The storms held out just long enough for the Cleveland Raiders and the Bradley Central Bears to finish a much-anticipated District-5AAA bragging rights match Thursday night.
Cleveland came out of the gate strong, scored early and controlled the tempo on both sides of the ball for the majority of the game. The Bears tried to rally late in the game with some quality offensive pushes, but in the end it was the Raiders who walked out of the Greater Cleveland Soccer Complex with a 3-nil win.
“Tuesday night we played strong, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Tonight we wanted to make sure we came out really strong and put them on their heels a little bit to try and finish a goal early. We knew that first goal would be very important. If they score first, they build momentum, and it’s probably a different match,” stated Cleveland head coach John Brose.
Sticking to the game plan, Cleveland came out fast and furious, putting its first quality shot on goal in the fourth minute of play.
Two issues for the Raiders early in the season have been controlling the ball and finishing drives, but Thursday night the team appeared to have those issues well in hand.
In the fifth minute of play Cleveland’s Alex Rodriguez broke through the defense to beat Bradley’s goalkeeper for the first score of the game.
The Bears finally got a quality drive together in the 16th minute of play when they pushed past the Raider defense down the sideline before a shot attempt passed just high of the cross beam.
Cleveland responded by doubling its efforts, and in the 24th minute of play Sterling Hines found the back of the Bradley net off a free kick, to put the Raiders up 2-nil.
Both the momentum and the frustration were clearly visible on the pitch as Bradley’s squad appeared at a loss to find the answer to the Raider question before them.
“Our defense played tremendous. Sterling Hines, Rob Cooke and Taylor Jewett were very well organized tonight. They played with great energy and didn’t let a very good Bradley offense get much of anything going. A lot of credit goes to those guys,” Brose said.
In the 27th minute of play it went from bad to worse for the Bears when Jesse Jones got loose in space for Cleveland. The keeper came to the top of the box to attempt a stop, and Jones darted past to push the ball into the visiting goal.
Bradley seemed spurred by the prospect of being down 3-nil to their crosstown rivals, and for the last 10 minutes the Black-and-Gold found some offensive tempo they had been lacking for a majority of the match.
However, Cleveland capped the half by finding their legs again, and the clock wound down with a pair of Raider shot attempts.
Second half play was feverish as both teams refused to relent. Bradley began to find some footing and push the home club for all it was worth.
It was the Bears who struck first in the half, getting a good look at the Cleveland goal in the third minute of play, but the shot sailed wide.
The Raiders answered with their own shot attempt in the seventh minute that rocketed up and over the goal.
But, a minor shift was clear. After home-team possession and control for a majority of the first half, it was the visitors who started to even the touches as the second half wore on.
Cleveland punched another shot attempt in the 12th minute, and Bradley quickly answered with a shot on goal of their own that came about a foot from putting the Bears on the scoreboard.
Back and forth continued when the Raiders pushed a shot just right in the 25th minute, and Cleveland keeper CJ Garrett was forced to make a diving stop two minutes later when another Bear attempt had the home goal in its sights.
Yet, neither team was able to capitalize on the offensive breaks, and the game ended at the 3-nil final, just as the rain began to trickle from the sky.
“Everyone who touched the field tonight gave us quality minutes. This was a good win, but we have another tough one tomorrow,” Brose said.
Their won’t be much time for the Raiders to savor their victory as they welcome the Ooltewah Owls, defending district champs, to the Cleveland pitch tonight.
Bradley takes a small break before traveling to Soddy-Daisy Tuesday for a showdown against the Trojans.