However, Thursday night at the Greater Cleveland Soccer complex the Raiders took a big step in helping themselves again grasp a hold on their destiny by handing the visiting Soddy-Daisy Trojans a 2-nil defeat.
While the top-seed is still seemingly out of reach for the Raiders, the District 5-AAA win yesterday allows Cleveland to play McMinn County for a potential second-seed in the upcoming district tournament.
But, before they could look ahead to post-season scenarios the boys in blue had to focus on a very physical and very dangerous Soddy-Daisy club.
The physicality was present from the onset as the Trojans used bigger bodies to help win the one-on-ones and establish their style of play.
Cleveland didn’t relent though and ratcheted up their own intensity to match that of their visiting district rival.
Trojans players might have had a size advantage, but the Raiders appeared both faster and more technically sound as they moved the ball well and possessed for large portions of play.
In the 20th minute of the match Mike Kanarski launched a warning shot across Soddy-Daisy’s bow when a shot on goal passed just inches in front of the far Trojan goal post.
Shots on goal turned into shots in goal during the 26th minute when Alex Rodriguez placed a cross through the Trojan defense that found an open Eric Ingraham who put a blast into the visiting net for the first goal of the game.
The volley put an already heated game into an even greater level intensity, and it started to boil over as players on both sides jostled for possession.
In the 29th minute the first yellow card flew as a Soddy-Daisy player argued what he thought was an uncalled foul. The player was sent off as his protests continued and the official decided he had heard enough.
During the closing minutes of the half Seth Goza nearly made it 2-nil, but he pushed a free kick just wide of the goal.
Emotions came to a tipping point in the final minutes of the first half as a pair of Raider players were shown cards for overly aggressive play and arguing with officials.
“It is what it is. Soddy is going to come in and throw their bodies around. If you don’t come in and match their intensity they are going to walk all over you. That can result in some higher emotions,” stated Brose.
Cleveland keeper Pierson Bunch capped off the first half with a pair of impressive saves to keep the visiting Trojans off the board as the half expired.
Throughout this season Brose has emphasized the importance of attacking within the first 10 minutes of either period, and while it has paid dividends for the Raiders in other matches Soddy-Daisy’s defense refused to be bullied at the top of either half.
The Raiders did get a look in the 46th minute when Ingraham found Kanarski who put a shot on goal, but the Trojan keeper smothered the attempt and Cleveland came away empty.
The home team suffered a blow in the 52nd minute when a player received his second card of the game and was sent off the pitch for good.
Despite the miscue, the Raiders continued to possess with dominance and find offensive success.
Goza put another shot on goal in the 69th minute when he juked the Soddy-Daisy defense above the box, but came away empty handed.
He was finally rewarded three minutes later when Rodriguez fed him a free kick feed that he headed into the goal for Cleveland’s second and final goal of the game.
If either club was tired it didn’t show as the game clock was the only thing that wore down. Both teams continued to fight and scrap for control of the ball and had opportunities to put more goals on the board.
Despite the Raiders’ sold play, their Achilles heel presented itself again when numerous offensive pushes inside the Soddy-Daisy box came away with nothing to show for it.
In fact, the only area of the pitch that Cleveland was wanting for intensity was in and around the Trojan goal, especially when both teams fought for that particular scrap of turf.
That being said, the Raiders played very well against a bigger more physical team and showed their style of soccer can compete successfully against stronger clubs.
“We knew coming in that this was a very physical and senior laden squad that was never going to quit. But, we knew at the same time that if we played Cleveland soccer we could get them running and use our speed to create and exploit gaps in their defense,” explained Brose.
Next for the Raiders will be a huge match on the road Tuesday against McMinn County with a start time of 7. Both team have a single loss in district play, and the winner of the match could very well gain home field advantage when the post-season begins.
“Now we have a district matchup against McMinn. We both have a loss to Ooltewah. It’s a really important match. We want home field as far as we can go into the district tournament. Any time McMinn and Cleveland get together its a good match. They have been our traditional rival in the district, and we have played some great games against each other,” stated Brose.