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How Cleveland Force SC is maintaining the city’s longstanding soccer tradition

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 03/29/23, 2:30PM EDT


Nostalgia behind Force’s brand and implementation of new development pipeline is providing pathway to city’s talent

Cleveland Force SC will compete this week in the U-19 Elite Divisions on both the boys and girls sides at the USL ACademy Cup, and the club is building on the legacy of the professional club that many still hold close from a generation ago.

It might have been 25 years since the Cleveland Force last took to the indoor field at the old Cleveland Coliseum but mention the club’s name in the city and for many the memories come flooding back.

So, when three of the region’s youth soccer clubs came together to form a larger organization four years ago, there was only one logical name to adopt.

“It really has sparked a nostalgia, you know, the old days of people going to the Coliseum and having those experiences of being in a closed arena but having an amazing time,” said Cleveland Force SC Sporting Director Everett Palache recently. “What we’ve learned so far is that there’s a lot of connection with that generation to the brands, and they’ve come out to our USL League Two games and USL Academy games.

“It’s kind of connected even on the younger side as well, people that were involved in that era, who knew Joe [Raduka] and Kaz [Ali Kazemaini] and George [Nanchoff]. Their kids are now playing, you know, so they kind of gravitate to that.”

Cleveland Force SC Sporting Director Everett Palache

All three of the Force alumni serve on the club’s advisory board, providing a connection to the city’s soccer past. With a history of being a hotbed for talent – players like Darlington Nagbe, Justin Morrow and Josh Williams came up through the Cleveland area’s clubs – the Force have fostered development, helping take players to new levels.

That model has included becoming part of the USL’s senior structure. Last year, the Force entered a team in USL League Two for the first time, and this year it will make its debut in the USL W League, adding another level of competition for its players.

On both the men’s and women’s sides, it’s the next step for players that will compete this week at the USL Academy Cup. The Force are the only club that will have teams competing in both the Boys and Girls U-19 Elite Division at the Tampa Bay Sportsplex, a sign of the commitment to equality the club has made one of its central tenets.

“When we started this project, we always knew we would expand into the women’s side, because we never would have maintained the boys if we couldn’t do the girls,” said Palache. “We have that in our training methodology as well.  The younger boys, 12 and below, train with our girls who are 12 and below purposely, and then we filter it out.

“Having those platforms has been great for us to create a space where players can emulate [their predecessors], where they can grow their fandom for the game of soccer and ultimately promote Cleveland.”

One of the players that came out of Cleveland and into the professional ranks is now helping those coming through the club’s development program. Kyle Veris, who spent two years in Major League Soccer with the LA Galaxy before also competing in the USL Championship for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, is now a staff coach for the Force. Having his own memories of the Force as a youngster, he’s now enjoying guiding the players of the future.

“Just to watch them and the way they’ve communicated with me for stories, for ideas, it brings it all back to me,” said Veris. “It’s a way to pay it forward to these kids, to see them move on and to use some of the tools and some of the suggestions you’ve brought to them and watch them succeed with it, it’s priceless for me.”

Cleveland Force SC fielded a team in USL League Two during the 2022 season, and this year will add a team in the USL W League to provide the next level for its women's soccer pathway.

What’s been most apparent for Veris is the changes that have come to the development system since he was an aspiring pro at Ohio State University 20 years ago. With the expansion of professional opportunities across all levels, and the opportunities for players to compete at higher levels while still teenagers, Veris is enthusiastic about the model the Force are using to help elevate top players within their structure.

“At the end of the day, we want to keep that pyramid there for the boys and having that top of the pyramid now with the USL is tremendous. It is bringing out some tremendous talent,” he said.

“Now the dream is real. Before it was something that was far off, but now because of us having these programs, we’ve been able to give a lot of these players that you’ll see down in Tampa the opportunity at a younger age, to play with these First Teams and to train with these First Teams. As we know, the rest of the world has already been on top of this, and that’s what’s going to help us catch up as well as stay competitive domestically.”

Cleveland Force SC Girls U-19 player Hannah Pachan visited Spanish club C.D. Getafe last summer, and has professional aspirations as she competes this week at the USL Academy Cup.

There are those with big aspirations within the club’s ranks. Take Girls U-19 midfielder Hannah Pachan, who last summer went to Spain to train with La Liga club C.D. Getafe’s women’s program. While still two years from high school graduation, thanks to the Force’s arrival in the W League this year a player like Pachan could soon be earning competitive minutes at the senior level while still competing in the youth ranks.

“This platform for a young lady like that continues her growth and gives her exposure to the senior game, the speed and passion that comes with it,” said Palache. “Hopefully [Pachan’s stint in Spain will] get her in front of people that’ll give her an opportunity to live out her dream. She wants to be a pro.

“Players like Nathan Miller – also I would also bring up Lazar Ivanis, who’s a 2008 that is with the Academy boys – it’s the same idea. How do you get them in front of the right people and give them an environment to grow and learn? My hope is they get exposure. My hope is they get a chance to live their dream and they get a chance to compete and represent Cleveland.”

Should they reach that level, it will continue the soccer tradition the Force originally established all those years ago.

“For me, it's family,” said Veris. “It’s something that I've been a part of since ’87, when I first started with the club. We are so happy to get this. First, we got the title back with the Force as our name, and once we did that it became real and turned into the idea of, ‘can we also build on a tremendous history here in Cleveland?’ We had the first championships here before LeBron came back and got it for us, so the name is huge and rings out within the city limits.

“All we want to do is contribute to a tremendous path.”

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