East Conference

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Erie Commodores FC

Image courtesy of  Erie Commodores FC .

Image courtesy of Erie Commodores FC.

With two regional titles and five conference titles to their name, the Erie Commodores are no stranger to success. Their near-perfect season, which ended in a 8-3-1 record, won them the Midwest East conference by three points and gave them another appearance in the Midwest playoffs. That playoff appearance would end in a loss to their conference rivals, Cleveland SC, but would not stop the club from adding to its near-decade long history of success in the NPSL.

Founded in 2009 and named in dedication to the War of 1812, the club holds as much personality as it does silverware. Their naval badge and catch phrase of “Don’t Give Up the Ship” have been just the beginning of a club that captures the eye.

The Commodores will go into 2019, which marks a decade of existence, expecting to challenge for title as they have virtually every year of their existence. This year, however, will be about playoff runs. The club was knocked out in the first round two years straight, preventing them from coming even close to adding to their already prominent regional title collection. As is the case at any level of the game, success breeds the need for more success. The Commodores will of course fight a tough battle for the top two playoff spots, but the club will likely have bigger goals in mind.

Erie’s goals for and goals allowed numbers are typical of an upper table club, but far from as dominant as the likes of AFC Ann Arbor, who only allowed four regular season goals. Erie scored 36 and conceded 13, ending with a goal differential of 23. Improving on those numbers won’t only allow the club to earn its third straight conference title, it could be the key to them getting further into the playoffs and rediscovering their former regional and national glory

Cleveland SC

One of Cleveland’s Guardians of Transportation that inspired Cleveland SC’s crest.

One of Cleveland’s Guardians of Transportation that inspired Cleveland SC’s crest.

Cleveland SC were founded in 2018, but this didn’t stop them from having one of the most accomplished freshman years in the entire league. The club finished second in the Midwest East with a 7-3-2 record and 24 points to their name, only three beyond the conference champions. They even ended with the same goal difference as said champions, 23.

Cleveland’s great year became all the more interesting at the end when they played the Erie Commodores in the final regular season match, a match that would decide who would win the conference. Cleveland lost that match 2-1 and surely would have hoped for a different result, but the club also took the result as a chance to fuel a very unique rematch. You see, Cleveland SC would face Erie in the first round of the playoffs. Hosted by Erie, the match would show the world a vengeful Cleveland SC, who beat the hosts 4-0, forcing their rivals to bow out of the playoffs in the first round for a second year in a row. The club would lose the next round 1-0 to AFC Ann Arbor, the regional hosts, and end their season without a trophy but with most doubters silenced.

Cleveland SC in many ways serve as a lower league replacement for AFC Cleveland, a now defunct club that represented Cleveland in the NPSL for six years. AFC cemented their popularity when they won the NPSL equivalent to a tribble, winning their conference, region, and the national titles in 2016. The club dissolved one year later. Cleveland SC were able to win over the support of AFC’s former supporter group, the 6th Street Syndicate, and has awarded their loyalty to Cleveland and lower league soccer with a strong debut season.

Cleveland SC will surely be favorites for a top two finish, with their first shot at glory already a fantastic one that almost won them the conference. Cleveland SC are a club to watch out for.

Rochester Lancers

The Rochester Lancers, formerly River Dogz, were similar to Cleveland in 2018 in the sense that they only missed the playoffs by three points. The club has played in the NPSL three years and finished in fourth and third place all three times. Rochester does deviate a little from Cleveland in age. Formed in 2011, the club is the reincarnation of a club founded in 1967.

The club’s most notable statistical difference from the likes of Erie and Cleveland is goal difference. Both clubs had 23 GD, Rochester had a goal difference of 4. This is in part because they conceded far more goals, 18 to be exact, but it is made far worse by their lack of goal scoring, finishing 2018 with 22 regular season goals. That number is 12 and 14 goals below the top two teams in the conference. With that in mind, Rochester’s future success and playoff potential is actually quite tangible. Conceding 18 goals isn’t great, but it’s far from horrible. A change in fortune or talent in the attacking third could quickly change the fortune of the New York club and end in them finding themselves in the playoffs for the first time.

The Lancers also took part in the U.S. Open Cup, playing through the qualification process and making it to the first round of the competition proper. They lost that match, played against conference-mates Erie Commodores, in a PK shootout after drawing the match 1-1.

The Rochester Lancers will be a club to keep an eye on this season, though there is much work to do if the club really wants to get past its previous midtable success and will need to find the right tools in order to pass the 30-goal mark and challenge the likes of Cleveland and Erie.

FC Buffalo

With nine NPSL seasons under their belt and one playoff run to their name, FC Buffalo are a club with big potential but almost only fifth, fourth, and third place finishes to show for it. The club ended 2018 with a 6-2-4 record and a goal difference of six, outscoring but also out-conceding the club above them on the table, the Rochester Lancers.

As one of three New York-based clubs in the conference, the club has several rivalries with both its inter-state neighbors and out of state opponents. The club is also part of a now somewhat defunct rivalry with Detroit City and AFC Cleveland, known as the Rust Belt Derby. That rivalry functioned similar to Cascadia Cup, in which the club with the best head-to-head record would win the derby. Changes in conference alignment and the dissolving of AFC Cleveland have since made the derby largely inactive.

Image courtesy of  The Buffalo News .

Image courtesy of The Buffalo News.

FC Buffalo only lost to two clubs in 2018 but lost twice to both. Those clubs are the Erie Commodores and Fort Pitt Regiment. Three of those loses finished with no more than two goals separating the sides, but their final lose to Erie was a somewhat devastating 4-0 home defeat in the second to last week of play. With that in mind, it’s clear that FC Buffalo have something very real to work with and wouldn’t even have to do hugely better than they did this season to climb the table. A change of fortune or a couple good squad choices could quickly earn Buffalo a third-place finish, which they missed by one point this year, and perhaps even get them in the running for a playoff or title race.

Time will show us whether that’s in the cards, but FC Buffalo have every reason to believe that can edge themselves closer to success this season.

Syracuse FC

One look at Syracuse’s table information and the average soccer fan will quickly see one of the main issues at hand for the New York club. With a record of 3-0-9, suffering four losses by one goal, and suffering another two by two goals, Syracuse have a problem when it comes to play for the draw.

The problem is different and yet similar to the club’s seventh place finish in 2017, in which they finished with a 2-3-7 record. The club scored twice as many goals as they did in 2017 (8 to 16) but did concede one more goal for a total of 24 conceded. There are clear signs of improvement in Syracuse, but playing for the point and grabbing draws, deserved or otherwise, would have allowed the club to lose its ten-point gap with the fifth place Fort Pitt Regiment.

Three wins and an ever-growing goal count are great signs for Syracuse FC and aspects that could very well spark a better 2019 if used correctly. Continued success in the attacking third will need to be paired with better defense if Syracuse hope to escape the bottom of the table. They’ll also need the clubs above them to not improve as much as they seem they can for this season.

The good news is that Syracuse FC is still a young project, one that has the benefit of expectations to give them time to grow. Will the third season be the one that breaks the mold? Maybe. Either way it’ll be an interesting project to track. The club’s energy will be kept alive by their involvement in a four-club rivalry amongst the New York clubs in the Midwest East and the continued passion of their fans and staff.

Photos courtesy of club social media and Protagonist Soccer, unless otherwise mentioned. Custom art designed by Laura Mills. Previews written by Dominic Bisogno with input from David Baker, Joshua Duder and Dan Vaughn.