By Peggy Stansbery/NPSL.com
Cleveland SC felt prepared to implement their strong communication skills, mental toughness, and strength against the Richmond Kickers, said Marko Gvozdenović, Cleveland SC assistant coach. They felt ready to bring their grit to the field as the unit and family they are after years of playing with one another.
“The guys know how to play with one another,” Gvozdenović said. “They know they can anticipate certain passes, and they help each other out when they need it. They are a unit.”
Cleveland faced the Richmond Kickers – and extensive weather delays – at City Stadium in Richmond, Virginia on April 6 in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup. Cleveland fought to the end, scoring two goals in the last 10 minutes of the game, but ultimately lost to Richmond 3-2.
As the game geared up to begin, storm clouds formed above the stadium unleashing severe thunderstorms and forcing a long game delay.
After hours in the locker room, awaiting the conclusion of severe thunderstorms, Cleveland and Richmond took the field at 9:45 pm as rain poured down and sporadic distant lightning lit up the sky.
Richmond continuously pushed the ball hard toward Cleveland’s goal from the first whistle. Cleveland remained composed throughout the game and attentively pressured Richmond. Goalkeeper Pedro Alves stayed focused and agile, blocking various shots from Richmond as he lept and slid in the non-stop rain.
As Alves guaranteed before the game, Cleveland was not going to make it easy for Richmond, he said.
Richmond dominated possession, but Cleveland continuously forced their possession to take place near midfield.
Richmond’s relentless offense got the best of Cleveland at the 30-minute mark. Matthew Bentley crossed the ball across the goal line to Emiliano Terzaghi, who tapped the ball in to score.
Shortly after, lightning struck again within a dangerous range, pausing the game and moving the teams back into the locker rooms.
The game resumed at 11:33 p.m., and Richmond and Cleveland went head to head once again as dedicated spectators cheered and jeered from the stands.
The two teams re-took the pitch with energy as they slipped and slid on the wet, slick field. While Richmond maintained majority possession and continued their tenacious offensive plays, Cleveland cranked their offensive drive up a notch with players vigorously dribbling the ball up the field’s wing.
The second half began at midnight, and Cleveland continued their increased offensive drive, balancing out the possession at the start of the second half.
Richmond’s finessed passing challenged Cleveland’s defense, but Cleveland showed their physicality in response and pressured Richmond by slide tackling and using their bodies to defend, and Alves remained strong in the goal. Eventually, Richmond sneaked past Cleveland’s defense, and Terzaghi scored again with a strong shot from the box around the 58th minute.
Cleveland’s energy did not dwindle throughout the rest of the game, and they continued challenging Richmond with determined offensive drives and defensive pressure. Richmond continued to push hard too by curating tricky offensive plays and shots on goal.
Richmond scored again at the 78th-minute mark with a goal from Dakota Barnathan. Immediately after, Cleveland caught Richmond off guard and answered back with a goal from Tom Beck. Fired up, Cleveland scored again soon after with a goal from Skye Harter. The score was 3-2, with Cleveland only trailed by a single goal.
As the game approached the end, both teams – Richmond with the lead and Cleveland, hopeful for a comeback – fought to make it to the next round of the cup and face D.C. United, but ultimately Richmond came up with a 3-2 win.
While Cleveland did not give up the entire game, constantly sprinting up and down the field with ferocity, Richmond’s hard, direct passes allowed them to maintain majority possession and win.
The rain delays created a bad situation for Cleveland, said Gvozdenović.
“It messed up our rhythm, but we still fought, and we fought to the end,” Gvozdenović said.
The fact his players kept fighting to the end, traveled far, and made sacrifices to be at the game is all he can ask of them, Gvozdenović said.
“I just want to thank my players that came out and the fact that they fought for 90 plus minutes with all things considered,” Gvozdenović said.
Cleveland had prepared for the game by not focusing on what team they were playing – and facing a professional team as a semi-professional one – but on improving themselves and their tactics, said Alves.
“They could be amateur, they could be professional, we don’t care,” Alves said. “We came here to play soccer. That’s what we all love to do.”
Photo Credit: Peggy Stansbery/NPSL.com