The first of two weekend matches between AFC Cleveland and Fort Pitt Regiment ended in a 1-0 victory for the Royals via a last-minute goal from Mike Derezic on an overcast evening at Stan Skoczen Stadium.
The match looked to be seconds away from ending as a 0-0 stalemate before Derezic’s game-winning shot off Lolo Karpeh’s cross.
The match saw limited chances for both sides, but provided end-to-end action for fans in attendance. As head coach Mike Sesar began rotating the lineup and making substitutions into the second half, it appeared the Royals began to turn the tide with a run of chances near the end of the game. The fresh legs helped AFC Cleveland generate more chances and earn a collection of corner kicks near the end of the match, but it appeared the Regiment defense would hold steady as the minutes ticked away.
Derezic’s goal helped him earn NOOMA Man of the Match honors, but also saved the Royals from falling out of the playoff picture in the final stretch of the regular season. AFC Cleveland will take on Fort Pitt in a reverse fixture Sunday, June 25, one which they will also consider a must-win as they chase clubs above them in the East Conference table.
First Half Highlights
Tom Beck looked to Ian Larson along the left flank to give the Royals an opportunity in the 22nd minute. Larson’s well-placed cross would not find a Royal teammate in the box before it was cleared by the Fort Pitt defensive live.
Minutes later, Larson was found again along the left side by Mike Derezic. Larson’s square pass to the middle of the penalty area was once again dealt with by Fort Pitt.
Beck found Derezic in the box in the 30th, but the Royals midfielder was swarmed by Fort Pitt defenders as he attempted two shots.
Larson played a ball forward to a sprinting Koniarczyk in the 33rd to generate another chance, who was sprinting towards goal. Koniarczyk pulled the ball back and found Harter near the top of the box. Harter put an attempt on goal that was easily corralled by Regiment keeper Brendan Alfery.
Koniarczyk had the cleanest shot of the half in the 34th minute after being found by Beck open near the edge of the penalty area. AFC Cleveland’s CAM switched the ball to his left foot and placed his shot directly at Alfery.
Fort Pitt’s best chance of the half was the result of a free kick in a dangerous position. Bobi Cancar slipped as he attempted to clear the set-piece opportunity for the Regiment, causing the ball to skip to the back post where Regiment defender Alex Abedian was waiting for an open shot. The attempt in front of goal would soar well above Ivanov and the goal frame.
Second Half Highlights
Regiment forward Jesse Scheirer was issued a yellow card in the 51st following a dangerous tackle on Derezic. Derezic had been combining with Cancar along the left side before Scheirer’s late sliding challenge caught the Royals midfielder on the ankle.
Ian Larson had a path to goal in the 53rd following a headed pass from Vinny Bell. Larson slid past the final defender and ran onto the ball to advance it towards goal. Larson’s shot did not test the opposing goalkeeper enough to find the back of the net.
Vinny Bell nearly found the net off a 76th minute corner kick from Derezic. The seeking ball reached the head of Bell, who buried the shot into the ground. The ball’s upward trajectory would have hit the top of the net if it weren’t for Alfery’s effort to push the ball over the crossbar.
An 81st minute corner kick for the Royals disrupted the Regiment backline, taking many bounces and deflections before finally being cleared out of danger.
Derezic sent Royals fans home elated with a last-minute game-winning goal following a series of corner kicks that almost ended up in the back of the net as the club was pressing for the game’s first goal. Derezic received the ball off Lolo Karpeh’s cross after he spun around an opposing defender. Derezic set himself up for a left-footed shot with an excellent touch with his right, and exquisitely finished the chance low and to the right of a diving Alfery.