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BDSL premier division semifinals preview

The balance of power has changed little from year to year in the Buffalo & District Soccer League's premier division.

It's not hard to explain the lack of parity - the successful teams attract the best available players, while other would-be contenders struggle to match the depth and skill of the top sides.

Looking at Sunday's two semifinal matches, three of the four teams advanced to this stage last summer. In 2015, the semifinal match-ups were identical to what you'll see Sunday. (If you keep going, three of the four teams from 2014 are still alive, and the other is defunct; RIP, Lazio).

The benefit of familiar match-ups? Rivalries form. The elite squads are so familiar with each other's tendencies and styles that tight matches are likely. Here's the breakdown of Sunday's games:

No. 1 Amherst Sharpshooters (9-2) vs. No. 5 Soho (7-5)
6 p.m. at Nichols School

Last meeting: Sharpshooters won, 3-1, on June 4. This is also the rematch of the 2016 premier division championship game, which Sharpshooters won, 3-2, in penalty kicks.

Checking in on Sharpshooters: The premier division regular-season champs took last weekend off and should be well rested ahead of Sunday's semifinal.

Simply put, Amherst are an offensive juggernaut, striking for 43 goals in 11 matches. Kenmore East alums Eric Brodfuehrer (No. 15; 13 goals, four assists) and Brandon Loncar (No. 2; 12 goals, five assists) have both enjoyed electric seasons, while the additions of Cody Rouse (No. 4; six assists) and Myles Taylor (No. 19) have been invaluable in terms of work-rate and possession.

Longtime Sharpshooters Brendan Lawler (No. 10), Justin Hofschneider (No. 21) and Pat McCann (No. 18) help foster continuity on a team that won't panic at the first sign of trouble. (This is not to say Sharpshooters are invincible, though, as BSC Raiders' 5-2 trouncing on July 18 will attest).

Graham Harris (No. 7) and Andrew Crawford (No. 8) anchor a sound defense in front of Adam Durst's goal, and the return to health of Drew Braun will only bolster the back line.

Unheralded players to appreciate: Jon Cary (No. 12) has missed BDSL time due to injury and FC Buffalo duty, but he's rugged, versatile and yet another goal-scoring threat.

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Checking in on Soho: The No. 5 seed deserves heaps of credit for knocking out Clarence in the semifinals despite playing the vast majority of the match with only 11 players available, including Charlie Woods and Frank Butcher, who've played much smaller roles during the course of the season.

He might be six years removed from his stint with FC Buffalo, but center back Andrew Larracuente remains one of the best defenders in the area, relying on experience and anticipation to cut out attacks. Will he be able to handle the onslaught he's bound to face Sunday?

Andy Tiedt and Steve Butcher will each serve the final game of their three-match suspensions, but the Burgers' attack still poses threats through savvy finisher Ryan Mangano and potent lefty Pablo Ordonez. Jake Montante is flying high off his game-winning header to beat Clarence.

Unheralded players to appreciate: Austin Tom (No. 26), who personifies the grit and tempestuous nature of many Soho players, is also quite talented in his own right. Kyle Wiatrowski (No. 16) is another quiet-yet-valuable cog in the side.

Bold prediction: Soho have enough resolve to keep this match close - at least until the second half. Sharpshooters will have a chance to defend their title after a 4-1 win.

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No. 2 Buffalo United Soccer Stars (8-1-1) vs. No. 3 BSC Raiders (8-2-2)
6 p.m. at D'Youville College's Dobson Field

Last meeting: 3-0, BUSS, on July 16.

Checking in on BUSS: It's been a weirdly quiet two weeks for the No. 2 seed, which secured a bye on the final day of the regular season due to a Raiders forfeit, then saw their Tehel Cup final postponed due to inclement weather on Thursday. The orange-clad side must be champing at the bit to get back on the field.

You'd expect a team loaded with firepower like BUSS to produce more than 23 goals over 10 games, but long stretches of possession and a tenacious defense have limited opponents to just six on the season (three in one game), which ranks second-best in premier since 2008 (Clarence conceded just five in 2011). BUSS haven't been scored on in league play since June 18.

The freakishly athletic and deep team has too many assets to name in just a few paragraphs, so it's worth homing in on co-manager Polo Suazo, who selflessly transitioned to center back and has thrived in the role. The BDSL veteran has also seen the fruits of his off-season recruiting; the three players he helped pilfer from Bantu - Abdi Sabtow, Mohamed Musse and Mo Hussein - have combined for six goals and six assists.

Unheralded players to appreciate: Drew Colosimo, BUSS' first-year goalkeeper who's been the definition of solid.

Checking in on Raiders: Rocky Palmeiro's squad was superior, as expected, to quarterfinal foe East Aurora, perhaps more than the 3-1 scoreline indicated. But the fact EA FC nearly equalized in the second-half header, stopped brilliantly by Ryan Arvin, suggests Raiders will need to be more clinical in the final third in order to put teams away - quality chances were squandered in abundance.

Then again, there's a reason BSC have won five titles in the last nine years. They boast the most lethal striker in the league (Kendell McFayden, No. 8), the best two-way outside back in the league (Chris Walter, No. 28) and two of the best pure soccer players the area's produced over the last decade (Casey Derkacz, No. 11; and Rudy Pikuzinski III, No. 9).

Raiders were shorthanded during the regular-season loss to BUSS, so it's fair to expect Sunday's semifinal to be much closer than match.

Unheralded players to appreciate: We said Matt Grabowski (No. 23) last time, then he blew up against EA. Former University at Buffalo defender Kyle Rogers gets the nod this time.

Bold prediction: 3-2, Raiders, in a barn-burner. This will be a game you'll want to attend.


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