With less than two months until FC Buffalo departs for a special 10th anniversary trip to Germany, the Wolves' brass - owner Nick Mendola, head coach Frank Butcher and assistants Casey Derkacz and John Grabowski - has determined the vast majority of the National Premier Soccer League team's roster.
Fan-favorite Akean Shackleford is a key returnee, along with elder statesmen Kendell McFayden and Chris Walter. Because of a busy June slate, FC Buffalo will carry a slightly larger roster - 31 players in total - than last season, which saw both assistant coaches take the pitch out of necessity.
Here's a look at who's been inked for 2019. Players in italics are joining the club for the first time, and if a player suited up for a college last fall, that info is in parentheses:
Bryce Tramuta (Canisius)
Noah Smith (Cortland)
Ross Dalton (Eastern New Mexico)
Notes: The returns of experienced Figler and Tramuta give the Wolves some stability at the position; Figler was the first-choice keeper last season, and it would be a minor shock if that changed. ... Dalton is the wildcard of the quartet; as a teammate of Shackleford at Indian Hills, he earned first team JUCO all-American honors before ending up at Eastern New Mexico, an NCAA Division II program.
Robert Williamson (Buffalo State)
Colin O'Keefe (Buffalo State)
Borna Juracic (Niagara)
Luca Ziegler (Presbyterian)
Niklas Breunung (Le Moyne)
Todd Smith (Vermont)
Zach Drayer (Rhode Island)
Josh Read (St. Francis Xavier)
Lewis Dye (St. Francis Xavier)
Notes: All-time appearances (65) and assists (nine) leader Chris Walter, who missed much of last season to a shoulder injury, is the club's heart and soul, a respected leader who serves as an example for players 10 years younger. ... Williamson had a solid if unspectacular first year with the club in 2018, and he'll look to build on that this summer. ... Read and Dye could be diamonds in the rough, as their connection with FC Buffalo is similar to that of Euan Bauld and Lewis White, the two Canadian collegians who were regulars last year. ... Juracic is an experienced, gritty center back for Niagara, while Ziegler is a Division I fullback with the ability to get forward.
Austin Stout (Duquesne)
Matt Lopoyda (Niagara)
Manuele Cavazzoli (Canisius)
Jordan Acevedo (Niagara)
Carl Kennedy (Shaw)
Jack Atkinson (Findlay)
Martin Minuzzi (Wheeling Jesuit)
Filip Johansson (Evansville)
William Warren (St. Francis Xavier)
Notes: The roster turnover is greatest in the midfield, where Stout is the only returning starter. Soft-footed Scot Kieran Toland returns after a year away - he has most recently suited up for Mousehole AFC in Cornwall, UK. ... There's plenty to be excited for here, though, as Minuzzi starred for Wheeling Jesuit, Johansson comes from a solid program in Evansville and Warren, a teammate of the two Canadian defenders, can be dynamic on the ball. ... Holding midfield destroyer Cavazzoli might be the best of the lot, as he excelled in an another sleepy season for the Griffs. ... Niagara teammates Acevedo and Lopoyda add valuable depth and should see some starts in a busy June.
Akean Shackleford (SMU)
Hunter Walsh (Canisius)
Ali Shawish (Buffalo State)
Cesar Carlin (Wheeling Jesuit)
Theo Pencic (Buffalo State)
Notes: After a shaky summer last year with FC Buffalo, Shackleford rebounded in his first year with Southern Methodist, scoring six times and finishing second on the team in scoring. With one year of college eligibility left, the Jamaican will have something to prove, like he's had much of his life. ... McFayden is the club's all-time leading scorer with 18 goals, but he's seen his role decrease modestly as he ages. The former Rochester Rhino remains a handful for defenses, though. ... Walsh also returns to the fold after wrapping up his college career at Canisius, while both Pencic and Carlin are intriguing prospects. ... Shawish can slot in as a winger, too, and he'll be champing at the bit to earn more opportunity this summer.
Way-too-early Starting XI
GK: Jeremy Figler
DEF: Chris Walter, Josh Read, Borna Juracic, Luca Ziegler.
MID: Austin Stout, Manu Cavazzoli, Martin Minuzzi, Kieran Toland, Filip Johansson.
FWD: Akean Shackleford.
Sammy Wasson's availability for the 2019 campaign is doubtful as he recovers from injury. Robert Morris alums Bayley Winkel, Jake Cooper and Keane McIvor will not return, either.
[Related: Look back at last year's season preview]