Believe it or not, we’ve already reached the midpoint of AFC Cleveland’s 2017 campaign. The Royals enter the second half of NPSL regular season play with much to accomplish, but are still within striking distance of a playoff spot with important games left to play.
The Royals have experienced an even share of highs and lows in their first ten games, accumulating a 4-1-5 record across all competitions.
Familiar faces and new additions have helped the club get through a jam-packed first half where the club participated in three major competitions. Club veteran and captain Admir Suljevic leads the squad with four goals across all competitions, supplemented by three goals from Tom Beck, Vinny Bell, and Chris Cvecko each. Beck, Bell, and Cvecko have also been named NOOMA Man of the Match twice in the first ten games.
Newcomers Reymar Klochko, Ian Larson, and Bobi Cancar have also stepped up in the club’s first few matches. Klochko netted twice in cup competitions while Larson has set up two game-winning cup goals from the left wing, once connecting with Klochko. Cancar has also put in plenty of minutes with his new teammates, and his shift against Michigan Bucks earned him NOOMA Man of the Match honors in the Steinbrecher Cup Final.
The season got off to a dream start in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 3-1 win against the PDL’s Des Moines Menace in the club’s second all-time Open Cup Victory. For the second consecutive year, the Royals earned a spot in the second round of the annual competition, drawing the USL’s FC Cincinnati. AFC Cleveland held their own against their professional in-state opponents, forcing extra time at Nippert Stadium. With only five minutes until penalty kicks decided the match, the Royals finally conceded and lost a heartbreaker 1-0 after a heroic 16-save performance from Alex Ivanov.
The early stages of the season saw AFC Cleveland compete in yet another national competition by hosting the Steinbrecher Cup. The Royals won the first match of the cup 2-1 against Christos FC after a game-winning 90′ minute goal from substitute Reymar Klochko, who headed home a cross from fellow 90′ minute substitute Ian Larson. The celebrations would be short-lived, though, as the hosts fell to PDL club Michigan Bucks 3-0 in the final the next night.
The ups and downs continued in league play, as the Royals took part in four matches decided by three goals or more, two of which were in favor of the boys in blue. After the first six matches, the club sits fourth in the Midwest East Conference Standings, three points behind Erie Commodores FC, six behind Rochester Lancers and nine behind Dayton Dynamo with games in hand on the Lancers and Dynamo. Though the spot is not ideal at this point in the season, the Royals will have opportunities to avenge losses to Erie and Rochester in the final six games.
The Royals will look to benefit from the ability to focus entirely on their remaining NPSL schedule now that their cup competitions have wrapped up. The club will get one more tune-up in a friendly against Team Challenger FC, a local premier level youth club, this Saturday, June 17 before moving into their remaining league fixtures.
The final stretch of the NPSL season starts at Stan Skoczen Stadium June 23 against Fort Pitt Regiment.
Tickets for the Royals three remaining home games are available at afccleveland.com/tickets.
Photo Credit: Brent Durken