By Aaron Tomich/NPSL.com
They’ve been there before.
Amidst the chaos in the final minutes of extra time during the First Round of the 2022 U.S. Open Cup, the NPSL’s Cleveland Soccer Club used prior experience and a veteran presence to fight for its 2-1 victory and advance over Chicago FC United.
“It was what we had versus what they had,” said 2021 Renegade GK NPSL Golden Glove winner and Cleveland SC goalkeeper Conor Cable, who recorded over 10 saves (many in spectacular fashion) against Chicago. “They [Chicago] had a young side, while experience was our difference, as we have been in this type of situation before.”
Following the come-from-behind victory in the waning moments of its First Round match, Cleveland SC will travel to face Forward Madison FC of USL League One on Wednesday, April 6 at Breese Stevens Field in Madison, Wisconsin. Kickoff is set for 8:00 pm ET (7:00 pm CT).
In preparing for this Second Round matchup, Cable said that preparation will be very unorthodox for his Cleveland side compared to Forward Madison. Cable noted the differences in club organization, facilities and availability, but knows what key components set apart Cleveland SC in intangible ways.
“This is the beauty of who we are as a working-class program,” said Cable. “We have a lot of players who work full-time jobs and know what it is like to make sacrifices for the game. This really sets us apart from other teams; we do what we can and we give one hundred percent effort on the field every time.”
“We’re not just happy to be there [in the Second Round],” said Cleveland SC head coach Lewis Dunne, who was named Rust Belt Conference Coach of the Year in 2021. “We’re going to create a plan that makes the opposition uncomfortable and also give ourselves a chance to win the game. On the day, if we execute the strategy with the players we have, we can play against anybody.”
Cleveland SC’s experience played a large role in the success late in the match against Chicago FC United, particularly that from club veteran Vinny Bell, who scored the game-winning goal in the closing moments. Defenders Boban Cancar, the team’s captain, and Chris Cvecko are additional veterans that Dunne has called upon in big matches, as their leadership and vast experience against professional players has proven to be key in matches like the upcoming Open Cup contest.
On the opposing side, Forward Madison – notably with the flamingo on its crest – represents USL One and has three active players that once competed in NPSL action. Midfielder Christian Enriquez (Albion Soccer Club San Diego), goalkeeper Phil Breno (FC Frederick) and forward Derek Gebhard (Jacksonville Armada) could see playing time against Cleveland SC and their former league.
“What excites me most about playing in [the] Open Cup versus Cleveland is that we’ll be playing in front of our home fans since it’ll be our home opener,” said Enriquez, who won the NPSL Golden Ball in 2019. “Open Cup is always an exciting tournament and we’re ready to get that going.”
Breno mentioned that the tournament affords unique opportunities for clubs and players to face new opponents and showcase their talents.
“This [Cleveland SC] is a team we would never have an opportunity to play against in any other situation other than in the Open Cup,” said Breno. “It provides teams and, more importantly, players exposure and opportunity to show how they compare to their competition at a higher professional level.”
Cleveland SC enters the Second Round match with immense pride for the city and area it represents, said Dunne, and is more than excited for the chance to compete further in this tournament, using that veteran experience and mentality.
“These guys have the opportunity to be remembered in this city forever for what they do,” said Dunne. “I know that they’re going to go into the match with no intimidation; they’re going to hold their own and give Forward Madison a very good game.”
Photo Credit: Luigi Musto and Forward Madison FC