For the first time since 2002, the Cleveland Crunch took the field. Facing the Brew City Legends of Milwaukee, the Crunch crunched the side from the Premier Arena Soccer League (PASL), 12-4. However, the whole story was not simply the game and winning result.
Behind the scenes prior to the game, with no fans present, the atmosphere was already electric. The various members of the organization along with those supporting the club, including family and friends (one of whom brought homemade pepperoni bread), showed nervous energy. It was an all-hands-on-deck effort and no task was too small for anyone as evidenced by VP Luciano Ruscitto helping to move barriers while others in the organization moved the bleachers. The front office of the Crunch is relatively young individuals endeavoring to launch a pro franchise. Understandably, there were some jitters. But everyone performed admirably from Drew the DJ to those handling the fan experience. It was a very well-oiled machine on display, showing no real signs of inexperience.
The past met the present as Crunch legend Hector Marinaro was in attendance along with 150 other soccer enthusiasts. All in attendance were treated to a Crunch performance that belied the team’s short time together.
Midfielder Mike Derezic opened the scoring in the first quarter after goalkeeper Marijo Musa set him up near goal with a quality toss. Forward Ma’Cain Spragling quickly made it 2-0 after Musa once again set the table for his frontline. After a bit of sustained possession for Brew City, Derezic picked up his second goal off an assist from midfielder Admir Suljevic. The fourth goal of the quarter came via an incredible team passing by the Crunch. Three or four quality passes in and near Brew City’s penalty area kept the visitors off-balance, allowing defender and captain David Jordan to slot home the goal past Brew City goalkeeper Antonio Gonzalez. The first quarter ended with the Crunch ahead, 4-0.
Brew City showed more life in the second quarter, scoring first in the period on a long-range shot from past midfield. The Crunch responded after Gonzalez made a great save, but could not control the ball, allowing midfielder Tom Beck to knock in the rebound. Brew City cut the lead to 5-3 on back-to-back goals by defender Cesar Castillo and forward Azael Flores. Midfielder Sami Mutemwa reasserted the Crunch’s control with his goal to close out the first half.
Brew City came out strong in the second half, forcing Musa to make great saves early in the period. Cleveland responded off a free-kick from near the Brew City penalty area as Suljevic quickly fed Jordan who pushed the lead to 7-3. Moments later, Derezic picked up his hat trick to make it 8-3. Next, defender Kevin Blackwood’s superlative individual effort gave the home side a 9-3 lead. Defender Hector Portillo’s strike slowed the Crunch’s momentum temporarily, but Mutemwa’s one-time strike following Blackwood’s dish reestablished Cleveland’s six-goal cushion, 10-4, to end the third.
Things became a bit chippy in the fourth after Brew City fouled Musa who had to be restrained before leaving the game with an apparent foot injury. He played a great game, making many top-notch saves while effectively distributing the ball (two assists). His replacement was Mirko Petkovic. Shortly after the change in keeper, Suljevic made the score, 11-4. Brew City tested Petkovic who showed his quality when he made a couple of big saves. The Crunch pressed for one more goal, which Spragling (his second) picked up, scoring from a very tight angle. That would prove to be the final goal of the match as the Crunch emerged triumphant, 12-4.
Musa showed great quality throughout the match. As already mentioned, he was great at distributing the ball. He showed fearlessness in challenging shots and had no problem playing far out of the goal. Derezic was named Man of the Match on the strength of his 3 goals and an assist. He along with Suljevic will look to spearhead what could be an offensive juggernaut with the likes of Spragling, Mutemwa and Blackwood adding to the firepower. As a team, they played quite physically and had no problem mixing it up with the Legends of Brew City.
Early days, of course, but this game’s performance gives Crunch fans a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
Next game: 3/27 against the Cincinnati Swerve at the Soccer Sportsplex.