Crunchalicous! Cleveland claims playoff spot with rugged 9-8 win over rival Chicago Mustangs

TAMPA, Fla. -- As if the Chicago vs. Cleveland rivalry wasn't intense enough, after Saturday night's rugged 9-8 Crunch win over the Mustangs, any future meetings between the two sides will be must see indoor soccer.

Cleveland, back in a big way in the indoor soccer scene after an almost 20 year absence, thrilled a sell-out crowd to sweat out a 9-8 win over the Mustangs -- themselves returning to the Major Arena Soccer League 2 scene this year -- and claim the third of three four playoff spots for "Championship Weekend" July 17-18 in Wichita.

With the win, Cleveland posted a perfect 3-0 record in games designated part of the Great Lakes Invitational series of games, to earn its post-season berth. The Wichita Wings, winners of the earlier Heartland Invitational, and the Amarillo Bombers, winners of the Rocky Mountain Invitational held earlier this 2021 season, will join the Crunch in the playoffs.

The fourth and final spot will go to the team with the best winning percentage among the non-invitational winners. Even with the loss, that would be the Mustangs right now, who with a 5-5 mark are currently fourth in the league, ahead of Omaha (3-7) and Colorado (3-8).

Either Omaha, with four games left in their season, or Coloardo, with five games remaining, could catch the Mustangs by winning all their remaining games, although at least one will be eliminated for sure next weekend when the Kings and Inferno meet for a pair in Omaha.

Saturday's Crunch v. Mustangs matchup was intense from the start -- the indoor soccer rivalry between the cities goes well back in time before the current M2 season -- and saw a whopping 12 blue cards issued, six each way, including a final penalty with just 34 seconds remaining that put Chicago on the power-play trailing by a goal. The Crunch was able to kill the remaining time to secure its playoff position. 

Cleveland (7-1)  raced to a 5-1 lead midway through the second and regained a four goal lead at 8-4 just 30 seconds into the final period on a goal by Tom Beck. Chicago never led in the entire contest, getting to within one goal with 2:11 to go when Adrian Ortiz found the back of the net, and the Crunch were able to run the clock out from there, including the final half-minute a man down.

Dave Jordan and Mike Dezeric each had two goals and an assit to pace Cleveland''s attack. The Crunch also got two goals from Smith Pepper and singletons from Ma"Cain Spragling and Asthon Bernard.

Benjamin Suddeth and Julian Saldana each scored twice and picked up an assist to lead Chicago, who got additional single scores from Martin Murillo, Jose Ibarra, And Adrien Griffin.

Elsewhere in the league Saturday, the Colorado Inferno's playoff push took a serious ding in falling to the playoff-bound Amarillo Bombers, 9-8.

Colorado (3-8) started on fire, building a 4-0 lead, but Amarillo (3-3) chipped away, finally taking its first lead of 7-6 when Victor Patriani scored just 25 seconds into the fourth. The Inferno came back to forge a tie on three different occasions in the final 15 minutes, but Conrod Goulbourne got the game winner for the Bombers with just 55 seconds to play. 

Patriani and Anthony Powell each ended up with a hat trick for Amarillo, who also got two each from Goulbourne and Julio Molina. 

Francisco Rivas had three goals and an assist to lead Colorado, who also got two goals from Ismael Morales and Jack Reynolds. Justin Gilvar and Ventura Dominguez scored one each.