This weekend, the Cleveland Crunch find themselves two wins away from indoor soccer immortality. As the team enters the Hartman Arena [host of Major Arena Soccer League 2’s (M2) Championship Weekend], they will have the opportunity of forging a link with the Crunch teams of old by being crowned champions of the M2. Crunch legends from the past, Hector Marinaro, Otto Orf, Zoran Karic, and many others, are ready from these young men to join them in championship glory.
The first test of the weekend will come courtesy of FC Amarillo Bombers. The Bombers, owners of the third seed, face the second-seed Crunch at 4:00 EST (3:00 Central). To show how competitive this weekend is likely to be, the final seedings were not finalized until the final two games of the regular season. Entering last weekend, the Crunch had the potential to be the number one seed in the playoff tournament. Although the team was not playing, a loss by the Wichita Wings would have given Cleveland the best record. Both clubs sat with identical records of 7-3 prior to the Wings’ game against Amarillo, however, Wichita had the advantage based on its earlier 4-3 defeat of the Crunch in Wichita back in June. With the Wings’ 5-4 overtime victory over the Bombers, they clinched the top-seed with a record of 8-3. FC Amarillo earned the third spot after it defeated the Chicago Mustangs this past Sunday.
Saturday’s match-up will mark the first time that these two clubs have played each other this season. Cleveland is the presumptive favorite in the game on the strength of its high-powered offense and stingy defense. The Crunch led the M2 in both goals per game at (9.4) and goals allowed per game (5.6). No one in the league was even within a goal of those figures. Those numbers led to a goal differential of +38, which is by far the highest in the M2 this season. As anyone following the organization can see, this club never played like a newly-formed team. They came roaring out the gates to stake a claim in this weekend’s tournament while demolishing opposing defenses and stifling the other teams’ attack.
The Crunch offense is a finely-tuned machine that does not allow defenses to focus on one particular player. Midfielder Mike Derezic led the way in scoring with 17 goals and 6 assists (good for second in points per game in the M2). However, he was not the only one notching goals and setting up teammates. Midfielder Admir Suljevic scored 10 goals and contributed a team-high 7 assists. Two others reached double-digits in goals, forward Ryan Minick and defender Kevin Blackwood netted 13 and 10 goals, respectively. Overall, seven players scored at least 10 points (measuring goals plus assists). As a team, 17 different players contributed at least one point during the regular season. With such a multi-pronged attack, Amarillo will simply have to pick its poison.
Not to be outdone, the Crunch defense is a wall that is rarely breached. In a league known for high-scoring games, head coach Louis Kastelic’s men held the opposition to five goals or fewer in six out of ten matches. The team was solid at the backend led by captain David Jordan along with defensive stalwarts Boban Cancar, John Gulden, Ashton Bernard, and many others. A key to the defense is its ability to be quite aggressive and take chances knowing that goalkeeper Marijo Musa is behind them to take care of anything that comes through. Musa had a season for the ages as he led the M2 in saves (145), save percentage (81.5%), goals allowed average (5.54), and record (6-0).
The Bombers (6-5) arrive in Wichita with one of the league’s top goal-scorers in midfielder Vitor Patriani. He paced the team with 20 goals while assisting on 11 others. Patriani is the engine that drives the offense as he contributed to nearly 40% of the Bombers’ goals this season. Another Amarillo player to keep an eye on is midfielder Anthony Powell who tallied 10 points (eight goals and two assists) in just four games. As a whole, the team averaged 7.3 goals per game. Defensively, the Bombers were in the middle of the pack over the course of the campaign as they allowed an average of 7.73 goals per game. Their primary goalkeeper, Jose Chavez, allowed nearly eight goals per contest (7.91). Overall, the Bombers are a relatively balanced team with a goal differential of -5.
This is going to be a great weekend for indoor soccer enthusiasts, as both semifinal matchups offer a sense of intrigue and the possibility of tight, competitive games. The second semifinal pits the Chicago Mustangs against the Wichita Wings at 8:00 EST (7:00 Central). The winners of Saturday’s games will play for the Championship on Sunday at 6:00 EST (5:00 Central). For those unable to attend the match(s) in person, For The Fans network (ftfnext.com) will stream all of this weekend’s action. Here’s to hoping the Crunch add a fourth star to its logo. Go Crunch!