THE BATTLE FOR OHIO: THE I-71 CUP

On Saturday, Sergio Manesio saved the day for AFC Cleveland by scoring the winning goal 12 minutes from regulation time. The game had been close in the first half, but developed into a duel between Cincinnati Saints’ goalkeeper Daniel Williams and the entire Royals’ offense by the second half, with the goalkeeper getting the better of Cleveland for most of the game.

The first leg of the I-71 Cup saw the two teams go on the offensive in the early going, with the midfield becoming clogged as a result. Fouls were aplenty and both teams earned free kicks from dangerous positions, but neither was able to capitalize on them. The Royals had the clearest opportunities, but their finishing was off and they were unable to take advantage.

AFC Cleveland’s clearest opportunity of goal in the first half came near the end when Robbie Dambrot was brought down in the penalty box in the 41st minute. Manesio took the ensuing penalty kick, but it was hit poorly and Williams had no trouble sending it out for a corner kick.

In the second half, Cleveland went on the offensive and Cincinnati was forced to sit back and defend. In the 55th minute, Vinny Bell scored a goal for the home team, but he was ruled offside and the goal was disallowed. Williams was making saves left and right for Cincinnati, including a double save in the 73rd minute that saw him stop point blank range shots to the frustration of Cleveland.

After struggling to get anything past Williams, Manesio latched onto a long ball in the 78th minute before sending it past the Saints’ goalkeeper. The goal sent the stadium into a frenzy which spurred the home players on. The Royals had a few more chances to extend their lead but were unable to do so, winning only by the slimmest of margins.

After the game, Sergio Manesio talked to us about scoring the winning goal.

“It felt good, especially after missing the penalty. I felt like I needed to make up for it,” he said.

AFC Cleveland Associate Head Coach Brock Kertoy was quick to recognize Williams’ outstanding performance.

“He played fantastic, he played great. Had a lot of great saves,” he stated. “We’ll have a really tough test coming up for us in Cincinnati on Wednesday.”

The victory gives AFC Cleveland its second win of the season, with their record now at 2-1-1, which is good enough for third place in the NPSL Midwest Region. The win also puts the Royals ahead of the Cincinnati Saints in the I-71 Cup, with the aggregate score 1-0 in their favor. The teams will face off against each other in Cincinnati on Wednesday to decide the winner of the I-71 Cup.

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