About a year ago, BSC Raiders and BUSS competed in a match that's gone down in Buffalo & District Soccer League lore. The BDSL semifinal clash offered a bit of everything - a blown 3-0 lead, two red cards, two overtimes and seven goals in total.
Raiders ultimately triumphed en route to their premier division title, but the pace of the match was frenetic, the talent level was high and the tackles were hard. (There was a lot of extra-curricular activity, too).
Without over-hyping Aug. 2's Tehel Cup final (8:30 p.m. at Sparky Adams Field, 1299 Parker Blvd., Kenmore) between the two premier division teams, the clash has potential to be special, as both sides have a little extra incentive to hoist the hardware.
Thursday marks BSC Raiders' first Tehel Cup final since 2012, remarkable considering Rocky Palmeiro's squad has claimed three of the last four premier trophies. While attendance has been Raiders' Achilles heel the last handful of seasons, smart offseason additions and fortuitous scheduling has resulted in better numbers in 2018.
"Tehel Cup's been a tough challenge for us over the last few years; it's been the one that's gotten away," said Raiders defender Kyle Rogers after his team thumped BSC Inter, 5-1, in the tournament's semifinals. "This year we've been really committed and we've gotten good numbers to the games, and when we have good numbers, it's hard to beat us."
From the Raiders side that last won the Tehel Cup, only five players still remain: John and Matt Grabowski, Chris Billoni, Matt Waddington and David Pihlblad.
Managed by Gilberto "Polo" Suazo and Bobby Calvaneso, BUSS has two clear motivators heading into the final. One is avenging last year's Tehel Cup final defeat in penalty kicks to Yemen Elite, a match in which the runners-up had ample opportunity to put the victors away in regulation.
The second is Sunday's shocking overtime loss to Wolfpack in the league quarterfinals that has left a sour taste in the mouths of a team that expected to contend for the league title. Perhaps the struggle to knock off East Aurora FC three days before the loss portended the early playoff exit.
Even without suspended Hunter Sherman, BUSS boasts plenty of offensive firepower, with Canisius College striker Hunter Walsh and former Daemen forward Kyle Clifford among the notable names. Recent International Prep alums Abdullahi Hussein and Mo Musse anchor the midfield, while the center back pairing of Suazo and Josh Hammer, about to enter his senior season at D'Youville, is formidable.
Despite being considered a favorite, Raiders recognizes BUSS' talent level. In the regular-season meeting between the two, BSC prevailed, 2-0, but it took a concentrated effort from their back four to keep the orange-clad foe off the score sheet.
"It's always a battle with BUSS," Rogers agreed. "They have a lot of talent, and it's always going to be heated with them. More than any team, we really have a tough rivalry with them, so we're looking forward to it.
"It's good to get into those big matches," Rogers, a former University at Buffalo player, continued. "For a lot of us, these competitive games are few and far between, so we really relish it. It's good for the league to see all this talent up top and everyone pushing each other and the talent each team gets each year."
For even more soccer, the championship game of the Wood Cup - a single-elimination tournament that includes the BDSL's second and third division teams and, for the first time, an over-35 team - kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at the same field. Celtic 1888 faces Great White Buffalo in that clash.
INFO: BSC Raiders vs. BUSS, Tehel Cup Final, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at Sparky Adams Field (1299 Parker Blvd., Kenmore). Free to attend.
How they got here
BSC Raiders: 10-1 over Dutch; 2-1 in OT over Williamsville Willies; 2-0 over Quake in forfeit; 3-0 over Sharpshooters; 5-1 over Inter.
BUSS: 4-1 over OP Alliance; 2-0 over Clarence; 6-1 over Soho; 4-2 over East Aurora in OT.
*Stay tuned to BN Soccer's Twitter account - @BN_Soccer - for live tweets from the match.