There was a time when the Force headed to Washington State, which was not uncommon as one of the old Major Indoor Soccer League franchises in their heyday was the Tacoma Stars.
It’s a little different from this incarnation of the Force, Cleveland Force SC, which operates as a youth football organization from Bedford Heights these days.
Two schoolchildren in the News-Herald’s reach will soon enjoy a trip to Washington State with the Force, also with a national twist.
Regional Under 16 Team The Force is one of eight members to qualify for the Elite Club National League. Regional League Finalwhich will be held June 22-29 in Redmond, Washington, about 15 miles northeast of Seattle.
There are a couple of future juniors on the Force roster who are staples on their high school teams: Wickliffe’s Annabella Stoer and Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin’s Caitlin Valentik, who are appreciating national opportunities after two seasons significantly altered by the pandemic.
“We are very excited,” Valentik said. “Everyone was so excited, like they were ready to go. We’ve been ready to go for a long time.
“(Qualifying after the last two pandemic-ridden seasons) definitely makes it a lot more special because I know it was important that we were denied a handshake. We couldn’t have big holidays at all. So it’s kind of nice that we can enjoy the moment and have an experience. Because we couldn’t have had the same experience two years ago. It’s crazy to think about it.”
The force reached that national level by capturing their ECNL Regional League Ohio Valley division. They went 15-3 scoring 45 points in group play to pass the perennial Greater Cleveland Power Internationals (43).
The third defensive game was solid with 13 goals conceded, a low number in the league, and nine scoring games. The team is coached by Matt Safar, who manages Hathaway Brown’s high school non-News-Herald team in the fall.
“I feel like we’ve started to work together more,” Store said of the third-half’s solid play. “And we started to develop our own style of play. I feel like this is starting to help us a lot.
“Going from the club to high school will probably take about a month just to get back in the game, gain experience and feel the chemistry with your teammates again after the whole high school season. It’s a little tricky, but once we’re back in season, it’ll be pretty nice.”
The team started 13-0 in the league, which runs from November to June – apparently with a long break during the winter months. They split their last three weekend streaks, including wins on May 15 against Ohio Premier and on June 4 against Pacesetter.
“I think this team gets along very well off the pitch and that translates well into success on the pitch,” Safar said of the team’s strong form, which came out on top in division play and secured a spot on the national team. “We have a lot of athleticism in all positions. We just can control individual matches. Again, we can just block the defense. And we did a good job to start the season. As the season drew to a close, we only focused on trying to get into the tournament in Seattle.”
Stoer, who scored four goals and two assists last fall for the Blue Devils in a 9-8 win, won the Division III Second Team title in Cleveland. Valentich scored a goal and had four assists for a 10-6-2 D-II semi-finalist for Lions County and received an honorary D-II honor in Cleveland.
Spring, in turn, means double work for Stoer because she also competes for Wycliffe’s women’s track and field team. As a sophomore this season, she appeared in the News-Herald’s area of long jump coverage.
“My athletics coaches are very understanding,” Store said. “It’s quite nice because after school I immediately went to the track, and sometimes I had to leave early or for some meetings with the track, I had to miss it because of football. But they really understood it and they knew that I was into different sports, so they mixed me up and I still got my opportunity. So it was pretty sweet.”
ECNL has not yet decided on a specific schedule for the tournament’s matches. But the final matches of the Regionalliga among players under 16 are scheduled for June 22, 24 and 25. It will take place in a park of 60 acres, which 25 playing fields.
With the fall and another high school campaign approaching, Store and Valentik are hoping that what they’ve gleaned from their club campaign can be passed on to their high school teams in terms of leadership and technique.
This time it will happen after cross-country riding.
“I think that since we are playing at such a higher level at the club than during the school season, we naturally take a step forward,” Valentich said. “The most important thing is that we just want to help other people play faster and more technically, the way we learn at the club. So it just forces us to be natural leaders without even trying.”