Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Cleveland SC Preview, Eric Leonard Interview

Good Wednesday morning to those who celebrate, Andrew here with a preview of the matchup between FMFC and Cleveland Soccer Club. We’re smack-dab in the middle of a gauntlet of early season games, and having gained a very late crucial road point against a physical Red Wolves side, we’re likely to see quite a bit of squad rotation. We’re told Drew Conner missed the game on Saturday due to a calf strain, though he may be available tonight vs Cleveland. I’d expect to see quite a few of the younger players and those who didn’t travel to Chattanooga get some minutes, guys like Cyrus Rad, Heath Martin, Carl Schneider, Justin Sukow, and we’ll likely see Parker Smith get a start between the sticks. Being we play Omaha on Saturday, the plan tonight will likely be a measured one, and aim to get the job done without injury and without needing more than a couple days’ worth of recovery.

I watched most of the Round 1 clash between Cleveland SC and Chicago FC United, a game I highly recommend rewatching if you have the time, if for nothing other than the top tier color commentary from Vince McKee. Vince is (as his website states) a ten time published author, and he is available to provide color commentary for pretty much any endeavor (the blog portion of the website covers everything from soccer to pro wrestling to This Is Us think pieces). Cleveland SC is an amateur side, whose players play solely for the love of it, and is eactly the type of organization I’d personally support if Cleveland were my city of residence.

“It’s a shame when teams come and go because there is so much talent here in Cleveland, pretty much all of our guys are from around the area.”

– Cleveland SC striker and Price Waterhouse accountant Vinny Bell

Rather than paint a picture of who Cleveland SC are and what you should know about them, take five minutes to read US Soccer’s profile on them, it’s a great read and helps outline just how much of a grassroots club they are. If you’re looking for a club that’s the antithesis of the modern commercialized game, Cleveland SC fits the bill fairly perfectly.

Eric Leonard Interview

Below is an unabridged interview with FMFC defender Eric Leonard. We’d like to thank Eric for his time on a Tuesday evening.

Andrew:

All right. So let’s get into it. So, right away, let’s talk about the game this last Saturday. I don’t want to spend too much time on that, because I already did a recap on it. I spent way too much time on the recap. It’s okay. My accountant doesn’t know anything about it, so that’s totally fine. And by accountant, I mean, me.

Grant:

Sure.

Andrew:

But yeah, Eric, how do you feel the game went? It seemed like a game of two halves, from our perspective. But yeah, talk the game through with us.

Eric:

Sure. Overall as a team, I think we felt that was probably our worst 45 minutes of soccer we’ve ever played in our life this preseason, which is a good sign. If that’s going to be the worst 45, then obviously, we know what we need to work on. But it was definitely a game of two halves, and I’ll tell you why. I think you guys know especially, for me being in the league for four years, Chattanooga is always going to be a tough place to go play away. They have a great fan base. It’s one of the next nearest to ours, they’re rowdy, they get their guys going.

So it was a tough environment to go to. First game, there’s going to be nerves. First game, it’s a lot of… We had some guys who made their professional debut. So, it’s a lot of things are going on within the players’ minds and I think we just collectively went out and we didn’t stick to our game plan of what we wanted to do for the first 45.

I think the speed of play was a little slow. Passes just weren’t hitting the right foot. We weren’t doing a lot of things coach Matt wanted us to do and I think it was good that this happened in the first game of the season, because you also got to see our response. There’s been other years where it’s been, how is this team going to… are we going to give up a late goal and not recover? Well, this team showed in game one, we’re not going to be easy to beat. And even though we were down one zero, for probably 50 minutes, the guys persevered and we ended up securing a goal in the 90, what? 95th minute.

Andrew:

Yeah and one of the things I noticed, I put in my overall recap was, it felt a little like last season at times, just coming up against… trying everything that we have, throwing everything we had at them and just not getting anything out of it.

Grant:

Yeah.

Andrew:

The whole game though, I remember telling this to folks because I had the flu over the weekend, so I didn’t go to the watch party. I remember telling folks on the Zoom that we were doing, I was like, “Yeah, but it still feels like we can get something out of this.” And to me, it was something that was different than last year. It was like the fight felt different. Even being at some of the preseason games, the mood felt different overall and it just felt like this is a group of guys who are willing to fight no matter what.

Grant:

And one of the things I wanted to bring up was… Eric, this was something I brought up to you in Minnesota, was that, one of the things that I had noticed was, this year’s squad, the way that it’s been set up, it seems like that when the ball is gained back in possession, the team is already moving forward. And what you saw in that goal, in the 95th minute was that you had the turnover deep in their possession. We were already ready to be going the other way.

And that’s exactly what I was talking about is that’s a change. That’s a change from last year to where… And the fact that we were already ready to go the other way, he got stripped and then the ball went to AWO and he was already moving the ball forward, and everyone was already… We’re already pushing forward, we’re ready to go. That’s a change. That’s something that’s new from the seasons that we’ve had in the past.

Eric:

And I think, honestly, it starts with the mentality. I think that coming out of that first 45, myself included, we were like, “Wow, this is not good enough.” And for every one of those 11 players on the field for the first half to realize and accept… I mean, people are going to be like, “Ah I played fine.” “This guy did good.” We walked into that locker room. We were like, “Wow! This is not good enough.” If we want to win the league… We’re not even talking about getting into the playoffs. We’re talking about if we want to get first in the league, we know, collectively, that was terrible. And what’s great is now, it’s we wipe the slate and we move on.

And I don’t think at one point during that second half when we were down one zero, not one person on the field or on the bench, when Matt subbed them in, thought that we weren’t going to come back. And that’s the difference right there. So, oftentimes, last year we got scored on and everyone put their heads down.

It’s like, wow, here we go again. Forward Madison giving up late goals, but not this group of guys.

Andrew:

Interesting. Its funny somebody mentioned on Twitter the blonde guy who was everywhere, and I think you saw that… I went to try to look for the tweet, but it looks like the guy deleted his account. But is that part of your game that you… I mean, obviously, he said this has been the case the last three years with this guy. Every time that little blonde guy shows up, he’s all over the pitch. Is that something that you’ve tried to make part of your game overall, just being here, there and everywhere, a la Roy Kent, a la Roy Keane?

Eric:

It’s just dependent upon how the game flow is going. So the second half, I felt like there needed to be more energy from me because I’m a player who I feel like guys feed off of my energy. So, in the first half, I felt personally, not enough energy. Even though maybe you can’t hear me, I’m trying to organize the lines, collectively the energy from myself going into the rest of the team wasn’t there. So I felt that next 45 had to be different because if guys are going to feed of one another, it needs to start from the back going up.

So, for me, it’s not necessarily about being everywhere on the field, but whenever one of our forwards, and that’s what you talked about, Grant, with the reaction of going forward, I wanted us to set such a high line, not too high into their half, but a high line that when they got the ball to their forwards, Brian Bement knew I was on his back, whether I was clawing him, elbowing him, whatever.

Grant:

Yeah.

Eric:

I have a bruise on my jaw from him elbowing my cheek, but that’s because every time he got the ball, I wanted to be skin tight with him, and I think that just annoys forwards. And at the end of the day, we kept their forwards fairly quiet.

Grant:

It does. It does, dude. It totally does.

Andrew:

Speaking of Brian Bement, what was that like facing off against that guy? Because I know obviously, when you guys practiced and did scrimmages back in 2019 and you played against him, say what you will about switching from the blue side of Chattanooga to the red side of Chattanooga, what was it like playing against Brian? Because I think he was a bit of a dark horse coming into this weekend, even getting his minutes because he was an open trial guy for them. But he’s also hard to handle it looked like…

Eric:

Yeah. He’s more or less a bulldozer. Right? So you always have to be on your toes with him. The problem is that you have to remember that you’re playing a game. So, he’s definitely someone who likes to talk to you during the game. Like, “Hey man, so what do you think of this and that?” And I’m like “I don’t want to talk, I want to put you on your butt-kind of a thing.” Like “We can talk after the game, but I don’t want to talk right now.” So, it’s very hard… I had to be focused in terms of putting my personal relationship aside to focus on the game. And that’s why I did some of the things like, pushing him, kicking him, pleading him, it’s just part of going into the office, man, you got to get the job done first.

Andrew:

Yeah. He wasn’t like, “Hey, is Salvatore’s Tomato Pies still open on Johnson street? I heard it moved.” It wasn’t any of that kind of stuff. Was it?

Eric:

No.

Grant:

Banzo still got that good falafel?

Andrew:

Yeah, sure.

Eric:

No, exactly. And it’s hard, it’s hard because when you know the person, you obviously want to talk with them, but he’s someone who can be dangerous if you let him turn.

Andrew:

Was there any conversation after the game was over with the squad like, “Wow, that first half wasn’t very good. What was the deal? What caused that not… Was it just like not being engaged or like a mental side of things? What was the cause of that?”

Eric:

I think whenever you start a season as a team, you need to figure out what some of your struggles are going to be. There’s always going to be tough points during the year that you need to look at the group and say, “How are we going to solve this?” I think we hit that in our first game, which I told you about, I’m happy about tthat. However, I think that we were a bit surprised by another team doing what we do to teams. This preseason, you saw us press teams. You saw us attack teams. You saw when we lost ball…

Grant:

You had to go after it.

Eric:

Oh my God. It’s a counter press that we don’t want them to get out of. We were not expected to have any other team do that. So it was a wake up call like, “Hey, league one, this is the type of guys you’re going to be getting. I mean, you guys know this, Greenville Omaha. That’s why they’re successful. They have guys that run.” So for us to realize that in the first half it was like, “Okay this is a wake up call that for these next 45 minutes and the next 31 games, we’re going to have to stick to what we…” I mean, we didn’t do any counter pressing in the first half.

Grant:

Not at all. Yeah.

Eric:

And our gaps were so spread out. So once we calmed down and said, “You know what, we need to go back to Matt’s game model, we need to go back to winning the ball, we need to go back to playing.” We were fine.

Grant:

Yeah. So I guess that would be the question that I would have is, one of the things that I… And I mentioned this to Andrew and Zach and Chris was that, one of the things that I love the most was that after Nazeem scored, multiple players are already talking shit to the fans, and it’s like, I love that because to me that was different. That brought me back to 2019, where we had a squad that was like, “Nah, this is who we are, motherfuckers and we’re going to announce who we are. And when we do this, we’re going to beat…” I want that in my soccer swag.

Andrew:

Some swagger.

Grant:

Right that’s swagger where it’s like you’ve been taught. And so when Nazeem scores and mind you, he scored by kicking it off of a dude’s face. So there’s that and then as soon as that happens, you start talk… That’s what we wanted all year, last year. And when you guys were doing it last year at Omaha, Andrew and I were like, “This is the squad, this is the team we want, this is what it’s about.” So when I saw that, I was like, “This squad is something different.” Do you feel the same way? Is that like, when that happened, it was like, “Okay, here we are.”

Eric:

I mean, the best way to answer that is for the second half, I think it was the 65th-70th minute. Justin Sukow came on. He took someone into the box and they foul him. If you look, it’s a PK…

Grant:

Oh dude, right away, straight away, Andrew and I were going back and forth about it right away.

Eric:

If you look at the video, forget about the play, our subs, Cyrus, Parker, like those guys right there. They were on the field, screaming at the ref. To me, that’s the difference. It’s not 11 guys man, this group is 18 and the guys at home who didn’t travel, that’s going to be the difference and that’s why we are able to play just as good as a lineup tomorrow night against US Open Cup teams even though we have a game again on the weekend, whoever goes in is there to do a role.

Grant:

I just want to say if you’re going to have a sideline guy, Cyrus Rad is probably as good as you’re going to get. He’s pure emotion to begin with as a person and if you want us sideline guy, that’s your guy, that is your dude.

Andrew:

Look, we saw that in Richmond last year. Like he was…

Grant:

Oh yeah, absolutely.

Andrew:

…talked so much shit. Like I couldn’t believe it. And I was like…

Grant:

Loved it.

Eric:

Yeah.

Andrew:

We need more of that. We need more of it.

Grant:

I actually want to bring what you just brought up though, you’re looking at this week right, and you’ve got game on Saturday, game on Wednesday, game on Saturday. I mean, that’s three games in seven days. That’s one hell of a way to start the season.

Eric:

Right.

Grant:

How are you guys like approaching that as a team, in terms of with lineups and match-ups and things like that.

Eric:

Yeah. You’re definitely going to see a little bit of rotation tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see even if some of the guys don’t get rostered in the 18, just to save some legs, I can’t speak on that yet, because I honestly don’t know.

Grant:

Right.

Eric:

What’s so good about Matt and what is different than any other coach, he has made this the same amount of importance as our game on Saturday. And that’s what makes this so important because you have guys who are not only going to do a job, but you have guys going in tomorrow to show Matt why they need to be playing on Saturday, why they need to be playing on the next Saturday.

And that’s the level of competition that you have in our group. So tomorrow night is the same as a league game. It’s just as important. It’s a championship game and I think that’s what every single game this year is going to be. And that’s what you’re going to see when Matt makes the team to put out whoever’s on the field, myself. If I’m on the field, Mitch, whoever, if we’re not on the field, if we’re not even in the 18, he’s putting out a team to win the game. We want to play an MLS team in the open cup. We want to get there. I want to get there. So that’s the difference. It’s not like, you know what, Cleveland SC man, their PDL, USL too. So we’re going to play some of our guys who didn’t get as many minutes. No we’re putting out guys who can get the job done.

Grant:

And that was a question I wanted to ask, cause when you look at the Cleveland squad…

Andrew:

Well do we want to shift from talking about the game this last weekend to talking about tomorrow night? We can do that. I want to make sure that we have a sort of clear cut.

Grant:

I don’t have anything I want to say about the game on Saturday. I think I’m okay.

Andrew:

One last question that I would have, and this is probably more of a personal question, you feel free to turn it down and not answer, Nazeem talked about how last week was pretty important for him, because it was the anniversary of his dad passing away. I don’t know if he talked about that with the team, if he talked about that going into the game, was that part of any of the thought process going into that last play of that game or is it more just like Nazeem showed up and he did what Nazeem does.

Eric:

Honestly, it was more the latter, I don’t think he shared that with a lot of guys on the team, but I think you can tell, I mean, this guy, not even just getting drafted, but when this guy is on, he’s on, he’s an absolute baller. He’s a menace to deal with and he is so quick and agile that as a defender, he’s your worst nightmare. And he got the job done for us, man. That’s what he’s going to do this year.

Grant:

He’s been electric from the first game of the preseason this year.

Eric:

Yeah.

Grant:

I mean he’s been…

Andrew:

Eric, you know this from being in the team the last three years you had a hard time scoring and it seems like Nazeem has no problem.

Eric:

Well it’s Nazeem man but then like guys like Jeremiah and Abdou – we have so much quality, it’s a relief.

Grant:

And there’s so much that we can, Andrew, if you wanted to, we could have an entire hour just breaking down that final play. I mean, because you had Jeremiah just with his strength and with his body and with his ability holding up the ball to the point where it was able to get free.

Eric:

Yeah.

Grant:

For Nazeem’s goal, everybody in that play had to do their role perfectly. If you think about it. It’s like the strip and then AWO gets it and moves the ball forward, which is what he’s supposed to do.

Andrew:

Cassini does that no look pass.

Grant:

Sends a ball in that just like no look, sends a ball in that I’m just like, “What the fuck?”

Andrew:

Yeah, before we move on and talk about tomorrow night. What’s Cassini like to play with?

Grant:

Yeah seriously.

Eric:

He is next level, and is learning how this league works. It’s aggressive. You’re going to get pushed. You’re going to get kicked. And I think he’s learning that because from the pre-season, there are some guys you can tell like, “aw man, this guy doesn’t have talent and he’s not fit.” But from day one you knew this guy has talent. I mean, I kid you not in training the first day the ball was up in the air, comes down, and he spin Cruyff-megs me. And I was looking through my legs, “Like, where’s the ball?” So this has guy got talent and you’re starting to see it as he… I mean, this was the first game that he actually came in significant minutes. But when he’s on the ball, his half turns and the ability to turn and go forward and find that next pass. It’s all disguised. He’s good. He’s very, very good.

Andrew:

The way that Keith [Tiemeyer] I put it when we saw him up in Minneapolis like, “you guys have ever watched like Brazilian jujitsu? It’s about like all these little tweaks you can make to like unlock something.”

Eric:

Yeah.

Grant:

And, and Keith must know a bit about the two of us because the two of us were both on attention immediately.

Andrew:

It seems like Cassini has that ability to find space when there is none.

Grant:

And you saw that because it was a no look pass that he sent down the field that Abdou like, did what he was supposed to do…

Andrew:

Ran onto it

Grant:

… got onto the ball waited for everybody to get down the field and then a great pass.

Andrew:

I think what we’re getting at here more than anything is spoken or unspoken, the communication seems better this year. Generally.

Grant:

Yeah.

Eric:

It’s so much better. It’s but it’s between each line. You have Mitch, me, Cesar whoever’s in the back. I think you have someone who’s always going to talk from the back, but Andrew, right? AWO, he can communicate. But you also have Abdu, Jeremiah, they’re not afraid to talk. And even though Cassini, language barrier a little bit, his English is excellent. He understands. And he yells things in English, which is great. So you can start to demand more from people because you’re all on the same page.

Grant:

So dumb question here, but maybe it’s a great question. Do you feel like as the year goes on the language barrier with Cassini will become less and less of an issue?

Eric:

Yeah. I don’t even think it’s an issue now to be honest with you.

Grant:

Because I think that’s something that not a lot of people understand when you’re talking about international players, there can be a language barrier a lot of times with trying to understand where are you going to be, how do I talk to you on the field, and things like that.

Eric:

Absolutely.

Grant:

Yeah.

Andrew:

All right. Let’s talk about tomorrow night. Cleveland. An amateur side, but a very, very good amateur side.

Eric:

Yes.

Grant:

Vinny Bell, baby.

Andrew:

Vinny Bell. Okay. Their striker. This is a guy. A stud.

Grant:

You better be on his ass tomorrow night.

Andrew:

Vinny and Eric is like a clash of the Titans. Right? Cause Vinny Bell, he’s been playing for this club for 11 years and his day job, he is an accountant.

Grant:

Yeah. He’s an accountant.

Eric:

Oh.

Andrew:

But he’s been playing for this club for 11 years and he’s the guy that put them through in extra time.

Eric:

Sure.

Andrew:

I watched their game against Chicago, the story of this club is a super cool one. It’s basically a Phoenix club from a club that shuttered. They stuck around. There’s still in it.

Grant:

They got shuttered for poor financial practices. Yeah. Like, Tomato: the NPSL shut them down.

Eric:

Yeah. That’s ridiculous.

Grant:

The NPSL was just like, “Yeah, you guys, whatever you’re doing, you’re done.”

Eric:

Oh my God.

Andrew:

The guy that owns the club still has a day job too. Their goalkeeper, Conor Cable is the guy’s name. He is one of the assistant coaches for Lake Erie College. So all of these guys on this team have day jobs. They’re all coming up here playing a Wednesday night. They probably gotta take the matchday off work and the next day, maybe the next day too. Yeah maybe they took the whole week off. Yeah. But like my question is, so leading up into this, is they’re a hundred percent a grassroots club. They’re hardscrabble. They’re coming up here looking to get something out of this game, obviously.

Grant:

A hundred percent, a hundred percent.

Andrew:

And they probably sacrifice more, arguably to come up here and play this game, that most of, most of the Madison squad, what’s the preparation like going into that, just even mentally, knowing that you’re facing up against a bunch of guys who really have everything to gain and nothing to lose?

Eric:

Honestly, I think these games are sometimes more tough than league games. To them, this is a World Cup game.

Grant:

A hundred percent.

Eric:

And this isn’t anything against them, but it’s the mentality: they’re looking at us like, “this team is professional. Let’s go show them that they’re trash at their home turf.” Like you said, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Right, we’re expected to beat them. We have everything to lose. So we need to come out and treat them like any other opponent. We’ve done a scouting report. We know they’re menaces up top. We know how they play. We know they play in a box build out. We know what their wingers do. Everything that we’ve done in preparation is nothing different from a normal game. And I think that’s how you need to treat it to be successful for US Open Cup because any team can win. It’s just like March madness, right? 16, 15 seeds beat number two seeds.

Grant:

Survive and advance. Right.

Eric:

It’s the same thing. We gotta have the same preparation.

Grant:

So then, the question I’ll ask you, Eric, is, you know, that they’re going to come out. That first 15, 20 minutes and they’re just going to be swinging.

Eric:

Sure.

Grant:

Right? Like, they’re going to want to come out and… So how do you, as a club approach, a team that does that, do you tend to sit back and just absorb a little bit, or do you think that it will be more of like, “No, we’re going to match you swinging at us. We’re going to swing back at you.”

Eric:

I think that’s the difference right there. We need to be able to meet and dominate that intensity. That for how much they think they might be pressing us, we are breathing down their necks. And that’s the difference between our first half of Chattanooga and our second half, we need to treat them like, just because this team presses us, we don’t change our shape. We don’t change our game plan. We come out and we attack them. It’s got to be, I mean it’s got to be.

Grant:

That was the thing. Because it wasn’t until the second half in Chattanooga where the club really started pressing the attack to where it became a situation where Andrew said, we’re going to get something out of this.

Eric:

Sure.

Grant:

We’re like, “We’re going to get a goal, whether it’s now or whether it’s late.” And it came.

Andrew:

Speaking for me personally. I’m one of the more pessimistic soccer fans in general.

Grant:

You? No.

Andrew:

I thought we were going to get something out of it the whole entire game on Saturday.

Grant:

Same here.

Andrew:

So, okay. Eric, we talked about some rotation. Do you think that we can expect to see some of the younger guys get us started on this game? I’m thinking Alann Torres. Probably Keith Martin, probably going to get some minutes. Streng, probably going to get a start. I’m guessing just to get a good run out. Maybe play a good 30, 45 minutes, who do you think we’ll see?

Eric:

What I will say is that I think this is, like I told you, I think this is an opportunity for every single player who hasn’t played already to put their name on why they deserve a spot. It’s just like any other professional club. This is an opportunity for players who haven’t been playing. But also it’s an opportunity for coach to gauge, “You know what? I want to try someone here, I want to try this guy here.” I think you are going to see rotation with the team. But it’s also tough to say, because we are all under the impression that we are all playing tomorrow. I’m going with the impression that I’m playing tomorrow night. Now, I don’t know, but I assume that based on the preparation leading up to it, you’ll see some rotation.

Andrew:

Okay.

Grant:

If you don’t dress tomorrow night, you better come to the Flock End.

Eric:

Say less.


Below you’ll find some musical picks from Eric, Grant, and myself. Hope you enjoy – Andrew

Eric’s picks: Plej – You and Ed Sheeran & Fireboy DML – Peru

Andrew’s current listening – Men I Trust

Grant listening – Tom Misch & Yusuf Dayes – What Kind of Music (Nightrider)

Authors

  • Andrew Schmidt

    Eclecticist, FMFC supporter, Flock co-founder, designer of things, and taker of photos. Writer, wrench, motorcyclist. Pro-intellectualist, anti-pedant. Drinker of coffee and greeter of dogs.

    Twitter

  • Grant Pieters

    Father, deep thinker, lover of life...and falafel.

    Twitter

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