The AFC Cleveland Royals earned two crucial victories against the Fort Pitt Regiment in a weekend series between the two clubs.
The Royals were lifted by the return of Mike Derezic and three stoppage time goals to escape their seventh and eighth league matches with all six points. Derezic’s 90′ minute strike in Friday night’s match at Stan Skoczen Stadium rescued the Royals from dropping two points in a 1-0 win, while Yianni Sarris’ 45′ shot two nights later in Pittsburgh proved to be the difference in AFC Cleveland’s 2-0 victory over the Regiment.
Somewhat lost in the excitement of the last-minute home heroics and subsequent victory on the road was the defensive and goalkeeping effort from the Royals backline, which earned their first two clean sheets of the season. Alex Ivanov continued his stellar season, securing the two shutouts and making an outstanding last-minute save in Sunday’s fixture to preserve the 1-0 scoreline moments before Gianluca DiFranco extended the lead to the final 2-0.
Both matches were tightly contested, with both clubs struggling to create meaningful chances through the match’s first stages. Play was relatively confined to the midfield as the two NPSL Midwest East Conference opponents were physical with one another, yet remained organized on defense. A total of 34 fouls were committed by the sides over the course of two games, compared to just 32 total shots.
The difference between the two clubs became noticeable as the games wore on and Head Coach Mike Sesar brought in reinforcements. The ability to bring in fresh legs without a drop in quality helped the Royals put heavy pressure on the Regiment goal until they finally broke through with the game-winner. It also allowed Sesar to rotate his lineups for the quick turnaround and bring regular starters off the bench in both matches.
AFC Cleveland’s successful weekend helped jump them into a four-team race for two spots in the 2017 NPSL playoffs. The Royals now sit just five points behind first-place Dayton Dynamo FC, who dropped points in a 3-3 Sunday draw against FC Buffalo. The Dynamo have also played two more matches than the Royals, who remain four points behind the Rochester Lancers, and one point behind Erie Commodores FC.
The Royals seek their second league double of the season against Syracuse FC this Saturday, July 1, in a home match starting at 5:00 pm.
There are only two more chances to see the defending NPSL champion Royals at home in the 2017 regular season. As always, tickets are available at afccleveland.com/tickets.
Photo Credit: Tom Wehn