They say the only thing harder than winning a championship is repeating, and the AFC Cleveland Royals learned why in 2017.
Coming off the most successful season in club history, the Royals participated in two prestigious national tournaments and gave a valiant effort while also competing in the highly competitive NPSL Midwest East Conference.
The Royals accumulated a 6-1-5 record in league play while going 2-2 in cup competitions. The club’s fourth consecutive season with a .500 record or better gave them 19 points, which was only good enough for fourth in the conference table, two points shy of a playoff spot. The end of the unpredictable and competitive year in the East Conference gave only three points of separation between the top five clubs.
Despite the disappointing end to the regular season, AFC Cleveland made the most of their cup competition opportunities. The season kicked off with a 3-1 road win against PDL powerhouse Des Moines Menace in the Open Cup to set up an I-71 showdown between the Royals and USL side FC Cincinnati. AFC Cleveland performed admirably in front of over 12,000 fans at Nippert Stadium in the Second Round, taking their professional opponents into overtime before conceding in the 117′ and dropping out of the tournament.
In similar fashion, the Royals won their first match in the Steinbrecher Cup against Christos FC, an amateur club who shocked the country on an upset run to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, where they played MLS’s D.C. United. In the final of the Steinbrecher Cup, a national tournament hosted by AFC Cleveland featuring champions of various amateur tournaments, the Royals fell to the PDL’s Michigan Bucks 3-0.
2017 saw the Royals combine a core of club veterans with talented local college players who displayed an ability to contribute for years to come. Tapping into the experience of players coming off a national championship helped the club remain in the playoff contention. Tom Beck’s five goals in league competition (6 in all competitions) led the squad and elevated the team on its four game win streak in the second half of the season. The late season surge would not be enough to overcome a slow start to the season and dropping the last two league matchups.
Alex Ivanov’s three clean sheets and incredible 16-save performance also stood out as the AFC Cleveland veteran returned to action after a leg injury kept the Ohio State graduate sidelined for the entirety of 2016.
Notre Dame (OH) captain and 2017 newcomer Reymar Klochko was the only Royal to score in each of the club’s three competitions.
Tom Beck (3), David Jordan (3), Vinny Bell (2), Chris Cvecko (2), Yianni Sarris (2), Admir Suljevic, Mike Derezic, Alex Ivanov, Bobi Cancar, and Lolo Karpeh all put in impressive NOOMA Man of the Match performances throughout the season, illustrating the depth of talent and production at the club’s disposal.
Head Coach Mike Sesar was encouraged by his team’s performance in his first year at the helm, and highlighted the team’s many accomplishments in a short and jam-packed campaign.
“Even though the season didn’t finish the way we wanted, there were many great performances by the squad this season,” said Sesar. “Travelling to Des Moines and Cincinnati, and hosting the top teams in the country here in Ohio, showed that AFC Cleveland is a respected club that played an attractive attacking style.”
Sesar looks looks forward to moving the club in a forward direction in 2018 through hard work, dedication and loyalty to Cleveland and its loyal fans.
Photo Credit: T.J. Powell