Less than one minute after they both came into the game, Ian Larson connected with Reymar Klochko, who headed in the game-winning goal in extra time, putting AFC Cleveland ahead of Christos FC 2-1, sending the Royals into Saturday’s Hank Steinbrecher Cup Final against the Michigan Bucks.
“It makes me look like a genius,” AFC Cleveland Head Coach Mike Sesar said on the substitutions. “When they came in they made the difference.”
The quickness of the goal may seem like a shock, but the Costa Rican forward knew it was coming.
“I told Ian (Larson) as we were standing on the sidelines; ‘first ball you get, whip it in, I’ll be on it’,” Klochko said. “And the minute the ball hit my head I knew it was in, it was great.”
After the first semifinal didn’t see a goal until well past the 80th minute, AFC Cleveland wasted no time getting on the board, and did so in incredible fashion. Midfielder Mike Derezic lofted a long ball to the top right corner of the box, where Tom Beck chested it down, wrapped the ball around a pair of Christos FC defenders and sent a half-volley directly into the top left corner of the net. A 1-0 advantage for AFC Cleveland in the third minute.
From there, the Maryland-based Christos FC settled in and created chances, with a few chances just sailing past the post. Christos did find the back of the net in the 24th minute, but the goal was waived after an offside call.
AFC Cleveland responded to Christos’ domination in the middle of the opening half with a handful of chances, the best of which coming from midfielder Brian Potocnik. The John Carroll product sent a curling shot destined for the top right corner, only to be thwarted by a diving stop from Christos goalkeeper Brad Benzing.
The first half ended with the Royals holding on to their 1-0 lead thanks to Beck’s stunner.
The lead would not last however as Christos FC took advantage of a ten-man AFC Cleveland squad following a knock to Coletun Long which sidelined the defender. Christos’ Pete Caringi took advantage, found space in the box and sent his shot home.
AFC Cleveland then looked to attack off of the counter, with Potocnik and Admir Suljevic intercepting a number of passes from Christos FC and looked to push the ball towards the attacking third. AFC Cleveland’s Chris Cvecko created the best chance for the Royals as he passed it off to Potocnik, who maneuvered around Christos goalkeeper Phil Saunders, but Potocnik’s ripped shot went directly off Christos’ Aaron Beale at the goal line to keep the score level.
Following a few missed opportunities for his squad, Sesar admitted extra time was on his mind when Larson and Klochko were substituted late into stoppage time.
“I wanted to get them in for a couple of minutes for the flow of the game,” Sesar said, mentioning that he wanted them to get off to a fast start in the potential extra time period.
Thanks to Klochko however, there was no need for any extra time. After AFC Cleveland won a pair of 50/50 balls, Larson received the ball on the left wing, where he took a touch, took a step and sent in a cross. The high, lofted ball went towards the near post, where Klotchko had inside position and deflected the ball off his head and into the upper 90. The game would end moments later with the 2-1 scoreline, putting AFC Cleveland in the final of the two day tournament, and the Golfito, Costa Rica native is looking for more of the same should his name be called in the final.
“I want to put in my grain of salt just like everybody else,” Klochko said. “We’ve gained momentum now and we’re a good side of lads who are going to keep playing hard and I’ll do what I can if I get the chance.”
For Sesar, the opportunity to play in the final is not only a solid achievement for his squad, it’s an opportunity for the club as a whole.
“This is a very prestigious competition. It’s very important for the club and it was very important to get to the final…I’d like to see us take it one step further.”
AFC Cleveland will look to make that next step on Saturday, June 4th at 7:00 pm when they take on the Michigan Bucks at Stan Skoczen Stadium in Independence, Ohio.