Matchup: FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. AFC Cleveland (NPSL)
2017 U.S. Open Cup, 2nd Round
When: May 17th (Wednesday), 7PM
Where: Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati
As the European leagues march towards their final games, the soccer seasons within the United States pyramid of leagues have started in full force. While the seasons for Division IV teams and lower have started in earnest, there is another prize that potential giant-killers dream about—the prestige of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the oldest knock-out soccer tournament in the United States.
With the first round of the 104th U.S. Open Cup already completed last week, the semi-professional and amateur leagues now turn their attention to the Division II squads from the USL and NASL. With FC Cincinnati prepared to enter the fray, the boys in Orange & Blue are faced with an opponent that feels both familiar and unknown—in-state rivals from the Northeast who will be traveling down I-71 to encounter FC Cincy in the second round.
No, this isn’t the “Crew” from Central Ohio, but the “Royals” from the shores of Lake Erie—AFC Cleveland, your 2016 national NPSL champs, are coming to Nippert.
AFC Cleveland comes into this second-round US Open Cup match with momentum behind them, having recently marched into Iowa and taken down the Des Moines Menace of the PDL, 3-1. While the first half was a quiet 45 minutes with no scoring, the Royals picked up the pace with the wind at their back in the second half, scoring on a penalty kick in the 78th minute to take an early lead.
While Des Moines managed to pick up an equalizer in the 85th minute, AFC Cleveland pulled away with a pair of late goals, including a high-corner goal off the far post in the 90th minute from Chris Cvecko for the game-winner. Considering that the Menace have had their own history of winning (four straight years of USOC opening-round wins), the Royals’ win at Valley Stadium is no small feat.
But that still leaves a question that echoes from the Bailey unanswered—AFC Cleveland, who are ya?
- AFC Cleveland started in 2012 from the ashes of the USL’s Cleveland City Stars (2007-09) and the PDL’s Cleveland Internationals (2004-10). Since 2012, the team has steadily crept into prominence, going from a 4-7-1 record in 2012 to an 8-2-0 record in 2016.
- The Royals blazed through the competition in 2016, giving up only 9 goals during the regular season and defeating the Sonoma County Sol 4-2 in the 2016 NPSL Championship. Veteran Vinny Bell, who has been with the team since its inception, scored twice to earn Man-of-the-Match honors.
- While they do not play a year-long slate of games, AFC Cleveland has turned their home turf into a fortress—the Royals won all of their home games last season and have not lost at Stan Skoczen Stadium since 2014 (over 1,000 days). The Royals managed to keep that streak intact on Saturday’s home opener, despite allowing Dayton Dynamo to knot the final score at 3-3.
- In their first year in the US Open Cup, AFC Cleveland made it to the second round in 2016, losing to St. Louis FC, 2-0.
- The Royals, much like FC Cincinnati, are coming into the 2017 season with a new coach, Mike Sesar. Sesar has been active at many levels as both a player and a coach in the Cleveland area and has been coaching locally since 2005. AFC Cleveland brings back two of their veterans, striker Vinny Bell and defenseman Tom Beck, for a sixth year. They have also beefed up their offense with former Carolina Railhawk forward Ben Truax and forward Reymar Klechko, who scored the late insurance goal vs. Des Moines.
- The Royals’ main supporters’ group is the 6th City Syndicate, a group with a healthy obsession with Zod, the Cookie Monster, and a concept that can only be summarized as…“WAMPUS”. While the group and its supporters have been vague about what “WAMPUS” actually means, they will tell you that “…it’s more of a philosophy, a lifestyle…”, so it may be best to share a friendly beverage with a supporter to understand the WAMPUS way of life.
- We’ve been told that the “AFC” in “AFC Cleveland” doesn’t stand for “Athletic Football Club” or “American Football Conference” (for you Bengals fans out there). It actually means “A Fans’ Club”, something the club describes as “a nod to the club’s desire to create an organization for soccer fans by soccer fans”.
Now that you know a little more about the team itself, be sure to watch FC Cincinnati start a new in-state rivalry with the Royals, as it hosts AFC Cleveland in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup.
While this isn’t the familiar scrum of a “Dirty River Derby” with Louisville City FC or a dream scenario of a “Hell Is Real” Cup against Columbus Crew SC, AFC Cleveland’s recent success and sound soccer play on the pitch could give the local squad a run for their money and perhaps a stake as the champions of Interstate 71.