The Weekend Ahead: AFC Cleveland Pushes for a Playoff Spot with Matches Against Two Contenders

AFC Cleveland Royals vs. Rochester Lancers
Friday, July 7, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Stan Skoczen Stadium; Independence, OH
Game 10: 2017 NPSL Regular Season

Erie Commodores FC vs. AFC Cleveland
Sunday, July 9 2017, 2:00 p.m.
Gannon Field; Erie, PA
Game 11: 2017 NPSL Regular Season

Playoff positions hang in the balance as the Royals compete in two matches against conference opponents fighting for one of the two spots available in the Midwest East Conference.

Coming into the weekend on a three match winning streak after earning season sweeps against Fort Pitt Regiment and Syracuse FC, the Royals enter the weekend with a different tone as they look to avenge earlier losses against both weekend opponents.

AFC Cleveland is among four teams in playoff contention, along with the Rochester Lancers, Erie Commodores FC, and Dayton Dynamo. Friday’s head-to-head matchups between these four clubs could effectively drop one or two of the teams out of the race, or further tighten the standings. A Commodores win against Dayton could send the Dynamo from first in the table, where they have been for most of the season, to mathematically eliminated if either AFC Cleveland or the Lancers are victorious in their simultaneous Friday match.

For the Royals, running the table in their last three matches will be most important as the club controls their own destiny already second in points per game. A win Friday against the Lancers in AFC Cleveland’s final home match of the season would be especially beneficial by putting the Royals two points ahead of the Lancers with two matches remaining, compared to Rochester’s one remaining against the Commodores.

First-place in the table, and a second-consecutive NPSL conference championship is still the preferred prize, and a very real possibility for the surging Royals. Depending on Friday’s results, Sunday’s tie between AFC Cleveland and the Commodores could act as a conference championship match between the two sides currently on top of the table in points per game.

AFC Cleveland first home defeat since 2014 was dealt by the Commodores in late May on a last-minute goal from Paul Bracken to break the tie. Equally frustrating for the Royals was losing their star defensive midfielder Mike Derezic in the 4′ to a red card infraction. While coping with being a man down for nearly the entire match, the rest of the squad stepped up their game to keep the match on even terms after 90′, and pressed for a winning goal before being undone by a Commodores counter-attack following a late Royals corner kick.

The Royals were then handed their worst loss of the season on the road against Friday’s opponent, the Rochester Lancers, in mid-June. The club traveled 12 players to Rochester for their first match against the Lancers, and had to play catch-up early after conceding a 7′ goal to William Stone. To flip the script Sunday, the Royals will have to contain Stone and his teammate Lukas Fernandes, both of whom scored and assisted each others’ goals in a 3-0 drubbing of AFC Cleveland. The squad will also look to benefit from a friendly Stan Skoczen Stadium after a shorter road trip to Erie Friday.

The last regular season home match of the season kicks off at 7:30 pm Friday, July 7 against the Rochester Lancers. Come see the Royals make their playoff push and defend their title buy securing tickets at afccleveland.com/tickets.

Photo Credit: T.J. Powell