Vinny Bell has been the face of Cleveland soccer since 2012. He has been the city’s most consistent and prominent player during that entire time, starring for both AFC Cleveland and Cleveland SC. He helped bring a NPSL national championship to Northeast Ohio in 2016, a year when the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lake Erie Monsters both raised trophies of their own. And it should have come as no surprise that fans and supporters voted Bell #3 in the recently announced Global Scarves NPSL All-Time Top 10.
Bell was one of the most successful athletes ever to play at Case Western Reserve University, finishing as the only two-time NSCAA All-American in the history of the men’s soccer program. He was named UAA Most Valuable Player twice, First Team All-UAA three times, UAA Offensive Player of the Week six times, and UAA All-Academic twice in addition to claiming D3Soccer.com All-America and NSCAA Collegiate Scholar All-America accolades. The Parma Heights, Ohio native also set school records for goals and points in a single season and career.
But that’s not all. Bell was such an impressive athlete that he also excelled on the football field. He was named First Team All-UAA after tallying 14 receptions for 260 yards and two touchdowns for the Spartans in 2012. He was also named UAA Offensive Player of the Week after totaling a career-high seven receptions for 180 yards and a score in an Academic Bowl win over Carnegie Mellon.
Bell was also the first-ever player to sign with AFC Cleveland. He became the definition of consistency as he found himself among the NPSL’s top goalscorers for an astounding eight seasons. He would spend the 2012-2017 seasons with the Royals and the 2018 and 2019 seasons with Cleveland SC.
The highlight of his soccer career was winning a national title in 2016.
“Winning the NPSL is no easy task since there are almost 100 teams across the nation,” Bell said. “So when I agreed to play that first year I didn’t necessarily think I would be lifting the championship trophy and definitely didn’t think we would win it in Cleveland in front of thousands. To win it all in such an exciting game and celebrate on the field with our supporters was something none of us will forget.”
Lifting the championship trophy was a big moment for Bell.
“We had such a dramatic playoff run leading up to it with penalty shootouts, injuries, red cards, and storm delays,” Bell said. “Then when the time came the championship game had it all, a sellout home crowd, a come from behind win, six total goals scored, and a late game-winner by Antonio (Manfut). On top of that the Cavs won the NBA Championship and the Indians were in the World Series that year, so it was just a magical summer and fall in Cleveland. I won’t mention the Browns but yeah, I don’t think that game can be topped.”
Getting to represent his hometown has been a very special experience for Bell.
“Anyone from Northeast Ohio knows how much pride we have of where we are from so it’s been an honor to wear Cleveland on my patch for this long and play for the place I’ve spent the last 29 years,” Bell said. “That’s another thing I respect about our club. Sam (Seibert) and the supporters get it. They know it’s not all about playing a dozen or two soccer games a year. Our club engages with the Cleveland soccer community and plays an important role in its culture.”
Bell has become an icon and an inspiration in his community, something that was quite clear to Cleveland SC’s president.
“Vinny has been an icon of the Cleveland soccer scene for years,” Seibert said. “His calm demeanor yet unbridled aggression on the pitch makes him quite the role model on and off the field. Any team with Vinny Bell is never out of the game and what opponents fear most is that he knows it. I am a better man for knowing Vinny and all of his teammates would echo that statement. With multiple trophies notched on his belt including a 2016 national championship, Cleveland Soccer Club is honored to have the privilege of rostering a legendary striker. Congratulations to Vinny Bell on being recognized as the elite player he is.”
Bell’s teammates over the years have shared a similar admiration for his work. Defender Coletun Long played with Bell from 2014-2019.
“Vinny is one of the most difficult yet confusing players to play against due to his pairing of size and speed with his surprisingly high level of technical ability,” Long said. “He is able to do things that most at his size should be unable to do. One of the most dangerous forwards in the NPSL, if Vinny is in the game, your team has a very good chance of winning no matter the opponent.”
Defender Chris Cvecko was Bell’s teammate from 2016-2019.
“Vinny is a very reliable player,” Cvecko said. “It’s nice to have him up top as a big target and he is very effective at winning the ball in the air. He’s very good at creating plays from nothing and keeping the opposing backs busy. He knows how to score goals and usually finds a way to do so. He’s been a huge part of the team’s success in the past years.”
Carter Poe, the current head men’s soccer coach at the University of Mount Union, had the unique perspective of being both Bell’s teammate and head coach.
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw Vinny,” Poe said. “It was at a spring tryout prior to the first season of AFC Cleveland. I hate to say it but I honestly didn’t think he’d be that great just looking at him. Boy was I wrong! He turned out to be an absolute beast. He wasn’t always the smoothest or prettiest player, but he was just so effective. He was a true #9 and someone who could always produce a goal on his own at any time. It’s hard to explain without playing with him or against him, but once you have, you understand that he’s special.”
“As a coach, I tried to keep in mind my experiences with him as a player,” Poe continued. “He has a particular style to his game that makes him effective. In addition, when I worked with him he was already a bit further in his career than some of the younger college guys, so I felt it was important to not overcoach him or change him. I tried to just make sure he was put in position to be successful and let him do his thing. And true to form, he was outstanding for us during my time as a coach. He produced so many big performances and big goals, and we could not have won a national championship without him.”
Bell’s success has allowed him to participate in prestigious competitions like the U.S. Open and Steinbrecher Cups.
“It was an awesome experience, what motivates me as a player is playing against the best competition I can,” Bell said. “Since the U.S. doesn’t allow pro/rel, these tournaments are a unique chance to bring the best teams from all the U.S. amateur, semi-pro, and pro leagues together to compete. Over the years under Coach Ryan Osbourne and Lewis Dunne I think our guys made Cleveland proud in these tourneys and really held our own against FC Cincinnati, the USL, and others.”
Bell didn’t do it all alone and he was all about recognizing those around him. Even though it was difficult, Bell was still able to come up with a list of the greats he played with.
“I have to start with my good buddy out on the wing Antonio Manfut,” Bell said. “Tone is easily one of the most skilled and electric players in the league. He is a legitimate threat to score anytime, anywhere, and has the best shot in the nation of anyone under 5’6”. Mikey Derezic and Admir Suljevic are next but only count as one because they are attached at the hip on the field. Mikey’s game is pure poetry in motion. Every touch and movement is perfect. I can probably count on my hands the number of times he has turned the ball over. Admir is another super skilled guy and easily the best passer I’ve ever played with, his combinations with Mikey and assists to me are a thing of beauty.”
“Next is Tom Beck,” Bell continued. “Tom has been playing with me ever since our first season in 2012 and has been the best two-way player in each of those eight seasons. Tom is everything you dream of in a player: technical, physical, fast, great finisher, clutch. You can’t get by him and you can’t stop him. Alex Ivanov was unbeatable in net when he was with us. I slept like a baby up top knowing other forwards had to get through that guy and not me. A consistently stout defense was a big part of Cleveland’s success the last five years and Alex, Chris Cvecko, Dec McGivern, Coletun Long, Mario Musa, Bobi Cancar, and Corban McAvinew were all incredible back there for us.”
Cleveland’s star striker has seen just about everything in eight seasons, including the tremendous growth of the NPSL and American soccer as a whole.
“U.S. soccer is always an ever changing landscape and I think the league has navigated it well and grown a lot,” Bell said. “The competition has been better every year and the Midwest Region specifically has cultivated some great clubs and fun, passionate supporter groups. Sam Seibert, Coach Ryan Osbourne, and everyone in the organization have done an amazing job not just in keeping Cleveland soccer alive, but building a top-notch club in the league in just two years.”
Bell was quick to point out the role that the NPSL has played in his career.
“The most valuable things I’ve gained were a ton of great relationships and unforgettable memories,” Bell said. “As a player I was afforded the opportunity to play against some of the best in the U.S. and I’m very close with so many teammates, coaches, and supporters. Even with opposing teams and supporters in the conference I share friendships and of course some quality banter.”
Bell was appreciative that playing for his club in the NPSL didn’t take away from professional goals he had off the pitch.
“I am a CPA and have worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers since I finished at Case Western and started in the NPSL back in 2012,” Bell said. “Luckily, the format of the league allows the players to pursue their outside interests. Also the club is always flexible with my schedule and PwC is extremely supportive as well. This is a great league for those who want to play at a high level without having to sacrifice their career outside of soccer.”
It’s quite obvious that Bell has left a tremendous legacy, but he’s not done yet.
“As far as the future goes, I’m not sure how many seasons I have left in me but I think my old bones still have some games left in the tank,” Bell noted.
Photo Credit: Ric Kruszynski/ISNSoccer.com