Photo by Ric Kruszynski
The recent hype around the Browns has locals buzzing and Vegas giving the team legitimate Super Bowl odds, but Cleveland Soccer Club wants to prove that Cleveland is a football town in more ways than one.
The city has been home to several soccer teams over the years, starting with the Cleveland Stokers in 1967. Clubs have come and gone, including a Cleveland Crunch team which brought home a national Major Indoor Soccer League championship trophy in 1994. When semi-professional soccer club AFC Cleveland folded in 2017, it was yet another in a cycle of a soccer clubs that came and went. Still, some passionate locals saw it as an opportunity for a fresh start.
When former AFC Cleveland media relations staff member and current Cleveland SC Owner Sam Siebert got word that AFC Cleveland was no more in December of 2017, he couldn’t bear the thought of there not being a soccer team representing the city. He soon found others, like SC Marketing Director Gary Wiggins, and former AFC players who felt the same way. By February of 2018, the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) gave charter to a new team: Cleveland SC. Siebert and company had 90 days to go from zero to fielding a team in mid-May for its first match.
The front office staff, all volunteering their time, realized that doing things differently meant more than just sending players out onto the pitch. Partnerships were formed with The Old Angle Tavern, a longtime base for local soccer fans, and CLE Clothing Co., which designed the team logo and sells Cleveland SC apparel. Platform Beer Co. Co-Founder Justin Carson, a rabid soccer fan, also got engaged and launched a special-edition ale containing electrolytes called Orangeaid.
Connections in the local soccer community were invaluable. Ryan “Ozzy” Osborne, an Englishman and experienced soccer coach living in Northeast Ohio, became head coach of Cleveland SC after a former AFC Cleveland player reached out about the role. Within two weeks, he was on board after a conversation over beers with Siebert. Jason Lansdale of Offside Marketing offered to have his company help promote the team because of his love for the sport, adding PR experience the team couldn’t turn down.
“We want to work with those who share the same local vision,” Siebert explains. “Striving as a small business wanting to grow and develop and be the best in their area/industry and be an ambassador to the city. We want invested partners who help each other.”
Given the mad scramble to get up and running last year, the team performed beyond expectations in its debut season, finishing second in the Midwest Region’s East Conference. After a playoff win in the regional quarterfinals, its season ended after a close 1-0 loss in the semis against Ann Arbor. With those results and a full offseason to prepare, hopes are high for the 2019 campaign.
The team has used the time to find a new home, moving from John Carroll University to Baldwin Wallace’s George Finnie Stadium in Berea. It’s also organized an international friendly at home against Monarcas Morelia Reserves of Mexico on Cinco de Mayo to get the team and fans geared up for their NPSL season, which kicks off May 19 at Syracuse. The first home match takes place May 26 vs. Rochester.
“Regardless of level, we want to operate as a professional organization,” Wiggins explains. “An example. Setting those expectations early. Put forward that we’re serious, that we think it’s going to work and something to be proud of. It all starts with us with being professional, caring, and putting forth that effort.”
Cleveland SC is proud to represent the city on the local sports landscape. It may not be the Browns, Indians, or Cavs, but SC planted the right seeds both on and off the pitch and plans to be a part of the city for a long time.
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Tesh Ekman was born in India, moved to the U.K. when he was 4, and came to Cleveland, OH, USofA in 1992 at the age of 14. An Ohioan since, he absolutely hates the question “Where Are You From?” Tesh is both a U.K. and U.S. citizen - however, India no longer wants to claim him as one. While difficult to be shunned by one’s own birth nation, it also means he’s used to rejection, which has served him well as a writer and person in general. Tesh is mostly a homebody, but if he does venture out, he can usually be found at various local establishments, drunkenly rueing his life choices and/or supporting Liverpool FC in a sudden-onset English accent.