By Daniel Cermak/NPSL.com
Antonio Manfut has played in a number of big soccer matches over the years, from his time as an
indoor soccer pro to his consistent presence on the wing for Cleveland, including winning an
NPSL National Championship for the city in 2016. The 2019 conference final against Detroit
City FC, however, ranks right up there at the top of his experiences.
“In general it was just a crazy game back and forth,” Manfut said. “They had the home field
advantage, they had all the atmosphere but we were able to overcome that and a deficit and get
the win in PKs.”
The game truly was a back-and-forth battle, with Detroit City taking a commanding 2-0 lead
early in the game and into the half, but for Manfut and Cleveland SC, it was not a position they
were unfamiliar with. Cleveland SC also overcame a large deficit in a 6-4 defeat of Rochester in
the conference semifinal, and Manfut and the coaching staff made sure to bring up that
comeback in the locker room.
“We had our halftime talk and I kind of talked to the guys and said after what we did in the
Rochester game, we can’t let this slip,” Manfut said. “Then with that talk and the coaches we
came out in the second half ready to go.”
Cleveland winger Tom Beck scored a great goal right out of halftime to bring the score to 2-1.
Cleveland SC and Manfut weren’t done however, as the winger was played in on a breakaway
and was able to put it past the Detroit City FC keeper to even the score. With his goal, Manfut
could feel the momentum swing.
“From then on, I just knew that we were going to win,” Manfut said. “I actually got hurt in that
game later on so I wasn’t able to finish it off but the guys were able to get the victory.”
Cleveland SC went on to win the match in penalty kicks thanks in part to striker Vinny Bell who
hit the winning penalty kick that Manfut jokingly described as “a terrible penalty, I knew he was
going to make it, but I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, but he’s clutch for sure,” and Cleveland
SC would advance to the NPSL national semifinal where they were defeated by eventual
champions The Miami FC.
Despite the sour end to the season, the conference final match between Detroit City FC and
Cleveland SC will surely go down in the record books as a legendary match for the club and
Manfut’s contribution while playing through an injury will not be lost on Cleveland SC
“The most impressive thing I saw from Antonio on that day was his will to win,” Cleveland SC
President Samuel T. Seibert said. “He was cramping in pain on the sideline and still trying to
sprint to get back out there. Ultimately nature or physics took over and he had to come off, but
his contribution didn’t end there, he was probably the guys’ loudest fan just cheering them on, pushing them further than they even knew they could be pushed. We won that match as a team
but Antonio was on a new level I hadn’t seen until that day.”
For Manfut, watching penalty kicks from the sidelines was of course difficult, but he had faith
that his team could pull it out.
“I had a confidence in the guys and I knew they wouldn’t let us down, but it definitely stunk,”
Manfut said. “I want to be out there but I had no doubt that the guys would get it done and it was
a great feeling.”
When fans watch the re-stream Saturday night, Manfut wants them to see the cohesion among
his teammates. Cleveland SC has had a consistent core of players including Manfut, Vinny Bell
and Tom Beck up top, Admir Suljevic and Mike Derezic in the midfield, and Coletun Long in
the backline. Manfut noted that this group and other teammates spend a lot of time together off
the pitch and even Manfut always looks forward to coming back to play in the NPSL.
“When I play my indoor season I always want to come back to Cleveland and play with those
guys, it’s one of my favorite seasons,” Manfut said. “I think (the NPSL) is a good league, the
teams we play in our conference and region are great teams, and there were even some former
NASL teams in the league as well and it wasn’t easy for them, so I think that’s a testament to the
With tonight’s live re-stream, NPSL fans will be able to witness not only an entertaining match,
but also Manfut and a Cleveland SC squad that has been working together for years at the height
of their form.
Photo Credit: Richard Kruszynski/ISNSoccer.com