Updated: Mar 4
Cleveland entered this match against Syracuse FC, knowing that a win will clinch the Rust Belt Division in the Midwest Region. Cleveland, 7-0-1 (wins-losses-ties), looked to both continue their undefeated season and an undefeated season at home against Syracuse, who came into the match sporting a 1-4-3 record this past Sunday at George Finnie Stadium. Notably, Cleveland SC missed a key player in the lineup with Danny Ruple out, while Syracuse had only 11 players and zero reserves for the game.
Cleveland enjoyed possession in the early stages as the game got underway, as they have throughout the season. By utilizing the entire width of the field with practical side-to-side passing, Cleveland could find clear opportunities in front of the Syracuse net as a shorthanded Syracuse side was content in staying back and packing their players behind the ball. In doing so, Syracuse was okay with surrendering possession to Cleveland, focusing more on not allowing Cleveland goals.
This strategy did not hold as Cleveland's Vinny Bell receives a perfectly timed switched pass to the end line to find teammate Szabi Wiksell across the net, who places it perfectly in the back of the net. Thanks to the Bell-Wiksell connection, Cleveland jumped to a sudden 1-0 lead early in the first half.
Unfortunately for Syracuse supporters, this was not the last time we hear of Wiksell's name, as he finds the back of the net again, just moments after his last goal. Now up 2-0 with a left-footed finish by Wiksell, Cleveland's dangerous attack continues to show its ability and knack to score in bunches throughout this year as they put up back-to-back goals in Syracuse's net, establishing complete control of the game before going into the half.
Despite being up in the match, Cleveland displayed signs of vulnerability in the first half of being susceptible to Syracuse's counterattack. Although the chances were never too threatening, Syracuse was granted a late first-half penalty put away by Caleb Munski on a follow-up after missing from the spot initially. This allowed Syracuse to take Cleveland's momentum heading into the second half by only being down 2-1.
Syracuse came into the second half as the aggressor and the most aggressive of the two, as Cleveland looked to close out the shorthanded group early. Thanks to some sloppy play from the home side, Syracuse was able to stay alive in much of the match. Granted, Cleveland had many chances to find more goals in the second half but just could not find the final solution in their last third. Syracuse continued to stay behind the ball and relied on Cleveland SC miscues and counterattacks to cripple Cleveland potentially.
A resilient Syracuse FC seemed to find more and more opportunities as the match got closer to its end, as they even missed a perfect chance to nod up the scoreboard with an opportunity right in front of Cleveland's net. But ultimately, Cleveland was able to hang on to their 2-1 lead at the end of 90 minutes.
This performance may not be Cleveland's best; however, Cleveland remains on top of the tables. Most importantly, Cleveland clinches the 2021 Rust Belt Conference with another victory at home while staying undefeated at George Finnie Stadium for the campaign.
Looking ahead, Cleveland looks to finish the year off on the road against Erie Commodores FC on July 17th at 7 pm at McConnell Family Stadium before preparing for the playoffs.