The familiar refrain the last few Buffalo & District Soccer League seasons is that if BSC Raiders have a full allotment of players at a given match, they're going to win.
And, considering Raiders haven't suffered a league or Tehel Cup defeat since a 2-0 forfeit loss to Clarence more than a year ago, attendance hasn't been too much of a problem.
Behind two goals from Kendell McFayden and one smash from Evan Walsh, BSC Raiders methodically knocked off Buffalo United Soccer Stars (BUSS), 3-1, Thursday at Sparky Adams Field in Kenmore.
Part of what makes Raiders so dominant is their ability to play several styles - American or European, overly simplified - and that versatility is made significantly easier with a deeper bench. Substitutes allow them to play with higher defensive pressure, especially from the forwards and midfielders, which makes opponents' build-up a nightmare.
"[The commitment] is a reflection of the guys this year," McFayden explained. "We weeded some guys out that didn't want to be as committed, and we said in the beginning of the year: if you're not going to be here, then don't make the commitment. We've basically stuck to that this whole year."
The Tehel Cup crown was surprisingly Raiders first since 2012, although the club has a long history of tournament championships, winning the country's longest-running amateur men's soccer tournament four straight years from 2003-2006, then again in 2011 and 2012.
"We've had some good competition [in Tehel Cup]," said McFayden after the win. "We went to overtime with the [Williamsville] Willies, and had a couple other good games where we came out and were flying, but we had numbers again tonight, which is always good for us since it's tough to get everyone to a game."
Of any premier division foe, BUSS typically gives Raiders the most trouble. Bobby Calvaneso and Gilberto "Polo" Suazo's team oozes pace and physicality all over the pitch, and although they were short a number of goal-scorers on Thursday, the Orange still made life difficult for the eventual victors, especially late in the first half.
— Casey Derkacz (@UB_CoachDerkacz) August 3, 2018
*1-0, BSC Raiders, 25': Canisius College midfielder Evan Walsh, terrific in the semifinal against BSC International, continued his sterling run of play by notching the game's first goal. Receiving the ball on the left wing, Walsh faked a shot to freeze a defender, then scooted inside before snapping a heavy shot that beat BUSS goalkeeper Tim Clark cleanly to the near post.
*1-1, even, 26': Typically sure-footed Raiders goalkeeper Jeremy Figler was a little casual with the ball at his feet, and a stray touch allowed a hustling Hunter Walsh, Evan's brother but opponent on Thursday, to reach the ball first. To prevent an easy tap in, Figler pushed Walsh to the ground, and center official Shane Magaris pointed immediately to the penalty kick mark.
While BUSS wasn't enthused to see Magaris issue just a yellow card to Figler, captain Suazo stepped to the spot and sent Figler the wrong way to even the score.
*2-1, BSC Raiders, 30': Raiders midfielder John Grabowski is one of the smoother, more technically sound players in the BDSL, and his assets were the difference in his side's push back in front.
Gliding past a defender horizontally on the edge of the BUSS 18-yard box, Grabowski drew more pressure to him, creating space for McFayden, who lurked square as an option. Grabowski made the simple pass to McFayden, who picked the lower left corner of Clark's goal.
*3-1, BSC Raiders, 87': Raiders substitute Colin O'Keefe, in his first year with the club, was seemingly omnipresent in the second half, flying up and down the right wing, winning tackles and accelerating past defenders. It was only fitting that he play a key role in the insurance goal.
"I'm playing outside mid, so my job is to pinch in on the weak side, and I saw Hunter Walsh getting the ball," O'Keefe described. "I knew if I timed my tackle right I was going to win it, then played Kendell in for the easy goal, and I think that one sealed the deal."
It's been quite the rise from obscurity for O'Keefe, who spent two years as a player for John Grabowski at Erie Community College before latching on to Raiders for BDSL and Buffalo State for college, where he'll play this fall under new head coach Francesco Cardillo.
"I started in the third division two years ago, then went to Queenston last year - shout out to Queenston! - but it feels good to win a Tehel Cup [with Raiders]," O'Keefe said.
It would be remiss to not credit Raiders' defense, which left Figler rather bored throughout the match. Center back Casey Derkacz made a compelling case for man of the match honors, rarely putting a foot wrong defensively and serving a slew of dangerous set pieces. The collective strength and speed of Kyle Rogers, Anthony Johnson and Alex Osuch was often too much for BUSS' young crop of attackers to break down.
"We've given up six goals all year, five have been penalties," noted McFayden. "We've given up maybe one or two in the run of play - that speaks enough for itself, that we're not going to give up any goals and count on myself and other forwards to put our opportunities away."
Raiders did benefit from good fortune late in the first half, when fouls on O'Keefe and Rogers presented BUSS with free kicks roughly 20 yards from goal. Mo Musse struck the first one on a rope - but the International Prep alum, who actually guested for Raiders during the 2018 U.S. Amateur Cup, didn't get quite the dip he was anticipating.
Wes Rider hit the second set piece for BUSS, leaving Figler frozen on his line - but again, the strike missed the target by a foot or so.
After capturing the premier division regular-season title and the Tehel Cup crown, Rocky Palmeiro's Raiders are two wins away from the Treble. They'll face upstart Wolfpack, which upset BUSS last Sunday, at 8:15 p.m. Aug. 5 at D'Youville College in the league semifinals.
Starting lineups and subs
BSC Raiders: Jeremy Figler; Anthony Johnson, Kyle Rogers, Casey Derkacz, Alex Osuch; Matt Grabowski, Ryan Walter, John Grabowski, Rudy Pikuzinski III, Evan Walsh; Kendell McFayden. Subs used: Colin O'Keefe, Brett Stern, Matt Waddington, Chris Billoni, Tony Mermigas, Justin Wainwright.
BUSS: Tim Clark; Prince Saysay, Wes Rider, Josh Hammer, Richie Williams; Hunter Walsh, Polo Suazo, Nate Nuwer, Mo Musse, Bobby Calvaneso; Jason Martin. Subs used: Mateo May, Andre Torrico, Christian Jungong, Mustapha Ibrahim.
*Before the Tehel Cup Final, Great White Buffalo beat Celtic 1888, 1-0, to win the Wood Cup title. Goalkeeper Sam Rodriguez earned man of the match honors for his clean sheet, which was punctuated by a fine stop of a breakaway in the game's dying moments.
GWB midfielder Andy Parkes scored the game's lone goal, scoring from 25 yards out just two minutes after the halftime intermission.