With only pride left to play for in its final game of the season, FC Buffalo played spoiler against defending NPSL champion AFC Cleveland, beating the Royals 3-1 at All-High Stadium on Friday night.
Cleveland needed a win to catapult over Dayton Dynamo FC and into the playoffs for a chance to defend its title, but Buffalo nixed those chances with its two-goal win to finish the season on a high.
Neither team scored in a scrappy first half, though the hosts recorded five more shots than the visitors. Cameron Emerson had his legs taken out from under him and appealed to the referee to no avail, before taking down Cleveland's Tom Beck and receiving a yellow card himself. Later in the half, Emerson took a blow to the head and exited the game to undergo concussion protocol on the sideline. Then with a minute remaining before stoppage time, a missed clearance from Fox Slotemaker led to a collision with Royals' forward Vinny Bell.
Things didn't get much crisper in stoppage time, when Buffalo's Chris Walter took down Mike Derezic and Bell got in Walter's face in retaliation. The best chance all half came off the foot of Jake Cooper, whose volley from 6 yards out was stopped acrobatically by Royals' keeper Alex Ivanov late in the opening stanza.
It didn't take long for the hosts to find the back of the net in the second half, when leading scorer Akean Shackleford worked his way around an offsides trap and beat Ivanov. Cooper played Shackleford through and Cleveland defender Ian Larson raised his hand to call for offsides, allowing the Buffalo forward to dart past him for a clean look on goal.
Buffalo almost doubled its lead in the 69th minute after Bayley Winkel's corner kick found Shackleford's head 6 yards out, but the forward's attempt on net was thwarted by Ivanov. The hosts didn't waste their next chance at a header near goal, as Kendell McFayden finished a Nick Szabo cross in the 74th minute to take a 2-0 lead almost immediately after McFayden subbed on. It was his first game since breaking his wrist in the season opener.
The visitors grabbed a consolation goal with seven minutes left when Reymar Klochko beat Slotemaker to a loose ball and finished bar-down past keeper Jeremy Figler. Beck nearly equalized three minutes later, but instead it was McFayden who scored the last goal of the match after corralling a Walter long ball with his chest and finishing at the far post for a 3-1 lead that held until the final whistle.
FC Buffalo finished the season 5-4-3 with 22 goals for and 18 against. AFC Cleveland fell just short of the playoffs, finishing 6-5-1.