The Cleveland City Stars, Cleveland's outdoor professional soccer team, are looking to bring the city of Cleveland its first championship since the impressive run of the old Cleveland Crunch in the mid-nineties. This time around it's not the mid-winter indoor pin-ball version of soccer, but instead the beautiful outdoor version that is the most popular sport in the world.
The City Stars play in the United Soccer League and have advanced to the championship for the first time in the team's brief two-year existence. The match will be a milestone moment for the franchise as Cleveland (10-3-7) was selected by the USL to host the first place Charlotte Eagles (13-2-5) on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Cleveland State University's Krenzler Stadium.
Cleveland was selected as the host site for the championship match in part because of the team's experience with television. The championship match will be broadcast nationally by Fox Soccer Channel and the City Stars are the only team in the league with a local TV deal, thanks to its partnership with SportsTime Ohio. The Cleveland franchise also stood out because of its exhaustive work off the field in the Cleveland community.
In partnership with the USL championship, the City Stars are offering a free "Train with the Champions" youth soccer clinic at Krenzler Stadium on Saturday before the big match. Cleveland players will be on hand to run the clinic and conduct one-on-one training with the kids.
"Our fans have been behind us from the beginning and we are glad to have an opportunity to reward them by hosting the championship match and everything that is involved with the entire week," said Cleveland General Manager Mark Geissbauer. "Our motto for the playoffs has been ‘It's Our Turn' and we believe that the city of Cleveland deserves a championship. We're not just playing for this organization, but instead we play for the entire city and we want to go out there and give the fans something to be proud of."
The City Stars play in the USL-2, which is roughly equivalent to the Double-A level in the more familiar minor league baseball system. The USL has no direct affiliation with Major League Soccer but Cleveland has a working relationship with the Columbus Crew. This year's roster has featured three players on loan from Columbus, including Jason Hotchkin who has made a significant impact during the stretch run and into the playoffs. Adam Moffat, last season's scoring leader in Cleveland, moved up to the Columbus Crew in 2008 and scored two goals in seven games before being lost for the season due to injury.
This year's scoring leader is Sallieu Bundu from Freetown, Sierra Leon. The powerful Forward leads a diverse group of Cleveland's star players. Goal Keeper Eric Reed was a standout at UCLA, Midfielder Derek Potteiger was a three-time all-Big Ten selection at Penn State, Defender Musa Otieno was the captain of the Kenyan National Team for over a decade and Midfielder Floyd Franks spent two seasons with the MLS Chicago Fire before coming to Cleveland. The captain of the bunch is Mark Schulte from Brecksville, OH. The only local product on the roster, Schulte is the reigning USL-2 Defender of the Year and is up for the same recognition this season when the awards are announced Friday in Cleveland at the annual USL Award Banquet.
The City Stars play an exciting brand of soccer and the team offers a great family atmosphere at Krenzler Stadium. The matches are affordable (championship tickets are $15 for youth, $20 for adult and $25 for VIP access including free food and beverages), and feature a free kids zone with face paining, sign making and bouncy castles for the younger fans. Autographs are available after every match with each player signing for free. The team is also offering special group rates and 20 percent off on all merchandise during the championship.
"This is a great achievement and a huge honor for our club in only the second year," said Geissbauer. "We're happy to give back to the fans with these special offers and prizes during the championship. Now we need the fans to be at full force this week so we can reach the peak on an already unforgettable season."
Lear more about the Cleveland City Stars at http://www.clevelandcitystars.com/