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10 contenders for boys soccer Prep Talk Player of the Year

The high school soccer season is three weeks old, and a crop of contenders for the Prep Talk Player of the Year award for boys soccer is taking form.

Following in the footsteps of Pa Lu, Troy Brady, Shane Greene and Brandon Galanti, the next player to receive the honor might not be a forward or attacking midfielder.

In fact, the first two players on this list - which isn't intended to be in a particular order - are legitimate contenders, even though neither will set scoring records.

With well over two months to go before a choice is made, let's take a premature look at some of the frontrunners, with their updated stats and a word from each of their head coaches about what makes each player so special:

Spencer Frome, left, jockeys for a loose ball in the 2016 Monsignor Martin Association final vs. Canisius. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News file photo)

*Spencer Frome, St. Joe's defender

His case: The Prep Talk Player of the Year award isn't typically handed out to a defender, but Frome is a serious candidate thanks to a dominant career for St. Joe's coach Mike Thoin.

Younger brother of former Joe's star Henry, who played briefly at Claremont Mudd Scripps, Spencer is a no-nonsense center back who isn't shy to join the attack, popping in seven goals and nine assists over the course of his career.

He's a shoo-in for his fourth-straight All-Catholic selection, and almost certainly a repeat All-Western New York pick.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: The Marauders have kept four clean sheets and stand 4-1 through five matches. Frome has been central to the defensive effort. (All 2017 statistics are courtesy of, a very good resource).

Mike Thoin's take: "[Spencer] is a center back who makes all defensive calls, a tough physical presence on defense (5-foot-7, 165 pounds), rock solid on the ball, sees and reads the game wonderfully, always matches up against the opponent's best, great skill with both feet, great foot speed as well, can play anywhere on the field and do it well.

"He's mature beyond his years, a vocal leader that leads by example, makes all around him better players, chips in on offense as well. A pleasure to coach."


*Steve Pufpaff, Grand Island goalkeeper

His case: After splitting Grand Island's goalkeeping duties en route to the New York State Tournament finals last year, Pufpaff has the role to himself for his senior season.

He also served as the backstop for FC Buffalo Academy's State Cup title run, then helped East Aurora FC to the Buffalo & District Soccer League playoffs in their first season in premier.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Denied two penalty kicks on the season so far, including a game-saving stop in overtime to seal a draw against International Prep. His eight-save clean sheet to beat Niagara-Wheatfield, 1-0, was another impressive effort.

Without defensive-minded stars Jake Gleave and Nemo Simic, among others, in front of him this year, his statistics will more than likely suffer, but that shouldn't negate his impact on the Vikings. He has kept two clean sheets this fall.

Frank Butcher's take: [Steven] has incredible reaction time, he is so quick that he makes amazing saves even on point blank shots. He has great positioning and a great anticipation. He is always in the right spot to make the save. He also has a great competitive spirit. He hates letting goals in even in practice.

"What I love most though about Steven is that he is an incredible teammate. He is the ultimate team player,encouraging teammates and putting the teams successes before his own."


*Justin Bonetto, Williamsville North forward

His case: Bonetto's statistics would be even more glamorous if he weren't on a stacked Williamsville North team, as fellow attackers Blake Ferrell and Anand Murali share the spotlight in 2017.

Another product of the lone FC Buffalo Academy squad, Bonetto is a well-rounded playmaker who's lethal in the 18-yard box.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Bonetto is tied for the team lead in goals with six, adding four assists, a team-high, through six matches.

David LaMastra's take: "Justin is a highly skilled player with great touch and vision on the field. What separates Justin from other great players is his knowledge of the game and his desire to be great. Justin plays with heart and passion and has the ability to raise the level of players around him."

Part of the blonde squad from Williamsville North, Justin Bonetto, left, is in the running for Prep Talk Player of the Year. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News file photo)


*Zakaria Shiabi, McKinley forward

His case: A returning All-Western New York Large School selection, Shiabi looks to duplicate or exceed his breakout 2016 season where he scored 22 goals for the Macks, headlined by a hat-trick against Sweet Home in the Section VI playoffs.

The McKinley talisman delivers big production from a small package - the midfielder-forward is ultra quick, tough to knock off the dribble and a poised finisher. A short-term injury has forced him to miss a few matches, and McKinley has struggled as a result.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Despite missing a few games to injury, Shiabi is tied for the Macks' team lead in goals with four.

Michael Sorrentino's take: "What makes Zakaria Shiabi a special player is his love for the game of soccer. He plays with joy and creativity. His dribbling skills and his vision make him very exciting to watch; you never know what he is going to do next. Combined with his tremendous talent he has a strong work ethic and a competitive nature which makes our team stronger and in our practices, we work harder.

Zakaria has had 12 or more goals and 12 or more assists in the past 3 seasons. He had four goals in our three postseason games last year. Zakaria has been a pleasure to coach and has brought a lot of respect to our McKinley soccer team."


*Max Balko, Starpoint midfielder

His case: The sturdy midfielder is the present centerpiece to a perennially strong Starpoint team, grabbing the mantle from Fredonia freshman Sam Wagner. Balko is a much different player - he's physically dominant rather than shifty - but the Pendleton United (BDSL) midfielder is competent in both directions.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Balko has registered three goals and two assists through five matches.

Zach Trunzo's take: "Max is one of those players you wish you had 20 more of on your squad. Not only for his soccer ability, but because of his outstanding character too. His vision and touch on the field is one of the best I've seen, but he still has the ability to body anyone off the ball.

"He will fill any role that I ask him to without any complaining or hesitation, and he'll make it look easy. Max is an exemplary student-athlete for Starpoint, as well as for boys soccer."

Starpoint's Max Balko, No. 10 in white, is a powerful, productive senior midfielder. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo)


*Bryce Schiltz, East Aurora midfielder

His case: Quick and feisty to counter his lack of size, Schiltz is another returning All-Western New York player who stands out on a team blessed with an absurdity of riches.

After conquering State Cup with the FC Buffalo Academy, he didn't look out of place competing for East Aurora FC in the BDSL's premier division, even against the high-powered BSC Raiders in the league quarterfinals.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Schiltz has tallied five goals and two assists through five matches, all wins.

Kevin Beale's take: "[Bryce] has been quite determined this year more so than past. He always wanted to attack but now is really working harder to get on more balls.

He has had to fight through man-marking, but has been great at receiving balls under that pressure, has been relentless to fight through multiple defenders, and as a senior is doing more of the little things we need players to do besides using just their skill."

East Aurora's Bryce Schiltz has developed under the watch of Blue Devils' head coach Kevin Beale. (Amy Baase)


*Cesar Carlin, Wilson forward

His case: A four-year starter and two-time captain for Wilson, Carlin's popped in 76 goals in his high school career. The Tiger is a forward for the FC Buffalo Academy team that triumphed at State Cup this past summer. His pace, strength and direct play prove to be a handful for defenders, who often resort to hauling down the marauding attacker.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Carlin has just one goal through five matches.

Jeffrey Hart's take: "Cesar has the ability to put defenses on their heels with his incredible speed and tireless work ethic and create shots from seemingly impossible positions. Easily, the hardest worker I have ever coached - he has the ability to elevate the play of all of his teammates."

Cesar Carlin, left, scored 37 goals as a junior. Will he lead Section 6 in scoring during his senior year? (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News file photo)


*Trevor Moreland, Newfane midfielder-forward

His case: The reigning Niagara-Orleans Player of the Year is back for his senior season; Moreland also claimed fifth-team all-state and All-Western New York Small School honors last year. The attacker on FC Buffalo Academy is tough to knock off the ball and accomplished against high-level competition.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Moreland has posted 11 goals and nine assists through eight contests. Both are team highs.

Sean McDonnell's take: "Trevor has the ability to orchestrate everything that happens on the field. His vision and knowledge of the game not only make him a special player, but also makes our team very dangerous. His ability to play any position makes him a threat from all different areas of the field."


*Dylan Cunningham, Kenmore East forward

His case: The former Empire United Buffalo forward, who also suits up for the BDSL's Crimson Fire, has been effective for the Bulldogs since eighth grade, wearing the armband since his sophomore year.

Strong with a low center of gravity, Cunningham is equally adept at finishing and distributing, although it's the latter that's been the focus of his senior season.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Cunningham has three goals and 13 assists through six games, including this set-piece goal against North Tonawanda.

Rolfe Friedenberg's take: "Dylan is a highly skilled player that has a great understanding for the game of soccer. He has the technical ability to beat any player one-on-one and is very dangerous on set pieces around the box. He can also beat you tactically. He can recognize a weakness, or defensive breakdown by the other team, during the flow of the game, and exploit that weakness with a well-placed ball to another player."


*Jake Westadt, Lewiston-Porter junior midfielder-forward

His case: The younger brother of former All-Western New York pick Zach, Jake recently earned a trip to Northern Ireland to play in SuperCupNI with Global Premier Soccer's national team. He's ultimately an attacking player, although he's a versatile piece for Rick Sweeney's Lancer squad, and he's still just a junior.

2017 stats, through Sept. 12: Westadt has posted three goals and an assist through six games.

Rick Sweeney's take: "Jake is a player who makes your team believe they can beat anyone in WNY. There a a lot of ways he can hurt an opponent: he works tirelessly to get open with well-timed runs, he can beat guys on the dribble, he has a great shot that allows him to score from distance, and his vision and creativity with passes opens up teammates for chances as well."


Just missed: Tom Stankowski, St. Joe's; Chris O'Brien, Clarence; Nino Marino, St. Mary's, Max Krajacic, St. Joe's; Cullen Ingraham, Hamburg; Mateo May, Newfane; Abdullahi Hussein, International Prep.

Watch out, next year: Trey Buscaglia, Williamsville East; Dylan Miskell, Hamburg; Jabreel Almantaser, Lackawanna; Kyle Hofschneider, Kenmore East; Ross Showalter, Clarence; Kyle Pollard, Clarence.

*Note: Grand Island forward John Griffin would have been included in the first 10 had he not suffered a knee injury that will cost him much of the 2017 regular season.







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