The Rochester Lancers could not hold onto a pair of two-goal leads. (Photo courtesy of the Lancers)
HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — Playing their second playoff match in less than 24 hours and third in four days, the Rochester Lancers just ran out of gas Friday night.
In an epic 120-minute battle, the Lancers went down to a 6-4 defeat to Cleveland SC in the Midwest Region semifinals of the National Premier Soccer League playoffs at Keyworth Stadium.
Vinny Bell, who finished with four goals, struck three times in the two 15-minute extra periods to boost Cleveland. His goal 29 seconds into the second extratime snapped a 4-4 deadlock and was the game-winning goal.
The match had a little bit of everything:
* The exhausted Lancers were unable to hold a pair of two-goal leads.
* Cleveland played the final 10 minutes a man down after a red card – there were 11 yellow cards awarded, seven on the Ohio side.
* And Rochester’s 50-year-old head coach, Doug Miller, took the field in extratime in an attempt to provide some vigor into the attack.
The Lancers played their third soccer match in four days.
Their journey in the NPSL playoffs began Tuesday when they played AFC Ann Arbor to a scoreless draw as the match was stopped due to darkness. There were no lights at Concordia University Stadium.
The match was completed at a neutral site in Gannon University in Erie, Pa. Thursday night as the Lancers prevailed in a shootout, 5-4, after playing to a 1-1 tie.
After Thursday’s match, Rochester traveled 275 miles west to Michigan to play yet another postseason game only 19 hours later.
Cleveland will meet the winner of the Minneapolis City-Detroit City FC match for the Midwest crown and a chance to reach the NPSL final four.
Rochester (7-3-2) was the second-seeded side from the East Conference Division while Cleveland (9-2-0) was the top seed.
Michael Cunningham made Cleveland pay for fouling him some 25 yards out on the left side only 40 seconds after kickoff.
Against a three-man wall, Cunningham curled a shot to the near post to lift Rochester into a 1-0 lead with the game only 85 seconds old.
Another Cunningham free kick played a vital role in the Lancers’ second goal in the seventh minute. This set piece was from similar distance but from the right side of the field. Cunningham’s attempt was saved by goalkeeper Marijo Musa, but a charging Rafael Godoi headed the ball in from point-blank distance to boost Rochester into a stunning two-goal advantage.
Cleveland sliced the lead in half in the 20th minute as a left-wing cross deflected off the back of Rochester defender Wyatt Scott for an own goal past keeper Andrew Coughlin.
Cleveland was assessed four yellow cards in the first half, including one on Musa, who upended Ngwese Ebangwese just outside the box and forced him out of the match with an apparent head injury. Austin Gerber came on for him.
Uros Momic gave the Lancers some breathing room in the 81st minute as he headed in Austin Gerber’s pin-point right-wing cross from close range for a two-goal lead. Gerber was a step from going out of bounds on the cross.
Cleveland pushed forward in the second half, but Rochester held off wave after wave, frustrating its foes. Coughlin’s best save came in the 64th minute when he dived to his left to deny Bell’s shot from distance.
But the lead wouldn’t last as Cleveland struck twice within four minutes to equalize. First, Mike Derezic tallied to close the gap to 3-2 in the 85th minute before Bell’s header knotted things up at 3-3 in the 90th minute.
Bell was far from finished as he tallied three minutes into the first extra period to give Cleveland a 4-3 edge.
Isaac Kissi, however, equalized for Rochester at 4-4 in the 101st minute.
Only 29 seconds into the second extratime, Bell slid home a pass from only yards out for a hat-trick, and the eventual winning goal for a 5-4 edge. He added his fourth goal in the 119th minute.
Cleveland was forced to play the final 10 minutes a man down after Admir Suljevic received his second yellow card for a foul in the 110th minute.
Due to the high heat and humidity, hydration breaks were utilized in both halves.
The start of the second half was delayed for almost a half hour due to lightning, the second successive match that happened to Rochester.
During the regular season, the teams split their series. Cleveland recorded a 4-0 home victory May 26 before the Lancers retaliated with a 2-1 home win June 2.