But it was only a tease. The COVID-19 pandemic paused everything, including the Open Cup. When it was set to return in 2021, Cleveland SC kept its place. However, once that edition was cancelled as well, the team had to re-qualify for the 2022 edition.
“We never let off the gas,” Seibert said of qualifying for the 2022 Open Cup. “We kept some sort of continuity, and that helped us get from 2019 to 2021. We kept the guys together and the common goal in front of us to get back to the Open Cup again.
Midwest Soccer Hotbed
Forward Vinny Bell is a symbol of continuity in the team – and in Cleveland’s soccer scene too. A former Case Western Reserve player, he’s has scored over 90 goals since joining the original AFC Cleveland in 2011.
“It’s a shame when teams come and go because there is so much talent here in Cleveland,” said Bell of remaining with the team through the change. “Pretty much all of our guys are from around the area.”
Bell is an accountant at Price Waterhouse in Cleveland, where he’s a senior manager in assurance practice. In the First Round of this year’s Open Cup, his overtime goal lifted Cleveland SC over Chicago FC United to set up the Second Round meeting with USL League One pros Forward Madison.
“I feel responsibility to do my part to get us the win,” Bell said. “My role is the lone forward up top, and I put that pressure on myself. Being a veteran player, I feel that’s something you have to do.”
"When you hold each other accountable, that becomes the culture and you create a good team,” said Beck, who, along with Bell, forms the team’s veteran core. “Guys make sure you're giving 100 percent and that you're committed and dedicated.
"We've had success in the Open Cup, and the drive is that we want to compete,” Beck added. “And if anybody wants to get in our way, we have all the confidence in the world that if we play our brand of soccer we can compete against many teams in this country.”
Cleveland Roots go Deep
The competitive side never leaves an athlete -- neither does loyalty to their roots.
“If I could do it again, I would do it exactly the same way," said Bell. “I love being in this city. I love that I can play in this city. I’ve had chances to go play in other places, but I love it here and the guys we play with too.”
It’s a mentality at the core of Seibert’s initial vision.
“As much as we want to be a soccer entity, my vision is that we’re a Cleveland entity first -- a soccer entity second,” said the owner. “We want to make sure that we’re as Cleveland as possible.”
It hasn’t been easy for Seibert, who pays the bills by working 8-5 at the Cleveland Clinic as an administrator. But he’s fulfilled a dream: he’s run a Cleveland team, one shaped in his own vision, that’s now playing in the 107th edition of the U.S. Open Cup.
“When they’re on the field, they love each other so much, they don’t want to let each other down,” he said of his team. “And because of that we persevere, and we win.”