On a day that was greatly affected by thunderstorms, AFC Cleveland persevered and defeated the Clarkstown SC Eagles 3-2 at Ramapo College of New Jersey to advance to the 2016 NPSL National Championship.
Buoyed by goals from Vincent Bell, Thomas Beck, and Brian Potocnik, the Royals host the Sonoma County Sol Saturday, August 6 at 7:00 pm ET for the 2016 NPSL title.
Due to heavy rain, thunder and lightning, officials worried that there would have to be a postponement. Luckily for players and fans, the lightning concluded and the teams were able to start the game in a driving rainstorm after a one hour and 55-minute delay.
As the rain fell heavily, both teams found it difficult to find their footing on the slick turf resulting in a sloppy opening 15 minutes that lacked any semblance of flow.
Clarkstown were first to break out of the malaise in the 17th minute as Semso Nikocevic gave the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Coming off a corner, a Cleveland clearance out of the six-yard box went only as far as the penalty spot where the Clarkstown midfielder volleyed the ball past AFC Cleveland goalkeeper Anthony Flowers.
The Clarkstown lead would be short lived as the Royals answered off the restart.
AFC Cleveland started the goal-scoring move down the right side through midfielder Thomas Beck. As the Royals No. 7 approached the endline, Beck played a perfect cutback to Admir Suljevic whose angled pass cut across the six-yard box to the feet of an unmarked Vincent Bell who tapped in to bring the visitors back level 1-1.
The strong response from the Royals continued in the 21st minute as Bell played provider on their second of the afternoon. The strong Cleveland No. 9 gathered a cross from Chris Cvecko and deftly back-heeled the ball right into the path of Beck who completed the move, giving the Royals a 2-1 lead.
With a hand in both goals and as the rain picked up, the visitors from Cleveland looked to play route one soccer and get the ball to Bell.
While trying to get the ball to their lead striker in an effort to get him shots or let him find runners, AFC Cleveland also looked to pressure Clarkstown any time the hosts found themselves in possession of the ball. As the rain continued to fall at a tremendous rate, this strategy proved effective as Clarkstown would have difficulty maintaining possession and their footing.
While the pressure was paying dividends for Cleveland in terms of possession, the tactic left them open to the counter-attack which Clarkstown nearly exploited twice.
First in the 32nd minute, Clarkstown’s Lucas Befi stormed down the left side of the field on a one-man break but his left-footed shot skipped along the soaked turf into the waiting arms of Cleveland goalkeeper Anthony Flowers. Flowers would be called to corral another Clarkstown long-range effort in the 33rd.
Halftime wouldn’t be the usual 15 minutes as game officials looked to get the game in before there could be any further delays.
Looking to maintain momentum, AFC Cleveland used the short halftime to their advantage as they were able to start the second in much the positive manner they finished the first.
That positive play turned into a 3-1 lead for Cleveland in the 53rd minute.
The move began the down the right side with Beck, who played the ball back to Suljevic in the middle of the field about 40 yards away from goal. The Cleveland No. 10 played a lovely chip to the left side on the penalty area where Brian Potocnik chested the ball down and was able to squeeze it past Clarkstown goalkeeper Bryan Lopez.
Stadium officials would halt play in the 61st minute as the rain intensified. After a short 10-minute delay the conditions were deemed safe for the payers and the game resumed.
Seven minutes after the restart following the weather delay, Clarkstown pulled on back to cut the AFC Cleveland lead to 3-2.
Through a few skillful touches, Befi was able to open up some space for himself outside the penalty box and a let a shot fly from 25 yards out. The low, line drive skipped along the wet turf and proved difficult for Flowers to handle as the Cleveland goalkeeper spilled the rebound right into the path of Ryan Morris. The second half substitute made no mistake, slamming the ball into the back of the net and setting up a tense final 20 minutes.
Clarkstown would have their best chances to equalize in the proceeding 10 minutes following their second goal. The Eagles were able to apply pressure on Cleveland’s backline but were unable to get a clean look on net.
AFC Cleveland were able to put on an impressive defensive stand over the final 10 minutes as they snuffed out each and every Clarkstown attack until the final whistle blew and secured their advancement to the national championship.