A tournament match last July had both immediate and longterm effects on the Buffalo & District Soccer League. The upstart Williamsville Willies, a Championship Division team then, upset Premier side BSC Raiders in the Tehel Cup's Round of 16, a "shock the world" result that hinted at a changing of the guard in the BDSL, a sign young players were beginning to take the mantle from the wizened.
What that result did, instead, was further motivate a team that already boasted a long history of success. Raiders went on to win the 2017 Premier Division title - their second in three years - then sustained a level of commitment in 2018 that propelled BSC to the Treble - the Tehel Cup and regular season titles, plus the postseason championship - in an undefeated campaign, wrapped by a convincing 3-0 blanking of Amherst Sharpshooters in Sunday's final.
When asked why he assumed a leadership responsibility among the players, Kenmore East and University at Buffalo graduate Anthony Johnson underlined that 2017 loss.
"When we fell short last year in the Tehel Cup, it was just disappointing," the outside back said after Sunday's win. "Everybody sees our roster, sees the names that come out each week, and they expect this [Treble] out of us, and we kind of let the league down.
"Granted, not everybody likes to see us win, and that's OK - there's got to be one of those teams in every league. But we really needed to maximize this opportunity. For some of us, we're getting a little bit older, and our competitive playing days are going to be coming to an end soon."
"[Johnson] was the glue to this," interjected Raiders manager Rocky Palmeiro. "If he didn't take over with the phone calls and getting people here, I was done. He stepped up."
After the Tehel Cup quarterfinal and championship wins over Sharpshooters and BUSS, respectively, Kendell McFayden, who again led Raiders in points, and John Grabowski attributed the amateur men's team's success to the heightened commitment and a slew of friendships among the players, which aided in accountability and simply a desire to show up, even after late Saturday nights or on weekends when FC Buffalo had a match.
And it's very much that FC Buffalo pipeline that's buoyed Raiders the last several years. Close friends and former roommates McFayden, Chris Walter and Grabowski, as well as potential BDSL Player of the Year Casey Derkacz, have been with FC Buffalo in some capacity for at least the last five years, forming connections that allow that quartet to recruit season after season.
Take Brett Stern, the former Newfane High School, Empire United Development Academy and Duquesne University striker who's been a useful bench player for FC Buffalo the last two years.
Added to Raiders for the home stretch after the conclusion of the Wolves' season, Stern scored twice in the league finals.
[Look back at the live tweets from @BN_Soccer of the Premier Division finals]
"[FC Buffalo assistant coach] Casey [Derkacz] reached out at the end of the season and said, 'Hey, do you want to keep playing?' I said, 'Yeah, of course,'" Stern explained. "I've really enjoyed it. The guys are great."
The chance to partner with McFayden was relished by Stern, who calmly potted two passes from his strike partner past Sharpshooters goalkeeper James Quinn.
"[McFayden's] always the big man - the ball goes to him," Stern explained. "I make the runs in behind, and he's always found me. I love playing with him."
BSC's back four and goalkeeping battery of brothers Jeremy and Justin Figler deserves credit, too, as the unit conceded just 10 times on the season, over half of which came on opposing penalty kicks.
A striker the last several seasons, Johnson selflessly moved to outside back to join former Bulls teammates Derkacz and Kyle Rogers, as well as University of Rochester alum Alex Osuch, to form a virtually impenetrable defense.
"I don't think I've scored a goal in the last three BDSL seasons, so it was pretty easy [to move]," Johnson said, with a laugh. "It was an easy way to strengthen our back line, to ensure that we weren't going to give up goals."
But Johnson's buy-in and willingness to lead was part of a larger service to the team's longtime manager, Palmeiro, who funds the team year after year.
"[We] made sure we were doing this for Rocky, who spends his time, his effort organizing this; we had to make sure we did it for him," Johnson concluded. "This was a special win."
*Note: By winning the Treble, BSC Raiders will have the opportunity to represent the BDSL in both the U.S. Amateur Cup and the Werner Fricker Open Cup in spring 2019. BSC advanced to the second round of the Amateur Cup in 2018 before falling to FC Motown.