“Experience is a great teacher.”
The quote perfectly describes Thursday night’s matchup between Cleveland SC and Lionsbridge FC in the U.S. Open Cup. The experienced Ohio side dispatched the youthful USL League Two squad from Newport News, VA by a 1-0 margin thanks to a wave of momentum favoring the home team.
Cleveland SC looked to be the heavy favorite going into this first-round matchup thanks to a roster of savvy veterans, homefield advantage, and a strong showing from other NPSL teams in the competition.
Cleveland had the likes of Tom Beck, Vinny Bell, Chris Cvecko, Mikey Derezic, and Admir Suljevic available for the match, and their many years of experience proved to be a difference maker. CSC fans and supporters were also out in force, celebrating with cheers and smoke. In addition, NPSL teams had an incredible week in the Open Cup, winning six of eight matches in the opening round.
Both teams had their moments in the first half. Cleveland dominated for a period of roughly 30 minutes, leading in both possession and chances. Later Lionsbridge felt like the favorites, but everything changed in the 46th minute as some clever play from Cvecko resulted in the game’s only goal.
“It was a team effort, a group effort,” Cvecko said. “We switched the point of attack. They were overloaded over there, and we were able to create a numerical advantage.”
The second half was a wild affair with tons of chances, physical play, and strong defensive stands from both sides. It started with the introduction of Bell, and his trademark physicality and scoring prowess made a difference on the pitch. The combination of Bell and Beck led the Cleveland attack, while the visitors’ sense of urgency made them a very dangerous opponent.
Yellow cards were handed out, but the physicality continued and Cleveland’s Jannis Schmidt was shown a red card in the 72nd minute after a rough challenge. With Cleveland down a man, Lionsbridge became even more engaged in the attack. Pedro Alves and the Cleveland SC defense stayed strong after dealing with a number of shots, and Cleveland even managed a few chances of their own thanks to Bell and John Carroll standout Nick Felician.
The match ended in a flurry as Lionsbridge had several chances in the game’s final moments. Cleveland fans held their collective breath, but the defense held and the match ended as a 1-0 win for the home team.
Cvecko was quick to praise his team’s experience and chemistry.
“I think soccer is a big chemistry game, knowing how guys play, knowing our strengths and weaknesses and taking advantage of those,” Cvecko added. “And we were able to do that today and get on the board and hold them off as well.”
A stellar performance from the Cleveland defense was led by Alves, who finished with several saves.
“It was a great effort,” Alves noted. “It’s a big victory, but it’s still just the first round. We have big goals in this competition, but it felt great. I couldn’t describe a better feeling. I don’t think it could have been better.”
Cleveland SC now faces USL League One side Richmond Kickers on Thursday, April 6 at City Stadium in Richmond, Virginia. This second-round match will be broadcast live by B/R Football.
Photo Credit: Richard Kruszynski/NPSL.com