All the scenarios, contingencies, and projections prior to this weekend have gone out the window to reveal one, simple ultimatum — win or go home.
The Royals are alive in the NPSL playoff race thanks to their 2-0 win Friday against the Rochester Lancers. The victory momentarily gave AFC Cleveland the conference’s best points per game ratio, and marked the club’s fourth consecutive win and clean sheet. Tom Beck continued his recent dominant run of form, and netted a brace to give his club the edge at Stan Skoczen Stadium and eliminate the Lancers from playoff contention.
Dayton Dynamo FC’s Friday night victory over Erie Commodores FC gave the Royals a path to a conference championship and guaranteed that if the Royals could win one of their final two matches, they would clinch a playoff berth.
With first place at stake, AFC Cleveland traveled to Erie Sunday for a showdown with the Commodores, but fell 1-0 after conceding a late goal following a Commodores corner kick. The club’s first goal against in almost a month was incredibly disappointing after an otherwise dominant performance for the visiting Royals. A number of missed opportunities came back to haunt the boys in blue when the Commodores earned a rare second-half opportunity from a corner kick, and a shot after an initial clearance took multiple deflections before finding the top left corner of the goal.
The weekend developments give the Royals a chance to make the playoffs with a road win against FC Buffalo, but the club’s outlook also took a blow when star center-back Coletun Long was shown two yellows and a red for multiple occasions of dissent. Long, who was also acting captain in the absence of injured Admir Suljevic, will now be suspended for AFC Cleveland’s must-win matchup with FC Buffalo. The Royals outmatched FC Buffalo 4-1 earlier this season at home, but as we’ve seen throughout the East conference in 2017, no result can be taken for granted.
Photo Credit: T.J. Powell