Playing three games in eight days is never easy, but AFC Cleveland made it through the busiest, and most travel-heavy, part of their schedule looking strong against their opposition. After dropping two points against Dayton Dynamo in week 1, the Royals took FC Cincinnati, a professional club, 120 minutes in a 1-0 U.S. Open Cup loss and opened the offensive floodgates against expansion side Syracuse FC in a 5-1 victory.
The Royals should consider themselves unlucky to not have scored, or steal a win, at Nippert Stadium against their I-71 opponents in Wednesday’s Open Cup matchup. For the first 60 minutes, possession and scoring opportunities were aplenty for the NPSL club as they competed against the USL club two divisions above them. Twice in the second half it looked like AFC Cleveland might take a one-goal advantage — Once off a curling shot from Ryan Ware that hit the left frame and again in the 58′ when Declan McGivern’s headed shot from a corner kick required a desperation clearance on the goal-line by a swarm of FC Cincinnati defenders.
Despite the loss, AFC Cleveland kept their heads high and their effort kept fans following at home proud. The performance was a true team effort, and while there were also many notable individual displays, the play of goalkeeper Alex Ivanov stood out as exceptional, earning him the NOOMA Man of the Match designation. Ivanov’s 16 saves not only kept the Royals in the game and forced overtime, but turned the Ohio State graduate into a fan-favorite overnight, if he wasn’t already.
There was no time to dwell on the midweek loss as the Royals turned their attention back to NPSL play for a weekend competition with Syracuse FC. The matchup would be the AFC Cleveland’s longest road trip of the regular season, but a surge of second-half goals from 5 different players propelled them to a convincing win.
Admir Suljevic, the NOOMA Man of the Match, started the scoring barrage in the 6′ with his second of the season, followed by goals from Vinny Bell (2), Mike Derezic, Dan Koniarczyk and Reymar Klochko. The goals were supplemented with two assists from Brian Potocnik, and one by Chris Cvecko and David Jordan.
The Royals found a wealth of chances against the expansion side by feeding their wingers in attacking areas throughout the match.
“That right side always works for us; We have one of the fittest right backs in the league,” said Suljevic. “That’s our style of soccer; we try to work through the midfield and find the outsides and we were successful with it last year and so far this year too.”
The win would bring AFC Cleveland even with Dayton Dynamo in the Midwest East Conference table at four points before the reverse fixture Friday, May 26. Other weekend results put Dayton Dynamo three points clear of the Royals, though AFC Cleveland owns a game in hand. The club will bring lessons learned from their previous fixture with the Dynamo and Saturday’s win with them to Friday’s six-pointer.
“We just got to keep playing our game moving the ball in the middle, our backline stayed very organized not allowing them to get down the middle,” said Coach Sesar. “We know we have continuity within our group and we have to keep pushing forward — We’re a team that goes at people and we want to continue to do that.”
Don’t forget to reserve tickets for our next home match Sunday, May 28 against Erie Commodores. Season tickets are still available at afccleveland.com/tickets and include a pass to each match of the Steinbrecher Cup, hosted at Stan Skoczen Stadium June 2-4.
Photo Credit: Alex Vehr — Cincy Sports Photos