Vinny Bell is a name that has become synonymous with Cleveland soccer. The Cleveland SC standout was such an incredible athlete that he had a distinguished collegiate career in both soccer and football.
The Parma Heights, Ohio native ended his collegiate career as the only two-time NSCAA All-American in Case Western Reserve men’s soccer history. He also collected D3Soccer.com All-American and NSCAA Collegiate Scholar All-American honors along with being a two-time UAA Most Valuable Player and a three-time first-team All-UAA honoree. He set school career records with 43 goals and 101 points.
Bell also featured as a wide receiver for the Spartans, earning first-team All-UAA and UAA Offensive Player of the Week honors in 2012. Simply put, Bell had the foundation and pedigree for greatness even before he began his NPSL journey.
When AFC Cleveland prepared for their inaugural season in the NPSL in 2012, there was only one name that the Royals looked to as the club’s first-ever signing: Vinny Bell.
“There was nothing that didn’t make Vinny a good person to represent the City of Cleveland,” former AFC Cleveland head coach Andy Hoggarth said. “As the first signing we made, he showed his love for soccer and the city from the first minute. If we ever needed anyone to represent the organization, meet with the fans or do anything in the community, Vinny was the first one to be there.”
Bell’s unwavering dedication to Northeast Ohio’s soccer community is second to none.
“It has meant alot to play for a city I’ve grown up in, went to college in and continue my career in,” Bell explained. “Cleveland is a city that is always underrated and always overachieves. We are definitely a sports town and have such a die hard grassroots soccer culture led by the 6th City Syndicate and team owners like Sam (Seibert) that put in the time and money behind the scenes that it makes me proud and grateful to be able to help bring a competitive level of soccer to the city.”
Bell would lead AFC Cleveland to a national title, scoring a brace and earning Player of the Match honors in a 4-2 win over Sonoma County in the 2016 NPSL National Championship. When asked about his career, this milestone was easily his favorite memory.
“It was a magical summer for Cleveland sports with the Cavs winning a championship and the Guardians making the World Series so to win it all at home in front of a sold out crowd that year was a huge highlight in my career,” Bell said.
“National championships stand out to me as the greatest achievement in sports, especially in a league like the NPSL which has nearly 100 teams and a great mix of up and coming younger players and older veteran pros,” Bell added. “Most athletes are never lucky enough to play with the kind of talented teammates and coaches I have to the point where you can compete for a championship so it is definitely a unique feeling to have that kind of success. One thing younger players need to understand is that team accomplishments will always be more fulfilling than individual ones.”
Carter Poe had the unique opportunity of being both Bell’s teammate and head coach during his NPSL career.
“It was amazing to play with Vinny,” Poe said. “He’s a gamer, a natural competitor, and of course a pure goal scorer. No matter what was going on in a game, I always felt we had a chance if Vinny was playing because he had a special ability to create and score on his own.”
“To coach him was also a great experience,” Poe continued. “Having played together, I felt I had a good understanding of him as a player and a person, including his mentality and approach to the game. Moreover, since he was already an older player, I didn’t try to change him too much but rather tried to create a strong environment for him and put players around him to help him do his thing. He was a pleasure to work with, and obviously we were fortunate to have some great success during that spell.”
That success continued as the face of Cleveland soccer changed from AFC Cleveland to Cleveland SC in 2018. Thanks to the work of Seibert and former AFC Cleveland standouts Coletun Long and Chris Cvecko, Cleveland SC survived and then thrived to become the city’s leader in the beautiful game. CSC joined the likes of the Crunch, Force, City Stars, and Stokers in the city’s soccer lore.
When it comes to accomplishments, Bell has literally done it all in the NPSL. He’s won championships, claimed individual awards, and competed against professional teams in the U.S. Open Cup. The latter holds a special place in Bell’s heart.
“There is nothing quite like the Open Cup,” Bell noted. “We always get motivated knowing we will get the rare chance to compete against the other leagues and represent our city and the NPSL on a larger stage. With the U.S. not having pro/rel this is a great opportunity for all tiers of U.S. soccer to interact and see how you stack up. I know plenty of guys on our team were proud of how tough we played FC Cincinnati a few years back and the wins we have gotten against other leagues so I think those memories and experiences for the players and fans are what make it special.”
Cleveland SC has two wins in the Open Cup’s first round (2022, 2023), while AFC Cleveland matches that same total with wins from 2016 and 2017. Bell himself has one career goal and one career assist in USOC competition.
Cleveland’s success in the Open Cup and league play is something that many communities and clubs would envy. Across different names, head coaches, and owners, Cleveland has been incredibly consistent over 10+ NPSL seasons.
“I think the level of diversity and passion for the game is what makes our city so successful,” Bell remarked. “We have such a broad range of ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds that come up through the youth ranks together and play well together. I think that is why there is a lot of talent and success coming out of Cleveland, we have so many different types of players and can beat teams in so many different ways and there is a team first mentality. We come up in a culture that doesn’t care about politics, money or any of that. We just play hard, smart, and for each other.”
The one constant for the NPSL in Cleveland has been Bell’s leadership, skill set, and dedication to growing the game.
“One thing I’ve learned in my time in the league is the importance of growing the game and supporting local soccer,” Bell concluded. “Leagues like the NPSL play such an important role in engaging the local youth and developing young aspiring players. The role they fill is what will drive the success of the next generation of U.S. Soccer and build the passion for the game you see overseas.”
NPSL fans and supporters will have yet another opportunity to see this living legend in action on April 6th when Cleveland SC faces off against USL League One side Richmond Kickers at City Stadium in Richmond, Virginia. CSC advanced to the Open Cup’s second round with a 1-0 win over Lionsbridge FC on March 23rd thanks to a Cvecko goal.
Photo Credit: Ric Kruszynski