On Saturday afternoon, Clarkstown SC Eagles will host AFC Cleveland in a national semifinal match that pits the Northeast Region champion vs. the Midwest Region champion. Both teams advanced to the semifinal by defeating newcomers, as the Eagles beat NJ Copa FC 2-0, while the Royals won against Grand Rapids FC in a penalty shootout.
Both clubs are coming from their first-ever regional championships, meaning that come the national final, there will be at least one team making its first appearance as a finalist. In addition to this being each team’s first time in the national semifinals, this will be the first time that the two face off.
On paper there is little separating them, as the Eagles scored an average of 2.58 goals per game to the Royals’ 2.5 goals per game. On the defensive end, Clarkstown conceded an average of one goal per match to Cleveland’s .9 per game. In other words, it will be a tough affair. Further complicating things is the fact that neither side is exactly sure of what to expect from the other.
But despite the lack of knowledge on the Royals, there is one thing that Clarkstown SC’s Lucas Befi is certain about.
“We don’t know much about them, [but] I’m pretty sure that they’re not coming here to lose. They will try to make their game, we will try to make our game,” he stated.
Tom Beck, one of AFC Cleveland’s veterans, has similar feelings about the matchup but admits that the unfamiliarity does pose a challenge.
“It definitely makes it more difficult. It’s kind of like going into a game blind: you don’t know anything about the other guy,” he said. “Ultimately it won’t affect the way we play because of our style, but defensively it might be challenging.”
Adding to the Royals’ defensive challenge is the fact that they will have to face forward Lucas Befi, whose performance this season for the Eagles has been outstanding, especially in the absence of Bljedi Bardic. Befi’s seven goals during the regular season was a huge boost, as was his assist of the first goal in Clarkstown’s recent match against NJ Copa FC.
Luckily for AFC Cleveland, their backline has been rock solid throughout the playoffs, keeping two clean sheets during open play. On top of that, the Royals know they can count on goalkeeper Anthony Flowers, whose heroics during penalty shootouts included four saved penalty kicks. It very well could come down to a Befi vs. Flowers match, and it is a 50-50 toss at this point.
Regardless of who wins, one thing is for sure: Saturday’s match will be a lively one.