BSC Raiders have returned to the top of the Buffalo & District Soccer League world with a topsy-turvy 4-3 win over Soho FC in the premier division final on Sunday at Nichols School.
Raiders' victory capped off a day that saw Wolfpack, Pendleton United, Blizzard FC and Great White Buffalo also crowned the playoff winners of their respective divisions, while Ukraine earned promotion to first division by knocking off Honey Badgers in penalty kicks.
Here's a quick recap of the action from BDSL Championship Sunday:
BSC Raiders 4, Soho FC 3
Sum: Raiders conceded first in each of their three playoff games, but chasing the game in the first half wasn't enough to deter the offensive juggernaut that is Rocky Palmeiro's team.
Soho's Ryan Mangano opened the scoring in the 10th minute from the penalty mark, as Raiders' Kyle Rogers was whistled for a handball inside his 18-yard box. The Soho striker found the bottom-right corner of the net with a hard, low strike that was too powerful for Raiders' fill-in goalkeeper Matt Waddington to reach.
BSC raised their offensive pressure after conceding, as threatening crosses from Matt Grabowski and Anthony Johnson slithered across the goalmouth or the six-yard box but eluded onrushing Raiders forwards.
In the 30th minute, though, an attempted Soho clearance drilled Kwadwo Asante in the side of the head, then fell fortuitously to BSC's John Grabowski, and his heavy, low shot beat Soho keeper Bryan Staniszewski from close range.
Raiders' go-ahead goal was a thing of beauty. Reserve forward Brandon Horton bulled his way down the right wing, with Soho defender Andrew Larracuente resorting to a slight headlock to pull the ECC Kat off-stride. Casey Derkacz swung in the ensuing set piece right onto the forehead of Kendell McFayden, who nodded down to score in the lower-left corner.
Palmeiro's team pushed the lead to 3-1 on a shocking own goal. Soho left back Nate Griffiths played a routine pass back to Staniszewski, who saw the ball roll accidentally under his foot and into the corner of his goal.
Raiders couldn't pull away, however, as red-hot Jake Montante made a timely run to the back post, nipped in front of Kwadwo Asante and hammered a volley past Waddington from the left edge of the six-yard box.
Asante would atone for losing his mark by getting on the score sheet himself. A high corner kick into a crowded box was met at the same time in the air by Staniszewski and high-flying McFayden, who got a piece of the ball and prevented the Soho GK from punching away from trouble. Asante was well-positioned for the ball, which fell to his foot with an empty net in front of him. It would have been hard for him to miss.
Just as they'd done most of the match, Soho responded five minutes from time to keep the game interesting. With space on the left, fullback Kyle Wiatrowski spotted Andy Tiedt's run behind the defense and dropped an exquisite long ball into his path. Tiedt took a soft touch around an over-committed Waddington and tapped into the empty goal.
Tempers were close to boiling over throughout the second half. Soho insisted that Ryan Walter's cynical challenge in the midfield deserved red rather than the yellow he received, while Austin Tom, Pablo Ordonez and Josh Hall wasted few chances to give the head referee an earful.
Raiders' premier division title is their sixth trophy in the last 10 seasons. Soho have three of the other four in that span.
BSC Raiders: Matt Waddington; Alex Osuch, Kyle Rogers, Chris Billoni, Anthony Johnson; Matt Grabowski, John Grabowski, Ryan Walter, Kwadwo Asante; Tony Mermigas, Kendell McFayden. Subs used: Dave Pihlblad, Casey Derkacz, Pa Lu, Brandon Horton.
Soho FC: Bryan Staniszewski, Nate Griffiths, Andrew Larracuente, Bobby Ross, Kyle Wiatrowski; Dave Hogan, Austin Tom, Pablo Ordonez, Jake Montante, Prisco Houndanon; Ryan Mangano. Subs used: Andy Tiedt, Steve Butcher, Josh Hall, Jay Manno.
Wolfpack 1, Southtowns FPFC 0
Sum: It's worth remembering that both teams had secured promotion by advancing to this match, but that doesn't mean the championship division final wasn't a dogfight.
The match went as predicted - a tight, physical affair with little sustained possession but enough intensity to make it interesting to watch. Given how the two sides won games this year, it wasn't shocking that one goal would be enough, and that marker was glorious for Wolfpack.
Late in the first half, Eric Russell found room on the left wing, picked his head up and curled a cross toward Nick Cavalieri's darting run to the back post. The Wolfpack striker rose into the air and struck his header firmly into the right side of the goal, igniting a palpable roar from Wolfpack's bench and fans.
Southtowns mustered a few chances to equalize, particularly in the second half, but the opportunities were left wanting and Andrew Renkas kept his second clean sheet in as many playoff games.
Pendleton 2, Polonia 1
Sum: The Lions knocked in the ever-important first goal and held on through an at-times nervy second half to earn their second-straight league title.
Both Pendleton strikers K.J. Maldiner and Kyle Jones found the back of the net: the former scored on a header off a service from Chris Kufchak, then Jones potted the go-ahead goal in the 80th minute on a volley from a fortuitous deflection that began with Sam Wagner.
Polonia's tally came off the foot of George Wallenfels around the 70th minute. Stationed deep in the left corner, the veteran midfielder struck a looping ball - likely intended to be a cross - to the back post, sailing over Pendleton goalkeeper Sam DelPrince and a tangle of bodies into the right upper-90.
DelPrince was incensed at the head referee, claiming he'd been fouled when the ball was in flight. His sprint outside the box to confront the official earned him a yellow card.
Following Jones' goal for Pendleton, Polonia's Jake Kowalewski and Chuck Donner had decent looks down the stretch, but DelPrince wasn't called upon to make any heroic stops.
Polonia were without leading scorer David Mack and influential midfielder Camilo Villegas, which certainly affected their offensive arsenal.
Buffalo Blizzard 4, Los Chupacabras 2
Sum: Well, our prediction was admittedly atrocious for the second division final. Los Chupacabras, the winners of the 2017 Wood Cup, laid an egg - going down 4-0 before denting the scoreboard. For the upstart Blizzard, Mo Channer struck for a brace, with single tallies coming from Justus Hoffmann and Andrew Brobbey.
Max Bailey dished out three assists for the victors, while center back Alex Gibb was a standout in the defensive third.
Los Chupacabras reeled from the absence of leading goalscorer Jeremy Bari, who continued to deal with the after-effects of a concussion, but did create a number of high-quality chances - especially through Jeff Calkins, who was the most direct of the lot - in the second half, forcing one dramatic save from Blizzard backup keeper Cameron Farrugia.
Colin Allen, a former Polonia midfielder, scored both of Los Chupacabras' goals, with one coming on a penalty kick.
In the promotion match, Ukraine defeated Honey Badgers in penalty kicks to earn a trip to first division in 2018. Both teams barely had 11 players to call upon, and the 90 minutes were grueling on a steamy day. Badgers' Kenny Anderson and Ukraine's Ostap Tkalich were the goalscorers in regulation.
Great White Buffalo 2, Revolution SC 0
Sum: The BDSL's overall golden boot winner James Mikulski capped a tremendous season by scoring both goals in Great White Buffalo's shutout of Revolution SC. Jon Jones registered the clean sheet, while Ryan Mierzwa assisted on one of Mikulski's markers.