Ann Arbor's All-Time Leading Goal Scorer Returns for 2017

Breitmeyer was the leading goal scorer for The Mighty Oak in 2015

Watching that ball go into the net and hearing the eruption from the 2000 plus fans that came out that day, seeing the Main Street Hooligans throwing their streamers onto the field and celebrating with my teammates is something I never want to forget.
— Kyle Breitmeyer, Forward

Late in April 2015, The Mighty Oak kicked off their inaugural season at Pioneer High School’s Hollway Field. There was excitement from the players, a buzz in the community but still a lot of unknowns and firsts that the club would experience.

One of those firsts came that evening when Plymouth native, Kyle Breitmeyer netted the club’s first goal ever in front of 2,000 plus fans.

One of those unknowns became quite clear as well, when Breitmeyer made it apparent he would lead the club’s offensive charge.

He ended the 2015 season earning the club’s golden boot and to this day holds the record for most career goals with AFC Ann Arbor.

With the coaching change and league change that took place in 2016, Breitmeyer left to join another club, unclear about his future in Ann Arbor. But he kept a close watch on what was happening with his former club, and in the spring of 2016 he was introduced to Head Coach and Sporting Director Eric Rudland.

The two stayed in touch and Rudland felt that Breitmeyer would fit in well with plans for 2017.

Breitmeyer not only brings a great deal of experience and offensive talent, but also a hardworking mentality that is fueled by the desire to win.

When asked how he feels about returning to Ann Arbor, Breitmeyer said, “I’m happy that I get to come back to Ann Arbor and hopefully those fans I had will be happy to see me back on the field. That was always special for me when I got to hear about the young fans that loved watching me play and wanted to meet me after the games.”
 

Read the full interview with Kyle below:

AFC: How does it feel to be returning to The Mighty Oak, a team you were the leading goal scorer for, only two years removed?

Kyle: It’s exciting. This club has only improved since my time here and to be able to get a shot to play for such a cool organization once again is amazing. I’m happy to have this chance to play and I know that I’ve improved as a played and I’m excited to see everything come together and to help this club continue on their improvements.
 

AFC: You're coming back to a new coach, a higher league and a very competitive Great Lakes Division. What are you most excited for? How are you preparing for this level of competition?

Kyle: I’m excited for the challenge. I think the first year had some interesting tests with Ann Arbor but this is a new monster. I don’t have a ton of experience with the NPSL but it’s a level I’m capable of playing at and to bring my skill set to a team that has already had great success at this level should be a good combination. I’m excited to work with Eric Rudland. I’ve only met him a few times but I think he’ll help me grow as a player. From here, it’s all about getting mind and body ready to play for that first game. This level isn’t easy. We have a lot of great players in the division and on our team so I’m doing my best to make sure that I’m in the best shape I can be in order to make an impact from the very first practice with the team.

 

AFC: In just a short time with AFC, you gained a pretty big following. How excited are you to know you'll be playing for those fans once again?

Kyle: I’m happy that I get to come back to Ann Arbor and hopefully those fans that I did have will be happy to see me back on the field. That was always special for me when I got to hear about the young fans that loved watching me play and wanted to meet me after the games.
 

 

AFC: You had a memorable first year in Ann Arbor in 2015. What was your favorite moment of that season?

Kyle: The coolest moment will always be scoring the club’s first ever competitive goal against San Marino on the opening day of the season. Watching that ball go into the net and hearing the eruption from the 2000 plus fans that came out that day, seeing the Main Street Hooligans throwing their streamers onto the field and celebrating with my teammates is something I never want to forget. I still have that video on my phone and I love going back to watch it from time to time.

 

AFC: What do you hope to accomplish with the club this summer?

Kyle: I want to help the club take their next step. It’s always tough coming into a team that had such great success in their first year in a tough division but whatever that next step looks like is where I want to help the team get to. Whether that’s another league win or two, or the club’s first ever postseason win.

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.



 

Eckenrode Signs First Professional Contract

It was a lifelong goal of mine and to finally achieve it was an amazing feeling, I was finally a pro. I will never forget it.

Toronto FC II announced the signing of former AFC Ann Arbor defender, Lars Eckenrode, late last week. The United Soccer Leagues (USL) side is the reserve squad and affiliate team of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Toronto FC, which selected Eckenrode in the fourth round of the 2017 Superdraft.

“Lars has a great mentality and he’s demonstrated an eagerness to grow as a professional footballer,” said Toronto FC II Head Coach Jason Bent. “He is a player that has been very consistent throughout training and matches thus far and we are pleased to finalize this deal and have him at TFC II.”

Eckenrode fulfills a childhood dream of becoming a professional soccer player, but as far as he’s concerned the journey has just begun.

“My immediate goal with TFC is to take things one step at a time...come prepared and ready for training everyday and play the best soccer I can,” added the rookie defender.

“Playing with such a talented team in TFC II, progress and improvement is almost guaranteed when training everyday. I just have to make sure I give everything I can each session,” he added.

Adjusting to training in a professional environment might take some time, but playing with older more experienced players is a setting Eckenrode thrives in. Being the youngest of three boys, Lars always had two older soccer players, brothers Kai and Jannik, pushing him on the pitch and teaching him off. Surrounded by talent that will continue to push him, Eckenrode could flourish in an such an environment elevating him to an even higher level of play.

“Having two older brothers who were also incredible soccer players definitely helped me develop as a player. They taught me humility at a very young age, I may have thought I was a decent player when I was with my own team but whenever I played with them it was a stark indicator that I had work to do. Whether it was working on my weak foot, headers, or finishing, my brothers we always there helping push me to improve,” said Eckenrode.

According to the NCAA, only 1.4% of draft-eligible NCAA men’s soccer student-athletes will hear their name called in the MLS Superdraft. Eckenrode proved to be elite enough to have earned that honor, which eventually lead to him fulfilling his childhood dream of signing a professional contract.

Eckenrode signs his first professional contract

When asked to describe the feeling when he put the pen to paper he said, “The feeling was truly indescribable. As I was signing each page I was thinking to myself about how long I had waited for this day. It was a lifelong goal of mine and to finally achieve it was an amazing feeling, I was finally a pro. I will never forget it.”

One can’t help but appreciate the excitement and joy of someone who actually fulfilled a childhood dream, a feat that very few people have reached in the world of professional sports. Eckenrode has great advice for aspiring professionals stating, “Train everyday! It doesn't have to be intense everyday but make sure you are touching a ball at least everyday - your technique will thank you for it when you're older.”

Eckenrode not only spent two summers with The Mighty Oak but also anchored the University of Michigan’s defense for four seasons, captaining the team in 2016 (his senior season).

For the complete TFC II schedule click here.

 

Catch more of our interview with Lars below.

AFC: Growing up in a soccer family, were you able to play/enjoy any other sports? Or was it all soccer all the time.

Lars: Growing up I definitely had an interest for other sports. My brothers and I were always outside doing something. Whether it was football after school with friends, make shift tennis on the street, or just knocking a ball back and forth, we were always playing something! My brothers and I never got into any other sports competitively, it was always soccer. We focused almost all of our time and effort into the sport. Constantly watching it on TV and going to local fields to play for hours on end. Although it was 100% soccer we still were able to gain an interest and develop a serious respect for all other sports through friendships we made growing up.

 


AFC: What did it mean to you to have role models within your family?

Lars: I was extremely lucky to have grown up with Kai and Jannik. I have them to thank for much of the reason why I am where I am today. Having two older brothers who were also incredible soccer players definitely helped me develop as a player. They taught me humility at a very young age, I may have thought I was a decent player when I was with my own team but whenever I played with them it was a stark indicator that I had work to do. Whether it was working on my weak foot, headers, or finishing, my brothers we always there helping push me to improve.


AFC: Describe the feeling you had when you put that pen to paper and signed your first pro contract.

Lars: The feeling was truly indescribable. As I was signing each page I was thinking to myself about how long I had waited for this day. It was a lifelong goal of mine and to finally achieve it was an amazing feeling, I was finally a pro. I will never forget it.

 

AFC: What are your immediate goals with TFCii?

Lars: My immediate goal with TFC is to take things one step at a time. Come prepared and ready for training everyday and play the best soccer I can. I will let my performances do my talking. Playing with such a talented team in TFCii, progress and improvement will is almost guaranteed when training everyday. I just have to make sure I give everything I can each session, am open to feedback and I take care of my body throughout the long season.

 

AFC: Take us through a typical training day...what is it like? Have you got used to it yet?

Lars: We train everyday at 8:30 or 9am. I try to arrive to the facility as early as I can. I drive with a teammate and we get there about 70 minutes before training. They serve breakfast for us in the cafeteria upstairs starting 45 min before training. Before training I am getting my body right for the day's session. Training intensity varies throughout the week but sessions typically last between anywhere between 70-140 min. Afterward I get treatment in the training room if I need, otherwise I take my time to stretch and cool down. We also lift two times a week, those days vary dependent on when we have a game. I am big into working out I tend to spend time in the gym before or after training for 3 or 4 days out of the week. After all that we are served lunch by an incredible group of cooks in the cafeteria, the food is always amazing. After that we head back to the apartments around 12:30 or 1 and the rest of the day is yours to do with as you please! It took me a little while to get used to the free time after training. I spent the first few days napping quite heavily. Now I try to use my time for things like reading, listening to podcasts, working on mobility or cooking - as I am constantly eating!

 


AFC: It might not be far from Michigan, but it's far from home and still another country. What has your experience in Ontario been like so far (besides people being too nice)?

Lars: Ontario and Toronto has been great so far. Yes! The people are extremely nice. Having gone to school in Michigan the cold weather doesn't really bother me at all. There is a big sense of pride of being from Toronto which is really cool, Im happy to be a part of it and represent such an amazing city.

 


AFC: You spent some time your senior year coaching with Saline FC. What was that experience like for you helping shape some future players? Is coaching young kids something you could see yourself doing down the road?

Lars: It was an awesome experience. Saline FC is a great club with an amazing coaching staff. I loved working with kids who are excited about soccer and eager to improve everyday, that makes things so easy. I could see myself coaching down the road for sure, I had a great time with Saline and it’s something that I genuinely enjoy doing.

 

AFC: Where can we expect to see you in 5 years?

Lars: In 5 years I plan on wrapping up my professional career and I will be training and getting ready for Officer Candidate School in the United States Marine Corps. Pro soccer has been my dream since I was little but I know I am meant for something more and I have an extremely strong desire to serve in the military. The max age for OCS is 28 and I need to give myself adequate time to prepare physically and mentally and also to sort out all the required paperwork/testing for OCS.

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

Pioneer Alum Returns to Hollway Field

Pioneer Alum (Class of 2014) Chase Pagani will return to Hollway Field this summer with The Mighty Oak

Seeing the support we have at each match made me realize how much this city cares about our team, and knowing that I can be a part of something that brings Ann Arbor together and for the Ann Arbor youth to look up to is truly special.
— Chase Pagani

Competing at the highest level possible in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) means recruiting talented players from around the globe.

Last year, The Mighty Oak had players representing 11 different countries including Cuba, Brazil and England to name a few.

As important as it is for the club to recruit globally, it’s just as important to find players of equal caliber in the local market. With the competitive nature of clubs continuing to rise, it can be challenging to balance the mix of local and international talent.

For AFC Ann Arbor, Head Coach and Sporting Director uses his extensive local soccer connections to identify local players competing at the collegiate level and beyond. Through those connections, Chase Pagani found himself a spot on the 2016 Mighty Oak roster.  

Due to injuries that plagued him most of the summer, his minutes on the pitch were limited, which makes his 2017 return that much more meaningful for the Ann Arbor native.  

Colgate University Defender/Midfielder and Ann Arbor native Chase Pagani will suit up for AFC Ann Arbor for the second straight summer.

Not only will Pagani lace up his boots for The Mighty Oak again in 2017, but he’ll be doing so at his former high school, Pioneer, in front of family and friends who revel at each chance to see him play. The 2014 graduate played at Hollway Field his freshman and sophomore seasons (2010 and 2011) making him quite familiar with The Mighty Oak’s home facility.

Pagani added, “Seeing the support we have at each match made me realize how much this city cares about our team, and knowing that I can be a part of something that brings Ann Arbor together and for the Ann Arbor youth to look up to is truly special.”

Come see Chase and team this summer at Hollway Field at Pioneer High school beginning May 14th (2017 home opener).

 

Read the full interview with Chase below:

AFC: You've played 3 years in the NPSL now. What do you make of the competition at this level and what keep you coming back each summer?

Chase: I find the competition level, especially within our own club and the Great Lakes region, to be very high. It is this great competition as well as high quality training sessions that draws me back each season. I know that playing within this league and training with Coach Rudland will give me the chance to improve for my college season, but more importantly be a part of a great team that makes an impact in the Ann Arbor community.

 

AFC: Due to injuries in 2016, you didn't see the pitch as much as you'd like to I'm sure. What do you hope to accomplish with the club this summer other than staying healthy?

Chase: The first goal is to win ourselves a championship, but I would love to contribute in anyway I can, whether that be as a starter, coming off the bench, or even pushing my teammates to be better in practice. Besides match play, I would love use my time to improve on the pitch, increase my fitness and, like you mentioned, stay healthy for my senior collegiate season.

 

AFC: You have a unique perspective playing for The Mighty Oak. We play at your former high school, you're from the area, your family comes to the matches- how awesome is it playing for AFC Ann Arbor and what does it mean to you to make an impact on youth players in the community you grew up in?

Chase: It’s an incredible experience. Due to the academy season in high school, I didn’t have much of a chance to represent my high school nor city athletically. Playing with Ann Arbor gives me that chance, but on a much larger scale. Seeing the support we have at each match made me realize how much this city cares about our team, and knowing that I can be a part of something that brings Ann Arbor together and for the Ann Arbor youth to look up to is truly special.

 

AFC: Bringing in players from all over the world for a short period requires everyone to try and create chemistry as quick as possible. Being a local guy, what do you see your role as in that process? And what's the experience like to have so many new teammates each summer?

Chase: The team’s diversity last year was fantastic. Being able to play with great players from around the world is a unique experience that is incredibly beneficial. As a local player, my role is to be welcoming and to aid in adjusting to our team’s as well as Ann Arbor’s culture. Especially within our group last year, I could easily tell that all the guys are bought in to establishing a tight knit unit, which is why I love playing with Ann Arbor. It was very easy to make great friends while competing at such a high level and I look forward to similar experience this season.

 

AFC: Each guy on the team has a different career path that may or may not include playing football professionally. What are you goals over the next few years?

Chase: I have always strived to pursue a career in medicine and plan to continue that path after graduating, ideally with a year of research before entering medical school. Of course a career in soccer is a dream, and I have no way of seeing where soccer takes me, but for now my mind is set on a professional career in health care.

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

 

England Native Welcomes Ann Arbor Return

James Vaughan Set For Ann Arbor Return

There isn’t just one thing which motivated me to come back to AFC AA this summer, it was a combination of the coaching staff, fans and staff of AA are so supportive and they are always willing to do anything to make our time as a player here enjoyable. As soon as I got the call from Eric to come back there was no hesitation in saying yes.
— James Vaughan

Like many footballers looking for opportunity, James Vaughan left his native England in 2014 to accept a scholarship to Northwood University.

The 22-year-old midfielder immediately made an impact in Midland and has helped Northwood become more competitive each year. Vaughan was an All-GLIAC selection in 2016 and has been a leader in the midfield for the Timberwolves.

Vaughan challenges a Michigan Stars defender for possession, last year at Hollway Field

Coach Eric Rudland added, “It’s a pleasure to have James back this year. He’s a versatile midfielder who has loads of experience both internationally and domestically. He has been a driving force for Northwood’s most recent success and is a welcome returning player for our side here in Ann Arbor.”

James joined AFC Ann Arbor in 2016 and played a key role in the club’s journey to the playoffs. He returns in 2017 to handle some unfinished business and move on to the Final 8 this year. Vaughan will be looking to take more of a leadership role in this year’s squad as a returning player. The midfielder is a valuable asset to the club as an option on all set pieces as well as a possession player for the Mighty Oak.


Vaughan added, “I hope to accomplish another solid year in the NPSL, experienced players as well as fresh new talent I believe we have capability of winning the NPSL this year. It will be a tough task but with the support of the fans and coaching staff I believe anything is possible for year.”

 

AFC Ann Arbor recently caught up with the midfielder, read more about the interview below. 

AFC: What motivated you to come back and spend a second consecutive summer with AFC?

JV: There isn't just one thing which motivated me to come back to AFC AA this summer, it was a combination of the coaching staff, fans and staff of AA are so supportive and they are always willing to do anything to make our time as a player here enjoyable. As soon as I got the call from Eric to come back there was no hesitation in saying yes.

AFC:  What was your most memorable experience from last summer?

JV: The most memorable experience from last summer was defiantly the win against Lansing United. To come back in that game seemed an impossible task, but the boys all came together and showed great camaraderie and to win was the icing on the cake.

AFC: What do you hope to accomplish with AFC in 2017?

JV: I hope to have another solid year in the NPSL. With experienced players in addition to the fresh talent we're bringing in, I believe we have capability of winning the NPSL this year. It will be a tough task but with the support of the fans and coaching staff I believe anything is possible for year.

AFC: Can you speak to the contrast from playing at Northwood then AFC Ann Arbor? There is so much turnover in NPSL, but this year's team features a good amount of returning players, do you feel comfortable taking more of a leadership role in this years team as a returner?

JV: Playing with a new team is always challenging at any level, playing for your college allows you to train with the same guys for at least a year. Playing with new players from colleges all over the country is difficult, you get use to playing with the same guys week in week out and you start to understand how your teammates perform in different situations the more you play with them. However, with AA you have to come in and really get to know the boys as quickly as possible so you can hit the ground running coming into the season.

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

KT Proud To Represent Ann Arbor in 2017

Playing with AFC Ann Arbor has become another avenue for me to reach more players and help where I can.
— Kevin Taylor

Although the bulk of most NPSL rosters are made up of college soccer players and younger aspiring professionals, every club has a couple guys who are the exception.

For AFC Ann Arbor, Kevin Taylor, aka KT, is that exception. The 34-year-old former MLS midfielder returns for his third season; but Taylor is different from most of the other players over 30. Taylor, who plays in the middle and backline for The Mighty Oak, still makes a significant contribution to the team, not just through his off the pitch leadership and sharing his experiences, but from the direct impact he makes on the field.  

“As an older local guy it's only right I do my part to make everyone's stay as easy as possible.  The more comfortable the players are, the better they'll perform,” he added.

Taylor not only played a full 90 minutes in last year’s final regular season league match at Kalamazoo FC, but scored the game winner helping the club earn their first playoff berth in club history.

Taylor Celebrating Goal at Kalamazoo

After playing at the highest level in the US, Taylor switched his focus to coaching and working with the youth, his true passion.

“Coaching has a lot to do with the relationship between coach and player. The more willing the child is to receive the information the easier my job becomes. Playing with AFC Ann Arbor has become another avenue for me to reach more players and help where I can,” said Taylor.

Although he continues to play and compete at a high level because he loves it, so much of his motivation comes from the kids he coaches.


Taylor admits, his focus and how we approaches the game has also shifted, adding, “To be perfectly honest my goals as a soccer player have changed a lot over the years.  Now my only goal is to help younger players figure out who they want to be within the game and how to enjoy the development process.”

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

 

Mighty Oak Earn Club's First Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Bid

The US Soccer Federation announced earlier today that AFC Ann Arbor received an at-large bid to the 104th Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the first in club history for The Mighty Oak.

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup dates back to 1914, and is the oldest current national cup competition in United States soccer and is among the oldest in the world. The tournament is comprised of amateur and professional teams. Last year’s winner was FC Dallas of Major League Soccer.

AFC Ann Arbor will be one of sixteen National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) team’s receiving at large bids to the US Open Cup.

This momentous occasion follows the club’s inaugural season in the NPSL which resulted in a playoff berth in arguably the toughest region in the country. Finishing as one of the final sixteen teams last season positioned the club to earn this bid.

Coach Rudland is prepared for this challenge and thrilled about the opportunity.

He added, “I want to personally thank all of the players who suited up for us in 2016, your efforts have positioned us for this fantastic opportunity to compete in the US Open Cup. This brings even more relevance to our early season preparations and should provide great motivation for our entire club as we enter the 2017 campaign.”

US Soccer Federation will be announcing the official match date and opponent (geographically based) in early April. Stay tuned for further updates from The Mighty Oak. The pairing will most likely feature AFC Ann Arbor facing off against a PDL club. Advancing in the competition would grant The Mighty Oak an opportunity to knock off opponents higher in the soccer pyramid. Today’s bid alone will go down as a historic club accomplishment.

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

Rumbold Returns for 2017 Campaign

Leigh Rumbold (2016 Team Captain) will be returning to The Mighty Oak for 2017. 

My favorite thing about playing for AFC Ann Arbor is seeing all of the kids come out to watch us play.
— Leigh Rumbold, Midfielder

Leigh Rumbold is the type of footballer every coach wishes they had on their team. His work rate, tenacity and dedication to winning is second to none.

Rumbold, who will be returning for the 2017 campaign with The Mighty Oak, brings a great deal of experience and leadership, which was crucial to the club’s success this past season.

As a leader on and off the pitch, Rumbold is someone that is loved by the coaching staff, his teammates and the fans alike. In 2016, he receive the “Hometown Hero” award, which caught the UK native by surprise. As a transplant to Washtenaw County, Rumbold has become a fixture in the soccer scene from youth to semi-professional.

Jake Rosen, another returning local player, was thrilled to know Rumbold would be back in 2017.

Rosen added, “When he’s [Rumbold] on the pitch, there’s an energy that elevates everyone’s play. You just feel more confident knowing you’ve got a guy like Leigh on your side.”

As a youth coach for local club Saline FC, Rumbold has become one of the most popular players in the community since his players and their families continue to show him a great deal of support.

Rumbold himself admitted, “My favorite thing about playing for AFC Ann Arbor is seeing all of the kids come out to watch us play.”

 

Here’s more from our chat with Leigh about the upcoming season.

AFC Ann Arbor: You've played in the NPSL Midwest Region for a few years now and have had a lot of success. What keeps you motivated and going? What are you goals with AFC Ann Arbor this season?

LR: The thing that motivates me the most is the level of competition in the NPSL. After playing in the league for a few years, you start to form individual battles against opponents. It's always fun going up against certain players knowing that if you get the better of them on that night, it could have a big influence on the team's result.

This year, the main goal for the team on the field is to replicate what we managed to do last year and reach the playoffs. Going out on PK's still stings, so hopefully we can go one better and reach the playoff final.


AFC Ann Arbor: Being one of the older, local guys- you play the role of teammate, tour guide, host and mentor. How do you juggle all of these responsibilities? Seems like you thrive in a leadership role as well- can you speak to that a bit.

LR: I'm not that old! Spring leading into summer is by far the busiest time of the year for me. With coaching four teams for Saline FC, preparing for the start of the NPSL season and trying to help the new lads settle into the area, there isn't a lot of spare time. Luckily for me, I like to keep busy. We always try to organize events and dinners where everyone at the club gets involved to show the players what Ann Arbor has to offer. Usually after a home game, we like to head into town as a group and get to know each other a bit more away from the pitch, which inevitably brings us closer.


AFC Ann Arbor: You're one of the best known coaches in the area- what does it mean to you to have such a large impact on the growth of the game? What does it mean to you to have all of these young kids look up to you?

LR: It really means a lot. My favorite thing about playing for AFC Ann Arbor is seeing all of the kids come out to watch us play. I love working with kids and trying to help them become better players. Kids are like sponges- any piece of information you give them, they absorb it. Any challenge you set for them, they want to show you they can do it. But more importantly, I want to help them develop a love for the game like I did when I was their age, which I still carry today. I want all of the kids I work with and who watch us play to still be playing soccer when they are my age and hopefully older.


About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

 

Livonia Native Returns for Second Season

Defender, Jake Rosen, returns for his second season with The Mighty Oak. 

Words can’t explain how much it means to me my family shows up to every game. I play this game for them praying one day through this game, I can give back to them for all they have done to put me in the position I am in now.
— Jake Rosen, Defender

In just two seasons, AFC Ann Arbor has managed to attract top talent from around the globe. With players coming from Australia, Brazil, England, Cuba, Switzerland, Germany and beyond, The Mighty Oak is a true representation of the game’s global spirit.

The club also works diligently to find the top local players, a mixture of current college players and seasoned veterans looking to extend their career. These efforts, lead by Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland, have their challenges. When competing with 5 Michigan clubs in the same division, all hoping to attract the top local talent, separation is made by expert recruiting and navigation of the mitten state. With a coaching background in Michigan for more than 10 years, Rudland’s approach doesn’t limit his focus to the big schools or marquee names. Instead, his experience allows him to identify the top talent across the board.

Recent Saginaw Valley State University commit Jake Rosen’s story is AFC Ann Arbor’s most recent highlight fitting that narrative. Jake, who has spent his last two collegiate seasons with Schoolcraft College, will be taking his Livonia pride with him to Saginaw’s campus this fall. Rosen’s debut for The Mighty Oak came in 2016 and he became a regular starter in Coach Rudland’s post-season qualifying squad. Jake’s stand-out 2016 moment came in an early road match at DCFC where the Schoolcraft kid logged all 90 minutes in a pivotal 1-1 tie on the road. His stellar NPSL season combined with his accolades while at Schoolcraft earned him an opportunity to continue his career at SVSU, one Mighty Oak fans know he will take advantage of.

Rudland added, “Jake is an important returning player for us in 2017. He became a mainstay in our back line last season and epitomizes the term ‘attacking outside back.’ He’s technically well rounded and proved himself a strong defender. Most importantly, Jake is committed to training and improving daily which makes him a pleasure to have in the team.”

 

AFC Ann Arbor caught up with Jake to talk about 2016 and the upcoming season.

AFC: What did you expect going into the 2016 season when it was all said and done, did the experience exceed your expectations?

Rosen: I knew that out of the NPSL teams, Ann Arbor had one of the more established fan bases for the league but didn’t think that that the community genuinely cared that much about us. The first event in Plymouth with USA Hockey was a pretty cool experience and a day I will never forget because I signed my first autograph. Then, the “Reveal N Roll” event really made me feel like Ann Arbor was the right decision getting to know the staff and seeing the community was all for supporting me before they even knew who I was. The community support exceeded all of my expectations and I’m looking forward to representing for Ann Arbor again this summer.

AFC: Coming from one of the smaller, local schools, did you feel intimidated coming into a program that had guys who had international caps?

Rosen: I didn't really feel intimidated at the fact I was playing with older players as well as international players, but more anxious to see how I would stack up with the competition. I've always enjoyed playing with new players because it gives me a reason to show I can play with anyone. As I see it I'm a footballer playing with other great footballers there is no reason to be intimidated.

AFC: What was one of the most memorable experiences you had in 2016 with the club?

Rosen: Being able to play in the first match at Keyworth against Detroit City FC was an amazing experience. The atmosphere was nothing like I've ever felt before that made me realize why I fell in love with this game in the first place. Being from Michigan and knowing what that match meant for the sport in this state, I feel truly blessed I got to play in that match. It’s an experience I will never forget.

AFC: What did you learn about yourself this summer playing for The Mighty Oak?

Rosen: All of the teams I've been a part before, I've had more of a leadership role. Being the youngest player on AFC, I noticed that I could learn from the players that had more experience than me while still making an actual impact on the game myself. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from the older guys and I know I’m a better player because of it.

AFC: You're typically a midfielder but Coach felt your impact would be biggest as a right back. What was that transition like for you?

Rosen: In the beginning I was nervous because I never really played there before but at the same time I was thrilled he was giving me the opportunity to be in the starting 11. As the season went on, the staff was working with me every day and I grew to become very comfortable and confident with my position.

AFC: What was it like playing for Coach Rudland? What do you think he helped you with the most?

Rosen: It was an absolute pleasure. His professionalism on and off the field is something I never experienced from prior coaches I have had. He played a huge role in helping me take that next step in finding a 4-year school (program) that would be a good fit for me. I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for me and I’m thrilled about transferring to SVSU.

AFC: Your family is a big part of your support system and could be found in the stands EVERY game. What does it mean to you to have them by your side supporting you every step of the way?

Rosen: Words can't explain how much it means to me my family shows up to every game. I play this game for them praying one day through this game, I can give back to them for all they have done to put me in the position I am in now.

AFC: What are you most excited about for the upcoming season? What do you hope to accomplish with AFC this summer?

Rosen: Between the tough opponents we have to face in NPSL play and our daily training sessions, I’m excited to be playing at an extremely competitive level again this summer. It was great to make the playoffs our first year in the NPSL, but this year the goal is to win a national championship.

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

2017 Schedule Features Seven Home League Matches

AFC Ann Arbor’s 2017 campaign will also serve as the Mighty Oak’s highly anticipated sophomore season in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). Home and away pairings with each Great Lakes Conference club fill out the NPSL lineup come May. The 2017 slate includes seven home league matches to be played at the club’s home pitch, Hollway Field at Pioneer High School.

The club will begin the NPSL season on the road against a newcomer to the Great Lakes conference in Milwaukee Torent, on Saturday May 6th. Early road points in the NPSL are crucial as only 1 Great Lakes club will be guaranteed postseason play.

The home opener is set for Sunday, May 14th at 3pm on Mother’s Day when AFC Ann Arbor will host Kalamazoo FC. The 14th will feature a pre-match ceremony honoring players mom’s as well as recognizing all local soccer mom’s who invested in growing the game of soccer within our community.

Last year’s most highly attended and anticipated matches included the home opening Memorial Day Classic (vs GRFC) and the club’s first time hosting Detroit City FC.

Detroit City FC visits Hollway Field in 2017 on Sunday, May 21st for the second home match of the 2017 season. Just eight days later, Grand Rapids FC is slated to return to Ann Arbor for the 3rd Annual Memorial Day Classic on Monday May 29th. As GRFC and AFCAA join the NPSL together in 2016, the 4 match history between the clubs is among the region’s biggest rivalries. May 29th is a marquee date for Mighty Oak fans as these clubs finished 1st and 2nd in 2016’s Great Lakes Table, each qualifying for postseason play.

After finishing second in the division and earning the club’s first playoff berth in 2016, The Mighty Oak have high hopes for 2017. Preparation begins immediately as the path back to the postseason is now in front of the club.

 “The schedule release is an exciting time as we approach the 2017 campaign. The Mighty Oak faithful can now get our home matches locked into their calendars and I know our players are looking forward to playing in front of them again this season," added Head Coach & Sporting Director, Eric Rudland. 

In addition to the seven home league matches at Pioneer High School, the club will be announcing friendlies by the end of the month.

Fans can purchase 2017 memberships online at AFCAnnArbor.com and have the choice of General, Premium and Youth Memberships, all of which include the 2017 season scarf. 2017 Memberships include admission to all home matches, including friendlies and league contests.

Eckenrode Becomes First AFC Ann Arbor Player Drafted to MLS

As a Fourth Division soccer club, one of the original goals of AFC Ann Arbor, was to create opportunities for the players to push on to a higher level.

One of only a handful of players who spent 2015 and 2016 with AFC Ann Arbor, Lars Eckenrode, was selected in the 4th round of the MLS Superdraft last Tuesday, January 17th, by Toronto FC. 

Eckenrode solidified his spot in The Mighty Oak’s history books, as the first player to be drafted to the MLS. 

The student-athlete spent 4 years anchoring the University of Michigan’s backline earning All Big-Ten accolades in multiple seasons.  The defender was also a crucial part of AFC Ann Arbor’s success from the inaugural season, continuing that same impact in 2016.

Entering the MLS draft, Eckenrode wasn’t sure what to expect. Lars along with his agent had been in contact with a few different teams, but nothing was concrete as is typical in the later rounds of the Superdraft. Instead of dwelling on the draft, the Virginia native chose to spend his time training with his brother opposed to waiting by his phone for updates. After a solid training session, he went to check his mobile and noticed multiple texts and missed calls, with the news that he had been drafted by Toronto.  

In preparation for the draft and his professional career, Eckenrode participated in the Midwest Pro Soccer Combine with some of the best talent in the region.  

He added, “The Midwest pro combine was a great experience. It was perfect for me as I was in Ann Arbor finishing up school. The level of competition was very high, I played with and against some really talented players. Playing at such a high level was a great way for me to prepare.”

Eckenrode arrived in Toronto last night, with physicals and the first training session slated for today. After 4 years with the University of Michigan and 2 years with AFC Ann Arbor along with spending time coaching young players at Saline FC, he’s made quite the impact in the region and has acquired a large and faithful following eagerly awaiting his professional debut.

Eckenrode said, “To my fans back in Ann Arbor I would just like to say thank you so much for supporting me. I could not have done it without your support and I can't wait to get to work and make you all proud!”

Coach Eric Rudland is thrilled for Lars and added, "The whole AFCAA family is really happy for Lars as he has paved the way for future AFCAA players to be selected in the MLS Draft. He has put an enourmous amount of time into growing his game and all of his former clubs and coaches should also be commended. It's now up to Lars to take full advantage of his opportunity to win a job at the next level as he begins pre-season with Toronto FC." 

 

Career Stats with AFC Ann Arbor: 3 goals, 2 assists

For this installment of the "Meet the Mighty Oak" series, we sit down with Lars Eckenrode.

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

Mighty Oak Spring Break Camp Set for April 3rd-7th

The Mighty Oak will be hosting a Spring Break Youth Camp from April 3rd through April 7th at the Michigan Coliseum. The camp, open to girls and boys ages six to fourteen, will be instructed by Head Coach and Sporting Director Eric Rudland along with several AFC Ann Arbor players.

Campers will focus on technical and tactical development in a competitive training environment. With a low coach to camper ratio, instruction will be personalized ensuring each player receives attention based on their individual skill set.

Each day, campers will come in with a specific focus for that day’s training session allowing them to work on different things throughout the week.  

Between Head Coach Eric Rudland and the AFC Ann Arbor players, campers will enjoy a perfect balance of technical focus and fun.  

He added, "Spring Break camp will be a unique way for our players and staff to kick off the 2017 season. AFC AA camp will offer a safe and fun environment for local youth soccer players to enjoy the beautiful game. The camp will provide technical teaching, small group tactics, fun and competition."

Registration is $279 per camper, and includes a camp training top and AFC Ann Arbor boot bag. The first thirty registrations will receive a $30 discount and space is very limited. Click below to register. 

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

 

Soccer Night at USA Hockey Arena Set for January 14th

AFC Ann Arbor will return to USA Hockey Arena for the second annual Soccer Night. Just like last year’s event, this marks the first official team event on the calendar for the 2017 season. Youth soccer players are encouraged to wear their jerseys and attend the game with teammates.

The puck drops at 7pm as Team USA takes on the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. Get there early for your chance to meet Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Lindsay Tarpley. All fans will receive a Lindsay Tarpley poster and she’ll also be signing autographs beginning at 6pm.

In addition to Tarpley’s attendance and the great giveaways, AFC Ann Arbor players will also be there signing autographs and we’ll have some great giveaways for our first 100 fans.

On your way out the door, you won’t be leaving empty handed. Thanks to Milk Means More and Kroger, every family will receive a half gallon of chocolate milk made by Michigan dairy farmers.


Giveaways, autographs and discounted group tickets for only $8 are just a few reasons why youth club or team won’t want to miss Soccer Night at USA Hockey Arena, Saturday, January 14th in Plymouth.

2017 Tryout Date Set for Saturday, February 18th

AFC Ann Arbor will be holding its 3rd annual tryout, continuing the club’s tradition to search for the area’s best undiscovered talents. Sporting Director and Head Coach for The Mighty Oak, Eric Rudland, along with his support staff, will be evaluating talent on Saturday, February 18th at High Velocity Sports in Canton.

He added, "Our open trials are a critical component to our team building process. Our 2016 roster featured a few players who were identified at our open tryouts last February. One of them, Willy Bayemi, became a mainstay for us throughout our inaugural season in the NPSL. We are thrilled to see the talent that will be on display this February as we look to add both quality & depth to our 2017 roster."

Prospective players are encouraged to register right away as space is fairly limited and expected to fill up quickly. To register, click here

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor completed a very successful inaugural campaign in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League finishing 2nd in the conference while earning the club’s first playoff berth. The club’s third season kicks off in May as The Mighty Oak look to continue their winning ways under Head Coach Eric Rudland. Youth, General and Premium Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

Top 10 Moments of 2016

Here's a look back at The Mighty Oak's Top 10 Moments of 2016. 

Chasing Dreams: Gorrie's Drive To Sign a Pro Contract

If you asked anyone close to Martin Gorrie to describe him in one word, there would be an overwhelming consensus for “adventurer.”

Gorrie has always had a desire to travel and see the world, and football has been a great tool to help him do just that. The adventures began when he left his native Australia to pursue an opportunity to play soccer at the University of Albany. Gorrie always knew if the opportunity to play abroad would come, that he’d jump on it quickly, but the rest was unknown and that didn’t scare him one bit.

Through the ups and downs, the obstacles and the celebrations, Gorrie is more focused than ever on accomplishing his childhood dream of becoming a professional footballer. He will return to Germany after the winter break to continue training and playing with German third division side, SV Elversberg.

 

 

 

Here’s the full interview with 2015 AFC Ann Arbor midfielder, Martin Gorrie.

AFCAA: Football brought you from Australia to the States for college. What was your experience like at Albany?

Going to the states was a big move. It was something I really wanted to do after I finished high school. I was very attracted to the idea of playing football in a professional environment, travelling to another country, experiencing a new culture, meeting new people and also getting a university degree under my belt - and that's exactly what I did. It was a ride full of ups and downs, but it certainly transformed who I am as a person. The first year I was actually deemed ineligible to play, so spent a whole year just training and not playing which really tested my resilience. The second year I went from the starting 11 in the beginning of the season to barely playing at all - meanwhile dealing with some personal health challenges. But I persevered and ended up captaining the team to our first ever regular-season championship in conference history - so it was a big turnaround for me. Overall a great experience.

AFCAA: We were fortunate enough to have you on the roster for our inaugural season. What was most memorable about your experience in Ann Arbor?

The culture surrounding AFC Ann Arbor in its first year was incredible. The job the owners did to put all of that together in the first year was incredible. Not to mention the fans that turned up each week singing and chanting. I felt really at home there, and loved the vibe around the club. Ann Arbor itself is a really cool city as well, so I had plenty of exploring and adventures while I was there.
 

AFCAA: After graduating, you've been busy traveling and playing. Give us a timeline of what you've been up to and how football has played a role in those experiences.

I graduated in December 2015. I spent a month travelling in Hawaii in January, and then moved back to Australia with my girlfriend Abigail (who I stole from America). It was great to be home in Australia for 6 months working and playing football - but it wasn't for long as I was ready for the next adventure. I have always wanted to see if I could crack a professional contract in Europe, so since July I have been playing semi-professional football with SV Elversberg in Germany. It has been an incredible experience so far, playing at a high level, learning a new language, immersing myself in a completely new culture, traveling around Europe when I can, and meeting a lot of cool people!

AFCAA: What's next for you?

I'm finally home in Australia for 6 weeks over Christmas break to visit my family, spend some time in the sun and escape the German winter! I will be coming back over here to Germany to finish the season with my club. From January to July I plan to have an agent who can help me set up some trials and opportunities at professional clubs and really see if I can make it happen. A professional contract is my goal, however I'm embracing the journey and really just enjoying applying myself to something I have always loved to do - play football.

AFCAA: Did you ever imagine football would create the experiences you've had in your life so far?

Football has taken me far and wide, allowed me to challenge and apply myself in all different environments, grow and mature as a man, meet new people, experience new cultures and a whole lot more! I always seen myself travelling and playing football - but sometimes it's hard to comprehend that so many of the great things I have experienced has all been because of the round ball game.

AFCAA: What advice do you have for young aspiring players?

Get clear about what it is you want in football, and how you would like to apply yourself. I believe when players look back on their football careers, it won't necessarily be the level of success they had as a player that will give them fulfillment and satisfaction, but it will be how much they applied themselves, how much effort they gave and how much they enjoyed every aspect of the journey.

AFCAA: Any other stories, thoughts and comments you'd like to share would be awesome if you have them.

For any football player out there that reads this and really wants to take their game to the next level, my college coach Trevor Gorman recently recommended a book to me that has transformed my game over the past 3 months. It's called the Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It’s all about getting out of your own way, thinking less and more allowing more natural learning to take place in your game. It has also allowed me to really enjoy my football more and understand why I do what I do.

Lastly I would say to any player if the opportunity is there for you to challenge yourself abroad, I would highly recommend and encourage it. Its great for personal development and developing as a player!