Friday night’s matchup between Cleveland SC and FC Columbus at Highland HS in Medina, Ohio was historic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the game was the first-ever match for both of the new NPSL teams, the first true opportunity for fans and supporters to experience this level of competition.
It also was the highest level of soccer ever played in Medina County thanks to Cleveland SC’s selection of a venue different from their home at John Carroll University. The choice allowed the Cleveland SC and NPSL brands to be seen by a whole new audience and community.
The match was attended by youth players, families, and supporters from two impressive groups: 6th City Syndicate and Wolf’s Ridge XII. Smoke, flags, banners, and flares were commonplace as the groups celebrated goals and special moments in the match. It was exciting for everyone to see the continued growth of supporter culture in new communities served by NPSL clubs.
FC Columbus would come away with a 3-2 win, but the game seemed like it could go either way at any time. Neither side experienced domination over the other and it was quite evident that these are two talented sides ready for the start of the NPSL season. Fans and supporters were treated to quality finishing and a quintet of goals worthy of the highlight reel.
FC Columbus forward Alusine Bangura would get things started in the 14th minute, scoring the first goal in his club’s history. It was a special moment for the talented striker.
“I was happy because it was the first goal for the club in the NPSL. I was proud as it meant a lot to the club; it was like a boost to the club. When I scored the goal, we started pressing and we got another goal. I was happy because of that. This was our first game and this was a good win. We hope to keep winning. We can drive back happy.”
The visitors would strike again 15 minutes later as Amadou Dia collected a rebound off a long-range shot from Oscar Murcia, slotting a shot home to give FC Columbus a 2-0 lead.
That scoreline would hold going into halftime.
CSC’s Admir Suljevic, a true NPSL veteran, would convert a PK in the 65th after Cleveland SC was awarded a penalty opportunity following a foul in the box. Murcia would score for Columbus in the 82nd minute to make it a 3-1 lead for the visiting side.
But Cleveland SC wasn’t done as they rallied with a goal from Ben Truax just two minutes later. The opportunities continued to flow for both sides, but the game ended with a 3-2 win for Columbus.
The importance of this particular game far exceeded any scoreline.
“It’s so awesome to have this under our belt for the first time,” Cleveland SC President Samuel Seibert said. “Having Admir score our first goal ever was really sweet. Having the ability to come out here and play against other competition, to see where we stand operationally as well as on the pitch, is huge. To see the fan support we had out here today from a community like Medina and Highland is awesome. I can’t complain one bit: I had a great time and it was a lot of fun.”
The supporters, including those from the 6th City Syndicate, made this experience even more special.
“Having them support us no matter what happens is huge,” Seibert continued. “To see how ecstatic they are, it’s almost like they are here running the team. Our guys really appreciate it; our players are really happy to have them. They keep doing it and they tell me that they are going to keep doing it. I’m all for it. I love it.”
It was a sold way for Cleveland to start the season.
“It’s a work in progress,” Cleveland SC head coach Ryan Osborne commented. “A lot of these guys are just getting into shape now and that is something we have to continue to work on. Of course we will have slow growing problems being a new club in the league and having new players in the team. Over time we will get better and better. I definitely think the guys are in it for the long run. I do believe that with training and more games, I think it will be a good season for us.”
FC Columbus and Cleveland SC will now face off in the second match of the series on Sunday, April 15 at 4:00 pm ET at Grandview Heights HS in Columbus. Tickets are available online or at the gate (cash only).
Bangura is excited for the opportunity to play in front of a lively home crowd.
“It’s going to be exciting. It will be really good for us because we are going to play with our fans supporting us. We were happy to see some of the fans even come here. Now we have a win and on Sunday the fans are coming out in a large crowd.”