Buffalo & District Soccer League's new playoff setup, which allows for six playoff spots and two first-round byes, two quarterfinal matches from each of the five divisions will take place on Sunday across the Buffalo area.
From the premier and championship divisions, here's what's on deck for Sunday:
2016 meeting: 3-0 Raiders with goals from Kwadwo Asante, Matt Grabowski and Kyle Rogers
Last playoff meeting: Celtic United won 5-4 in penalty kicks during the 2013 premier semifinals
Keys for Raiders to win: Casey Derkacz's return from suspension will shore up a back line that's showed holes over the last few weeks, including the 4-2 Tehel Cup semifinal loss to Clarence. BSC Raiders are sure to generate chances through Kendell McFayden, who's slaughtered Tehel Cup competition but surprisingly averages less than a goal per match against premier sides.
Rocky Palmeiro's team must avoid putting themselves in an early hole and try to instill confidence in Will Boerema, Raiders' starting keeper. The two-time defending premier winners are deep and very experienced, two characteristics that matter in the postseason.
Keys for Celtic United to win: Clarence wrote the blueprint on how to beat Raiders -- commit plenty of help defense to stymieing McFayden, force Raiders to serve crosses from the wing and keep a conservative shell until counter attacks present themselves.
United's center midfield of Chris Berardi and T.J. Kaszubski, as well as winger Sammy Wasson, could give the underdogs some hope in surges forward. Either Patrick Schulz or Brandon Galanti will need to be threatening for Celtic United to have a chance.
Raiders' player to watch: McFayden. The BSC striker boasts game-breaking ability, and if his work rate is high and his teammates' service is smart, then there's no reason to think he won't pot two.
Celtic United's player to watch: Chris Barbolini. The center back is an unheralded star on the young United side, but he's been superb this year in his tackling, physicality and marking. He'll have his hands full with McFayden, though.
Prediction: 4-1, Raiders. A solid season comes to a close for United, as McFayden's brace is supplemented by goals from Matt Grabowski and Asante.
2016 meetings: 1-0, Clarence, in extra time of Tehel Cup; 1-0, Yemen Elite, in regular season
Last playoff meeting: Have never met in the playoffs
Keys for Yotes to win: It's a little strange -- and perhaps down to luck -- that Clarence were shut out over the last two regular season games. Goals were flowing in Tehel Cup action, after all. Gary Boughton's presence would be huge for the Yotes, who will miss Andrea Conte due to injury and have a few others dinged up from their cup match on Thursday.
The tremendously organized and talented back-four will frustrate Yemen Elite, so it's vital for Clarence's attackers to pot a goal early and then trust their counter-attacking style.
Keys for Yemen Elite to win: Elite will be without Steve Pondeca (red card suspension) and Koby Sapon-Amoah, but Yemen have won big games without both this year. Adel Rahman, Mateo Escobar and Sam Kassem are a bit more technical and a little less physical than their Clarence counterparts, which should make for an entertaining duel.
If you set aside the two dubious penalty kicks against SoHo FC, Scott Augustine and the Elite back line haven't conceded more than one goal in a premier match since June 5, a stretch of six matches.
Clarence's player to watch: Ryan Schroen and A.C. LaFlore are two players, but their center-back partnership -- forged at Canisius College -- was renewed in the BDSL at the transfer window, a move that gives the Yotes a legitimate shot to win any playoff match. Their tenacity, communication and shape make them particularly hard to break down.
Yemen Elite's player to watch: Rahman. The Niagara midfielder has been absent for a few weeks, but he's been creative and productive when in the lineup. Smooth technically with good vision, he'll have to assimilate back in quickly for Elite's offense to generate more than the occasional chance.
Prediction: 2-1, Clarence, in extra time. It's deja vu as LaFlore climbs for a game-winning header in the second overtime.
2016 meeting: 2-0, Wolfpack, with goals from Caleb Richards and Nick Cavalieri
Keys for Wolfpack to win: Of the four quarterfinals in premier and championship, Wolfpack are probably the most convincing favorites. Even with terrific holding midfielder Anthony Appiani out of action to injury, Nick Cavalieri, Caleb Richards and Kyle Weaver have shouldered much of the scoring burden, while additions Kevin Castine (Chelsea), Eric Russell (Lazio) and Scott Berardi (Catan) round out a solid midfield.
Unheralded keeper Andrew Renkas guides a defense that shut down Bantu in the final regular season game and didn't concede more than two goals in a match since the season opener. Lykan, which has struggled to find the back of the net this year, will have tough sledding in the quarters.
Keys for Lykan to win: One of the brightest early-season stories, Lykan are a bit lucky to sneak into the postseason, barely edging Niagara FC and Lakeside to clinch the sixth spot on the final day. Reasons for optimism, though, include the stellar goalkeeping of Bobby McGinnis, plus the return to the lineup of Dan Matuszak from a broken forearm.
With Brian Cleary's willingness to take defenders on and Elliot Griffin's acceleration toward goal, Lykan still need a player like Matuszak to cover a ton of ground and put himself in positions to threaten. As a whole, they'll play conservatively to nullify Wolfpack's speed advantage and frustrate the favorites -- then hope to capitalize off a set piece or a counter. Dane Gilcrest and Gabe Cesar lead the wall in front of McGinnis, and if Lykan win this match, it will be 1-0.
Wolfpack's player to watch: Cavalieri. No stranger to scoring goals in the BDSL, Cavalieri has already scored once against Lykan this year and, while breaking down the opposing back-line won't be a cake walk, the veteran should find himself in position to bury another goal.
Lykan's player to watch: McGinnis. The former Fredonia State keeper is still very good and able to keep Lykan in games even if they're out-chanced, which has happened a lot.
Prediction: 2-0, Wolfpack. Weaver and Cavalieri strike in the win.
2016 meeting: Rangers thumped EA, 4-0, behind two goals from Dom Parisi and one apiece from Jose Pacheco and Mike Szymkowiak
Keys for Rangers win: This is a very good team. From Rob Weigand in goal to Jimmy Nesper, Alex Pollak and Ryan Dobos anchoring the defense to brilliant attacking trio Dominic Parisi (12 goals), Aaron Gartner and Jackson Hamilton, Rangers are the favorites against a team that's been promoted twice in the last two years. Ryan Couell was an outstanding late-season addition.
Sure, there's a certain level of reliance on Parisi, the likely winner of championship player of the year, for goal scoring, but he's been up to the task despite playing most of the season on the wing. Rangers have whacked EA goalkeeper Chris Norcia around before, and they'll be eager to do so again.
[Update, 2 p.m.: Rangers will be without Parisi and Nesper in the lineup, leaving them shorthanded on the wings and at center back. It's anticipated that East Aurora will miss players as well.]
Keys for East Aurora win: The 4-0 loss on May 22 was unquestionably the low point of East Aurora's season, and they'll have an ax to grind Sunday. Rangers are vulnerable, too, having lost to Polonia and Lykan during the regular season, and you don't want to be too quick to count out a team with competitors like Ryan Keller and Parker Healy.
There's no guarantee of this, but the designation of a playoff game might be enough to curtail East Aurora's Saturday night activities.
Rangers' player to watch:
Parisi. Great goal-scorers produce when there's pressure, and this will be Rangers' biggest match of the year.Hamilton. The Medaille College midfielder is perhaps Rangers' best creator, and he will be even more important Sunday without Parisi available.
East Aurora's player to watch: Joe Vucic. The current SUNY Fredonia player has scored in three of his last four games and is brimming with confidence after a slow start to the season. He's every bit as electric as Parisi when he's not pressing.
3-2, Rangers . It's a good match, but Parisi drops a brace on EAFC, including a late game-winner.3-2, East Aurora. The blue and white capitalize on Nesper's absence and do just enough to ward off a still dangerous Rangers attack.
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who will be at Clarence vs. Yemen Elite, at email@example.com