EVENSVILLE — Cleveland’s Raiders took the soccer pitch on the road against District 5-AAA opponent Rhea County to kick off their season Monday night.
Despite a few miscues early and some very aggressive Eagle play the Raiders were able to notch their first win, taking a 5-1 final.
The Eagles came out strong to start the match and showed plenty of fire and intensity that seemed to counter-point a Cleveland team that looked a little flat.
“Rhea didn’t back down. Those guys worked hard. Give them credit. They made things difficult for us in the first half. Our energy wasn’t the best, but we picked it up and came away with a good win,” said Cleveland head coach John Brose.
Both teams exchanged position and jostled as the Raiders looked to move the ball methodically upfield and the Eagles volleyed the ball over midfield to their quick forwards.
It was Cleveland who found the back of the net first, when Jesse Jones passed inside to Mike Kanarski for the goal during the 26th minute of the first half.
Rhea nearly answered in the closing minutes of the half when a long pass downfield left the Eagle offense with a shot on goal that sailed just high after keeper CJ Garrett deflected it.
Cleveland tacked on one more goal during first half extra time when Sterling Hines’ kick found the back of Rhea’s net to give the Raiders the 2-nil lead going into the break.
“I think our fitness paid off. We looked like we started to wear them down in the second half. We came out with much more intensity. I liked what I saw in the second half,” explained Brose.
The Raiders came out with a higher intensity to start second half play and within 30 seconds had put a shot on the Rhea goal. Five minutes later another rocket was gobbled up by the Eagle goalkeeper to keep his team in the match.
However, in the ninth minute of play Eric Ingraham made it 4-nil when he found the back of the net unassisted.
Brandon Romero notched the fifth Raider goal when he bent a corner kick in during the 11th minute.
Rhea wasn’t done however, and despite the offensive onslaught they maintained their pressure, and it paid off when they avoided the shutout in the 14th minute of play.
It was too little, too late though, as the Raiders posted their fifth goal in the 21st minute when Kanarski found Brandon Lewis, who in turn found Rhea’s net.
When it was all said and done Cleveland walked off the pitch with the win and important momentum, both in the district and going into the upcoming Cleveland Classic.
“We want to be the No. 1 seed in the district. That’s our goal at the start of the season. This was the most important game for us this week even with this weekend, and we have a busy weekend ahead of us. That’s for sure,” Brose said.
The Raiders will kick off their tournament Thursday playing Baylor at 7:30 at the Cleveland Soccer Complex. They see Coffee County Friday at 4:30 and close things out against White Station at 5:30 Saturday.