Fans in attendance at the Midwest Region Playoffs in Grand Rapids, MI were treated to high quality matches, with several players leaving a good impression on them.
Goalkeeper Cody Schweitzer put on a shift for Indy Eleven NPSL; stopping shot after shot but ultimately coming up short against Grand Rapids FC. Dario Suarez of AFC Ann Arbor had several attempts on goal – some from impossible angles – showing why the NPSL is lucky to have him. For the hosts, Lito Esquivel showed his eye for passes as he orchestrated his team’s attacks time and time again.
But while those players were on top of their game, they lacked something. That something may have been ‘Flower Power’, the term AFC Cleveland fans have come to use to describe Anthony Flowers’ shot-stopping ability. Flowers, whose four saved penalty kicks in two shootouts ensured his team’s spot in the National Semifinal, stood head and shoulders above any other player this weekend.
“I’ve just been kind of running over it a bit and just thinking about all the little things that had to go right for us to win and come out on top in the end,” shared a still smiling Flowers.
Flowers, who had been Alex Ivanov’s understudy and AFC Cleveland’s second choice between the posts for the past three years, has had a breakout season. For the first time in his tenure he is the undisputed starting goalkeeper, helping the Royals to the best defensive record in the Midwest Region during the regular season. In eight matches, Flowers kept four clean sheets.
“I think it’s just a culmination of the process,” says Flowers. “Taking in as much knowledge and just picking people’s brains as much as possible to kind of learn as I go. That started with Ben Yabrow and Alex Ivanov the last couple years. To finally get my chance to start and end up winning the regional championships is just a huge honor and I’m just so proud of everything that I put into it.”
It wasn’t just that Flowers made saves either; there was a maturity to his decision making that was evident throughout the season as he distributed the ball quickly but calmly, his confidence growing game after game.
“Carter’s system allows there to be a lot of space and time on the ball for me in the back so that I can distribute without too much pressure. And I think it also has to do with the chemistry and knowing where my guys are going to be, knowing how everyone is going to play and knowing strengths and weaknesses of everyone.”
During the playoffs, Flowers did not allow any goals during open play. More importantly, when AFC Cleveland found itself in = penalty shootouts, he stepped up. The truth is that for fans and pundits alike, penalty kicks are the only time where a goal isn’t held against a goalkeeper. It’s almost a given that the shooter will score a goal from the penalty spot, since the odds are stacked against the goalkeeper.
But while some goalkeepers shrink away responsibility during penalty kicks, Anthony Flowers did the opposite. Knowing he was in a position to help his teammates, he did exactly what they needed him to do. In Friday’s match against AFC Ann Arbor, Flowers made two saves to help the Royals advance to the final.
One day later – just a day removed from the previous penalty shootout – he did the same thing, stopping Grand Rapids’ first and third penalty kicks. There was a moment before his first save in which he looked over at Creative Director Jeff Pejsa, winked at him and nodded his head smiling as if he knew that the Royals had the game in the bag.
“I think that was just a bit of a confidence n what I was about to do, having done it the night before. I was just kind of over the moon with confidence. As a goalkeeper a penalty shootout is the one opportunity a goalkeeper gets to completely win a game for his team,” he shared.
Even with a national semifinals match against Clarkstown SC Eagles looming in the horizon, Anthony Flowers is confident. He believes that his team has both the capacity to attack and the mental strength to overcome any thing they come across.
“We can score goals and we have a very strong ‘defend, defend’ mentality. Being able to go get two shut outs is impressive, especially in the playoffs,” he said.
As for his teammates, they know they have one of the best goalkeepers in the league standing between the posts. Clarkstown should beware; if he needs to, Anthony will use some of his ‘Flower Power’ to perform another miracle.