The Royals had quite the 24 hours participating in the Hank Steinbrecher Cup.
The club had little time to celebrate a thrilling last-minute semifinal win against Christos FC before turning their attention to the cup final against Michigan Bucks the next night. It’s not often a team experiences such extreme highs and lows in a two-day span, but AFC Cleveland’s cup run was cut short by falling 3-0 to a formidable Michigan Bucks side in the final.
AFC Cleveland put in a full effort to win the cup, coming out of the gates with most of their regular starters to attack opponent Christos FC, who have recently beaten USL’s Richmond Kickers and Steinbrecher Cup participant Chicago FC United to earn a matchup with MLS’s D.C United in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Royals left-winger Tom Beck set the tone early against Christos FC with a 3′ goal off a searching ball from Mike Derezik. The Royals defense would stand tough for most of the match, but were left shorthanded by the absence of Coletun Long, who exited the field in the 57′ with a lower-body injury. As the medical staff rushed to get the star center-back onto the pitch, Christos spared no time taking advantage of the situation and scored in the 61′.
With Long back on the field, the Royals defense fortified as the squad looked for a go-ahead goal, but the game appeared destined for extra time as the clock wound past 90 minutes. However, AFC Cleveland flipped the script with a pair of stoppage time substitutions, forward Reymar Klochko and full-back Ian Larson, who connected for Klochko’s game-winning headed goal in two of the match’s last touches to give AFC Cleveland the win and send the hosts to the final.
The next night would not produce as enjoyable of a result for AFC Cleveland fans, as the team could not bounce back from an early mistake to take down the reigning PDL champion Michigan Bucks. Head Coach Mike Sesar was able to save some fresh legs for the final and made adjustments to accommodate the first-half absence of hobbled Coletun Long, but a series of unusual circumstances kept the Royals from hoisting the trophy at the end.
The first was a moment of miscommunication between Declan McGivern and Alex Ivanov, who collided near the edge of the box on an overpowered pass by the Bucks. The Royals had nothing to do but watch the ball bounce into their own net after it deflected off McGivern’s knee in the 11’. The second moment saw McGivern caught in an awkward situation once again while battling with Bucks forward Jacob Bevin. The center-back was called for a foul in the box, leading to a converted penalty kick from Bucks captain Tom Owens. The Royals misfortune continued in the 76′ when Long, who entered at halftime, intercepted a Bucks cross but ultimately deflected the ball directly into his own net. The scoreline would stay at 3-0 in favor of the Bucks as they were crowned the 5th winners of the annual Steinbrecher Cup.
Though the strange statline was not in favor of the defending NPSL champions, the Royals showed well against the country’s top amateur talent and got valuable competitive minutes for the roster as they look to turn around their league campaign.
AFC Cleveland will have an opportunity to get their second win of the season Friday, June 9 in a home match against conference foe FC Buffalo. The club will then make a trip to Bob Boozer field in Rochester, NY Sunday for their first league matchup with the Rochester Lancers.
Tickets to Friday’s FC Buffalo tie are available at afccleveland.com/tickets.
Photo Credit: Brent Durken