Michigan Cyber Range Match Day Guide: April 30th vs OCFC (Friendly)

The 2nd Annual Saline Showcase marks the fourth meeting between Oakland County FC, better known as the ‘Battle of the Oak.’ Through three meetings, each club has won a match with one draw as well (1-1-1).

Sunday’s friendly is the last preseason test before AFC Ann Arbor takes to the road to open up NPSL Midwest Region play against divisional foe, Milwaukee Torrent. The Mighty Oak will have a busy schedule in early May, as they will travel to Pontiac for the club’s first ever US Open Cup match on May 10th then return home to Hollway Field for its NPSL home Opener of May 14th.

The match against Oakland County is in partnership with Saline Area Schools to promote the growth of the beautiful game in Saline as well as raise money for local youth soccer non-profit, Saline FC, who will recognize some of their winning teams during halftime. 

Slated for a 6pm kickoff, fans are encouraged to arrive early to honor player/owner Knox Cameron who will be retiring after the contest. A pre-match ceremony will take place at 5:45pm (gates open at 5pm).  

Coach Eric Rudland looks to continue the club’s winning ways in the summer of ‘17, and these early season friendly’s play a key component in that preparation. He added, “The Saline Showcase is our last preparatory match in our preseason slate. We have a few new players we are looking forward to integrating during the match as we look to build off last weekend’s performance. This week in training the men have shown high level commitment during our implementation of attacking principles. So Sunday will be a great environment to showcase the progress we have made as a group.”

Tickets for Sunday’s match are available online now until Midnight (purchase in advance and save). Fans can also purchase tickets at the gate $6 (youth)/$10 (adult) and kids 1, 2 and 3 get in free.

Official Online Ticketing Partner of AFC Ann Arbor

Official Online Ticketing Partner of AFC Ann Arbor





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 and General Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.

Knox Cameron Set to Retire Following Sunday's Saline Showcase

Knox Cameron looks to regain possession in The Mighty Oak's inaugural match in 2015

Knox Cameron looks to regain possession in The Mighty Oak's inaugural match in 2015

I would like to thank the game of soccer. Without soccer, my story could have been much different, perhaps a lot less positive.
— Knox Cameron

All young aspiring professional footballers would only dream of playing for the U20 National Team in the FIFA Youth World Championship in Dubai (UAE) before their 20th birthday. For Knox Cameron, that dream was a reality and one of many highlights among his storied career.

The Jamaican born, New York native found his way to the University of Michigan in 2001. In his junior season, Cameron earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors, and to this day finds his name plastered all over the Michigan Soccer record books. His most notable collegiate accomplishments include 2nd all-time career goals and points, 3rd for single season points. There was no doubt he could climb to the professional ranks after his many successes at U of M.

One memory specifically stands out from his time with the Wolverines, netting a hat trick at Penn State in 2003.

“My parents didn’t get to see a lot of games because of the distance from New York, so they were able to make the 4-hour drive for that game. Two years prior Penn State dominated us and I didn’t want that feeling again, so I came prepared to play,” said Cameron.

He spent summers with development clubs like the Brooklyn Knights and the Michigan Bucks paving his way to the 2005 MLS Superdraft where he was selected by the Columbus Crew.

Logging over 1,000 MLS minutes and notching 4 career goals for the Crew, including one his rookie season on his birthday, Cameron made the most of his time at the highest level of play in the country.

To say Cameron’s career ended when he left the MLS was far from the truth. Not only would he continue to play competitive soccer but he got more involved with the game at a local level and took a real interest developmental opportunities.

In fact, in his Detroit City FC debut in 2012, Cameron netted the game winning goal helping the NPSL side earn the result and helping him show a special someone he had the game to back up the stories. That was the first time his now wife had seen him play and he did not want to disappoint. Seeing as though he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win in addition to the fact that the two are now happily married with a beautiful 11 month old baby, fans can assume that, even be it a small amount, soccer had to creep its way into Cameron’s personal life.

In 2015, he joined the ownership group of AFC Ann Arbor and also found himself training and playing with the team. Juggling MBA classes at Michigan’s Ross School of Business, his full-time job with DTE Energy, his position with Saline FC, getting married, having a baby and his responsibilities as a co-owner of the club made it tough for him to to commit to the club as a full-time player, but he continued to stay close to the team taking on an increased role in player development for the club.

In the inaugural Saline Showcase (2016) Cameron subbed on to score the game-winning goal off a header in the late minutes of the match helping The Mighty Oak lock up a 2-1 result. Having the chance to score that type of goal, in front of his Saline family, playing for his own club, was a culmination of Cameron’s love and dedication to the game itself.

This year’s Saline Showcase promises to be a memorable one for the 33-year striker as well. After the match, Cameron will hang up his boots for good saying goodbye to his role as a player on The Mighty Oak and embracing his contributions to the development side of the club even more.

Cameron’s storied career as a player comes to a close, but his impact on the game will only continue to grow. One thing is for sure, he made his lasting mark on the beautiful game as a player and is well on his way to do the same in youth development and on the business end of things.

Join AFC Ann Arbor on Sunday, April 30th at 6pm at Saline High School for Knox Cameron’s official retirement match and Saline FC benefit made possible by Saline Area Schools. As 2017 brings AFC Ann Arbor’s 3 season as a club, Sunday Night will be the club’s first ever formal retirement, fitting it be one of only two, three year veterans of the club.


Read our entire interview with Knox below:

AFC: You’re officially retiring this Sunday at the 2nd annual Saline Showcase. This is a community that means a lot to you. Does having your Saline FC family there with you make things a little easier?

Knox: First, I am extremely proud of the work that has been done over the past 4 years at Saline FC. The perception of the club has changed and it’s a pleasure to see a vision and plan slowly come to fruition. We are a club that develops great talent and performs at a very high level. I take great joy in seeing our players compete and often times dominating much bigger clubs. This gives me comfort in knowing we are doing the right thing. The game itself will be easier because with family you know you have support. This is what life is all about, support and helping each other grow. The timing is right and it will be a great moment for us all.


AFC: Retirement varies from person to person and industry to industry. Tell me what taking this step means to you.

Knox: It will mean that I don’t have to stress about getting into shape after the holiday season and I can finally stop trying to compete with this generation of players. Obviously I am and will still be involved with the game, this will never change. Through Saline FC, I am able to impact youth players as they are introduced to the game and with AFC Ann Arbor, I am helping to impact collegiate players and aspiring professionals. In short order, I would like to turn my attention to the segment of players aspiring to get to the collegiate level, I think I can make an impact here as well.


AFC: I am going to miss the raw emotion that sport brings out or in my case what soccer brought out. There is no greater feeling than scoring a match winner late in the game and being overcome with the emotions of the moment. I don’t get that in the professional environment. Sometimes after delivering a great presentation or delivering on a project that many thought wasn’t possible, I want to be overcome with joy in that moment and celebrate uncontrollably with my colleagues. Instead, I am reserved to a handshake and a satisfactory smile. I am still overjoyed, just lacking the same level of expression. I will miss that.

Knox: In a class that brought varsity soccer to the university of michigan, can you talk about where the game of soccer was before and after you played on campus here in Ann Arbor?


AFC: After stepping foot on campus for the first time, I knew Michigan would be my home for the long term. I felt welcomed and supported here, I knew I was around good people. Additionally, I had always envisioned this stuff. Playing well for the University and helping to grow the soccer brand. I wanted to be an All-American and a 1 st Team performer. These were specific goals I set because I knew it would help to create a platform, a voice to impact others.

Knox: The game has grown tremendously since I first set foot on campus over 15 years ago. On average, I think the players of today are much better, more seasoned and have a better understanding of the game. The popularity of the game has grown and it’s now much easier for players to watch games and learn. My vision has always been to create local heroes for youth players to watch, gain inspiration and emulate throughout their development. This is what excites me about AFC Ann Arbor-our players have a unique opportunity to influence the growth of the next generation of players.


AFC: In 2015 you helped bring semi professional soccer to Ann Arbor as an owner but also an important piece on the field. Can you speak to that dynamic as being not only the owner of a new club but also a rostered member of the team?

Knox: It was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated as the two had a tendency to blend together. However, I thought the overall experience helped me to better understand my role in both areas. As a player, I was able to see the young players up close and better understand their expectations of AFC Ann Arbor. What did they perceive as going well and where did they think we could improve? This type of information helped with the ownership discussions, particularly around the quality and direction of the on field product. As a new club in a very competitive landscape, it was important that we got the product correct. This involves playing an attractive style of soccer that not only entertains our fans but also delivers results. We were able to see some of these impacts during our 2016 season and the foundation is set for us to continue on that path moving forward.


AFC: Stepping away from the field for AFC Ann Arbor will humbly make you one of 9 owners of the club. What some fans might not know is your involvement in the sporting aspect of the organization. Can you give fans some details on not only your currently involvement of the club but perhaps your vision of where you want it to be?

Knox: It was a true honor to be considered when the ownership group was getting formed. I have a strong background in Sales and Marketing but other members of our ownership group are more adept at handling these areas. My focus is mainly on ensuring that the on-field product aligns with our vision and values as an organization. Leveraging my network to facilitate both the growth of our club as well as the advancement of our players. It gives me no greater joy than to see our players set goals throughout their time with AFC Ann Arbor, then grow to accomplish those goals. Helping during this process is very rewarding.


AFC: You are a man that was primarily defined as a footballer his whole life. You're at a point in your life now where you’re much more dynamic as an individual: a student, a father, a business exec, a sports entrepreneur and a coach. How did football help pave the path to success for you?

Knox: When I ended my pursuit of a professional soccer career a decade ago, I wanted to be known for much more than just being a good soccer player- I felt and still feel that I am capable of more. I learned everything about life, myself and people because of the game. A good example- In the pros, there were days when I would undoubtedly be the best player in training, while I would be a completely non-existent player the next. I bet this was the most irritating thing for my coaches. I’m sure on one hand they were sad for me because they wanted to see me do well, while on the other hand, they were furious because of the lack of consistency in my play. This is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned which has translated to my life after football…CONSISTENCY. I try to be consistent in everything that I do and this has made all of the difference.

I’ve beaten most of the statistics that plague young black males growing up in the inner city. A kid from Kingston, Jamaica who migrated to the Bronx, has made it this far and have accomplished some of the things I have. So this is why I constantly ask myself, why not push your bounds, you have already done the improbable? Why not say you want to be the next CEO? Or say your team is going to win the NPSL.

No greater feeling than seeing the people who came up with you, who guided you now supporting you at the highest level…wearing your jersey. These are proud moments. We all have the same fears, anxieties. Am I good enough or can I get to the next level? The kids have these same concerns and us adults do too. Confidence is an issue, it’s delicate and fragile. However, this is normal and if you channel it well, then this lack of confidence morphs into motivation. Motivation to never fail or to never disappoint the people who care about you. The interesting part is that you may never get there, but this is ok. I didn’t have the career I intended yet I am beyond happy with my life. Success for me were the things I learned along the way and now use to guide my path. So, the simple concept is to never forget your past, dream big, act with conviction and then learn from the results.


AFC: As a husband and father we are sure there are people you want to thank. The floor is yours if you have and closing thoughts.

Knox: There are many people, I will save the extensive list of people for a book I hope to write. I would like to thank my parents for the sacrifices, and the many risks they took to ensure a better life for my brother and me. My brand is built around respect, accountability, hard work and family…I learned all of those things from my parents.

I would like to thank my wife for being herself. I find that a lot of people aren’t comfortable being themselves and she does this effortlessly. Her support has allowed me to extend my reach, execute on my vision and ultimately make an impact on many young lives. I would like to thank all of the coaches and teammates who have impacted my life in a positive way. Specifically, my time at Michigan under coach Burns allowed me the platform to express myself as a leader on and off the field. Finally, I would like to thank the game of Soccer. Without soccer, my story could have been much different, perhaps a lot less positive. Thanks!

Five Sponsors Added for 2017

For the third year in a row, Bank of Ann Arbor returns as the club’s title sponsor. As they continue to be the leader in building a stronger Ann Arbor, their support for The Mighty Oak has been monumental. Last year, AFC Ann Arbor introduced two new kits, including a Bank of Ann Arbor green kit that will be seen regularly at home in 2017.

Other returning partners include Wickfield Properties, Audi of Ann Arbor, MOVE Wellness, Grizzly Peak, Milk Means More, Jolly Pumpkin, BTB Burrito, The Pretzel Bell, Underground Printing, Blue Tractor, Big George’s, Absopure, Orangetheory Fitness and Concordia University.

New for 2017 are a number of key partnerships that will help The Mighty Oak continue to pursue their mission of growing the game within Washtenaw County while promoting health, wellness and community.

Official Wellness Sponsor St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor has collaborated with St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor in a new marquee sponsorship aimed at enhancing health and wellness programming along with expanding the overall reach of those programs. In addition to becoming the Official Wellness Sponsor of AFC Ann Arbor, St. Joe’s will be the presenting sponsor of The Mighty Oak Youth Project providing scholarships to youth players in need of assistance to attend local camps and clinics. As part of the collaboration, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor’s logo will be featured on The Mighty Oak’s new training gear (tops and pullovers).

St. Joe's is also providing support to the team in the form of  leading sports dietitian Lisa McDowell. In addition to being the Detroit Red Wings team sports performance dietitian, McDowell also serves as a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics Member of the United States Olympic Committee Sport Dietitian Registry. Her experience and expertise will help elevate The Mighty Oak’s wellness strategy.  

For GM and co-owner Bilal Saeed, the collaboration with St. Joe's is all encompassing.  “We share many core principals with St. Joe's so a collaboration between AFC Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor location is a natural fit.  We not only hope to reach a larger audience with this opportunity, but most importantly, reach those who haven’t had the access or opportunity before. As we grow our footprint entering season three, a  relationship like this allows us to continue to spread our love for the beautiful game.”

"This collaboration with AFC Ann Arbor aligns perfectly with our goals as a health system to help people lead healthier lives out in the community where they work and play, " said Dave Brooks, president, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Livingston hospitals. "St. Joe's is investing in initiatives that encourage a healthy and active lifestyle in order to make an impact on the health of our community."

Saint Joseph Mercy Health System affiliate Probility Physical Therapy also will be joining AFC Ann Arbor as an official sponsor for 2017. They will support The Mighty Oaks with Athletic Training services for the team’s practices and games and will be working with The Mighty Oaks all year.

Official Soccer Retailer- Soccer Plus

The Mighty Oak have also partnered with Soccer Plus as the Official Soccer Retailer of AFC Ann Arbor. The southeast Michigan based soccer organization founded in 1995 has been providing team gear, equipment and the newest and hottest soccer apparel to the Ann Arbor community for over 15 years.

AFC Ann Arbor tickets and gear can now be purchased at the Ann Arbor location. Soccer Plus will also be sponsoring the newly improved Kids Zone at all home league matches.


Partnership with Clean Planet Foods

Also new for 2017 will be a partnership with Michigan based, Clean Planet Foods. Their approach is to make honest, healthy food and to make it safe, flavorful, and easy to get and prepare. Through this partnership, Clean Planet will be providing the team with their exceptional, easy to prepare meals.

Clean Planet Foods CEO Shawn Spencer said this about the partnership, “We are excited to partner with AFC Ann Arbor as we will be powering the players with great tasting, healthy, nutritious and awesomely convenient food to help them consistently perform at an optimal level.”


Official Online Ticketing Partner - MERIT & The Michigan Cyber Range

Merit founded in 1966, owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. After 50 years of innovation, Merit continues to provide high-performance services to the educational communities in Michigan and beyond.

Merit continues to leverage its experience managing NSFNET, the precursor to the modern Internet, to catapult Michigan into the forefront of networking technologies. Through Merit, organizations have access to leading-edge network research, state and national collaborative initiatives and international peering.

As the face of our online ticketing system, this partnership will help expand the reach and messaging of the importance of cyber security and the training and professional opportunities that exist within Michigan specific to that field.

“Merit and the Michigan Cyber Range are very excited to sponsor AFC Ann Arbor. Merit has been a cornerstone of Ann Arbor for over 50 years and we see organizations like AFC Ann Arbor as key contributors to the great quality of life we have in the community. We're looking forward to cheering on the team as they have another great season,” said Dr. Joe VP of Research and Cybersecurity.


Megan Mazurek

One of the most well-known realtors in Ann Arbor, Megan Mazurek, also happens to be an enormous AFC Ann Arbor fan. When the opportunity to sponsor the team came up, she didn’t hesitate and saw this as an opportunity to help promote health, wellness and community in Ann Arbor. For more information on Megan visit her website here.

AFC Ann Arbor Defeats Carpathia FC 2-0 In Home Opener Friendly

Jesse Muskwe presses forward in Sunday's 2-0 win in The Mighty Oak's home opener friendly

Play-by-Play Game Thread 

Bank of Ann Arbor Match Recap [Video Highlights] 

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon in Ann Arbor as The Mighty Oak hosted Carpathia FC at Hollway field for the first home match of the 2017 campaign. 

The match kicked off in a positive manner for AFC Ann Arbor. Lots of possession and several good opportunities came early for AFC, but no one was able to capitalize in the first half. The sides went in deadlocked at the break, 0-0. 

The men started the second half in much the same fashion as the first, controlling the ball, creating chances and looking dangerous. Dario Suarez and Jesse Muskwe were linking up well, creating several good goal chances early on. 

Probility Play of the Game - Dario Suarez go ahead goal (67')

In the 67th minute Audi of Ann Arbor Man of the Match Dario Suarez converted a good chance, pouncing on the ball at the top of the 6-yard box after some good work down the left by Amadou Cisse to make it 1-0 for The Mighty Oak. 

It didn’t all go according to plan however, as Hector Morales was sent off after a second bookable offense. Down to ten men with just under 15 minutes to go, The Mighty Oak had to work extra hard to ensure a home victory. The extra work was worth it, as Tendai Jirira found himself one-on-one with the Carpathia keeper. He seized the opportunity, lobbing the keeper from 18 yards out to round off a well-earned 2-0 Victory for the Mighty Oak. 

AFC Ann Arbor will have a lot of positives to take into the next match, Sunday, April 30th at Saline HS in the Saline Showcase. The match will kick off at 6:00 pm, as AFC Ann Arbor will take on Oakland County FC in the Battle of the Oak. 

Hear Coach Rudland's thought on Sunday's 2-0 win over Carpathia FC for AFC Ann Arbor's home opener friendly.

Golden Boot Winner 'Super Dario' Returns to Ann Arbor

Dario Suarez celebrates after scoring against Kalamazoo FC last summer

This team has become my family. My heart and my fans are in Ann Arbor and I’m happy to be returning to play for Coach Rudland.
— Dario Suarez

AFC Ann Arbor’s inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) garnered great success, including a postseason berth as well as a US Open Cup bid, the first for any team in Ann Arbor in the 103 year old tournament. A major player in that success was Great Lakes Division Golden Boot, Dario Suarez.

Suarez arrived in Ann Arbor last April with friend and former Cuban National teammate, Hector Morales. As Sporting Director Eric Rudland’s recruiting efforts have become a global effort, he jumped at the opportunity to bring the Cubans to Ann Arbor. The pair acclimated quickly, jelled with their teammates and added an professional mentality and approach to winning.

The moment he joined The Mighty Oak, Suarez emerged as one of the most talented, skilled and passionate player which resonated with Ann Arbor fans immediately. In no time, he began scoring goals and leading his team to hold the top spot on the table for over 9 weeks.

Some of his highlights from the summer for 2016 included ‘the flick’ vs Grand Rapids during the second annual Memorial Day Classic, the header vs Kalamazoo and some key penalties that helped him earn both the Great Lakes Division Golden Boot in addition to the nickname ‘Super Dario.’

The name took quick and was chanted often by Ann Arbor supporters. Suarez began forming a bond with the community on and off the pitch. He spent time coaching youth soccer and working at local events which allowed him to meet many of his fans in person. He also began to fall in love with the city and the club alike. Ann Arbor began to feel like a true second home.

Following the heartbreaking loss in the playoffs to eventual NPSL Champion AFC Cleveland, the entire organization earned a sense of unfinished business. Super Dario was passionate about bringing the club and the city a championship, but wasn’t sure the opportunity to return would be viable. In the offseason, Suarez attended both the Midwest Pro Soccer Combine and the NPSL Combine to pursue opportunities in hope of pushing on to a higher level.

He performed well and was noted by both combines as a standout player, but the opportunities that followed weren’t the fit he had hoped for and his path lead him back to the city he fell in love with last summer.

His high level play and goalscoring ability earned him two team awards in 2016 including Offensive Player of the Year and Team MVP.

“This team has become my family. My heart and my fans are in Ann Arbor and I’m happy to be returning to play for Coach Rudland,” said Suarez.

He seized the opportunities that came his way last season and summer ‘17 promises to have even more doors open for the Cuban native. An AFC Ann Arbor win against the Michigan Bucks in the US Open Cup First Round would lead to a home match for The Mighty Oak against professional side, Indy Eleven. On top of that Super Dario looks to lead the team back to the playoffs and finish what the team felt short of in their inaugural NPSL season.

Catch Dario Suarez and the rest of The Mighty Oak, Sunday, April 23rd for the home opener friendly at 4pm at Hollway Field (Pioneer HS). Get your tickets in here in advance and save. 


Michigan Cyber Range Match Day Guide: April 23rd vs Carpathia FC (Friendly)

AFC Ann Arbor returns to Hollway Field at Pioneer High School this Sunday to kick off the club’s third season. The home opener against Carpathia FC will be one of two remaining friendly matches in preparation for a busy May filled with Great Lakes Division match-ups and The Mighty Oak’s first US Open Cup match ever against the Michigan Bucks (May 10th in Pontiac).

Official Online Ticketing Partner of AFC Ann Arbor

Official Online Ticketing Partner of AFC Ann Arbor

Sunday’s contest is important to the process and will allow Coach Eric Rudland and his staff the opportunity to continue shaping and fine tuning their roster. He added, “It's going to be great to be back at Hollway Field for our first match of 2017. Obviously, it's been a long off-season for us and we're looking forward to to being back in front of our home supporters. From a football standpoint, we will feature a portion of returning players along with the introduction of some of our new signings. At this stage of the team building process our focus is on the implementation of our training principles that we have been working on as we build towards our first National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) match."  

The match is set to kick off at 4PM and as always, gates open one hour earlier. Kids 1, 2 and 3 are free with youth tickets costing only $5 and adult $8 if purchased in advance online (Gate prices: Youth $6 Adult $10).

The enhanced Soccer Plus Kids Zone will give younger fans a chance to test their skills and run some drills with official team training equipment.

Ray’s Red Hots delicious dogs and the Bigalora Wood Fired pizza truck will both be in the house Sunday afternoon.

Fans will also have the chance to get their hands on some all new AFC Ann Arbor merchandise for the first time this year.

But the big question remains, will the newly improved Nutmeg make an appearance?





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 and General Memberships for Season Tree can be purchased here.


Mighty Oak Youth Camps Announce Two Summer Dates

After a successful spring break camp, earlier this month, The Mighty Oak will be hosting two weeks of summer youth camps in 2017. Kids aged 5 to 14 can a attend a 5 day camp for just $279 at Fuller Park. The first week is June 19th-23rd and the second week is July 17th-21st.

All sessions will be lead by Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland with the help of a number of current and past AFC Ann Arbor players. Camp will be held 9am-4pm each day.

Registration includes an AFC Ann Arbor camp shirt, a special gift from AFC and snacks throughout the week. Campers will be responsible for bringing their own lunch.

Space is very limited and the camps will sell out. Enroll your kids today by clicking here.

From Pioneer to Patriot League Champion, Zach Pagani Returns to Ann Arbor

With Rudland you always seem to find success as a team. He is able to instill the right mentality in his players which results in successful seasons.
— Zach Pagani

You often hear the word “family” thrown around when discussing team chemistry with any coach or player of a successful team. Developing the correct team dynamic over the course of an NPSL season is without a doubt a challenge for all coaches holding postseason aspirations in this league.

As Head Coach and Sporting Director Eric Rudland is viewed as one of the best managers in our league, he demands respect from all of his players and provides an environment for his side that allows for individuals to jell quickly.

There are also shortcuts to this process, one of which Rudland has opted to use in 4 consecutive seasons. Zach Pagani will be returning to Ann Arbor for his second season with the club and once again joins his younger brother Chase as a member of The Mighty Oak. What better way to foster a family environment than rostering family members themselves?

As Zach now joins Chase for his second season in his hometown of Ann Arbor, their relationship with Rudland dates back to their days in Lansing as Zach Pagani was a key attacking role of a NPSL postseason qualifying Lansing United side. These two Ann Arbor Pioneer alums add a constant in the team building side of things and with their talent combined it was priority for Rudland to bring them back to AFC Ann Arbor.

Zach Pagini will return to Ann Arbor as an alum of Colgate University and a 4 year letterwinner of their soccer program. In his senior season this past fall, he was an integral part in a Raider side that captured a Patriot League title, securing a berth in the NCAA tournament. Zach will be looked to by his Ann Arbor teammates as an accomplished collegiate player and NPSL veteran, one who’s attacking ability will be eagerly awaiting his opportunity to help AFC Ann Arbor qualify for the postseason once again.

Read the full interview with Zach below: 

AFC: I believe this will be your 3rd season playing for Coach Rudland. What has he helped you accomplish with your game personally during that time?

ZP: This would be my 4th season playing for coach Rudland. He puts a lot of emphasis in technical ability. His professional training sessions help his players grow a lot in this aspect. He has also helped me grow my understanding of the game.

AFC: Being one of the Ann Arbor natives on the team, do you feel like a host at times? What does it mean for you to be able to represent your city such elite talent?

ZP: I don't think I'd categorize it as feeling like a host. I believe Eric does a great job at making everyone feel like an Ann Arbor native even if you're from abroad. But being able to play for the city you grew up in is a very unique and awesome feeling.

AFC: As you've completed another year (your final one) with Colgate which has helped you grow and develop even more as a player, what is your approach to the 2017 season with AFC and what do you hope to accomplish?

ZP: My final season at Colgate was a personal best. I hope to bring that momentum to AFC Ann Arbor where I hope I can continue to work very hard and score some more goals.

AFC: You've accomplished a lot at the NPSL level having won the Midwest Region Championship with Coach Rudland in Lansing, and moving on to the playoffs last year with AFC- how challenging is it to continue that success and what goals do you have for the club this season?

ZP: With Rudland you always seem to find success as a team. He is able to instill the right mentality in his players which results in successful seasons.

AFC: Now that school is done for you, what do you hope to accomplish with the game of soccer moving forward and beyond the 2017 AFC Ann Arbor season?

ZP: I've thought about making the move to professional somewhere in the world. That dream still hasn't left my mind. However as of now I'm searching for a job outside of soccer.

AFC: What advice would you give young soccer players in the area who want to play in college and beyond like yourself?

ZP: It sounds cliché but it is for a reason. You really need to work your ass off and also be a good teammate. Coaches really do pay attention to that even more so than being a good player sometimes.

Morales Makes Michigan Home

For those that have visited a foreign country where the native language is not your own, you’d know just how difficult communication can be. Now imagine moving to that foreign country without knowing anyone and becoming teammates with strangers for the next four months whom you can barely communicate with. That was the situation for the Cuban native, Hector Morales in the spring of 2016.

Although Hector had former teammate and dear friend Dario Suarez arrive with him in Ann Arbor last summer, Morales made it a point to step outside his comfort zone to maximize his experience. Hindered at times only by his limited English when he first arrived, Morales began by enrolling in English classes at Washtenaw Community College and in no time he was able to find work coaching youth soccer.

Morales came to Ann Arbor with a dedicated mindset to train hard, stay focused and to seize the opportunity that presented itself and that’s exactly what he did. When he wasn’t training with the team or running in the arb on his own, he could be found coaching, working at Ann Arbor Summer Festival or exploring the city he fell in love with so quick.

From the outside looking in, you saw a young man who had recently moved to the US from Cuba, came to Ann Arbor to play semi-pro soccer and didn’t hold anything back. Hector showed no fear at anytime during his journey with AFC Ann Arbor and really set the bar high for other international players that joined the team last year.

Morales was always driven to perform at a high level on the pitch but also brought an element of leadership, language barrier or not. It became apparent how fearless he truly was the night Ann Arbor hosted Lansing United. In minute 79, Morales found teammate Willie Bayemi to spark what would eventually be known as ‘The Comeback.’ Following his assist on The Mighty Oak’s first goal of the match, he continued to push himself and his teammates to a higher level of play. In the 86th and 89th minute he found the back of the net helping AFC Ann Arbor complete the improbably comeback and reenergizing the team at time when it was most needed.

When the club’s season eventually ended in late July in a heartbreaking playoff loss, this meant it was time for most players to return home or pursue other opportunities. Morales however, saw a chance to extend his stay, and enrolled at Schoolcraft College, making SE Michigan his new home.

After one year at Schoolcraft, Morales has not only improved his English but become one of the local/international players that is very well known in the area. He spends a lot of his free time coaching youth soccer.

Now, returning for his second season with The Mighty Oak, Morales will look to make an even bigger impact this summer as he’s improved his communication, worked hard on his game in the offseason and is hungry to push himself forward on this magical journey.  

Michigan Cyber Range Match Day Guide: Friendly vs. Northwood University (Members Only)

Hector Morales looks to advance past a Northwood University defender

Hector Morales looks to advance past a Northwood University defender

Today marks the first match of the club's third season as The Mighty Oak will play a closed-door friendly against Northwood University at High Velocity Sports in Canton, MI. 

AFC Ann Arbor Members, including General, Premium and Youth, will be allowed to attend Friday's match as a special "Members Only" perk. The match will take place in High Velocity's bubble field which has very limited space for spectators and members are highly encouraged to bring their own seating. 

Premium members can use their +1 perk tonight, as well as all remaining friendly matches. 

Although league play doesn't begin until early May when AFC AA will travel to Milwaukee, Coach Rudland is looking to use these early friendly dates as an opportunity for players to build chemistry, adapt to his system and style of play and to help raise fitness levels.

"Tonight we're looking for three things in our first friendly match of 2017. First of all, this is an early opportunity to enhance our fitness against a very good Northwood side. They are at the tail end of their spring season, where we are just getting started, so they will test us physically. Secondly, our staff is excited to evaluate a few trialists and new signings who will feature in the match. A number of them have looked good in training, but it will be great to see them in a real match. Lastly, we have spent the majority of our first week of training implementing a new defensive structure and mentality. We want to see if we can take what's been done on the training pitch and apply it to the match," said Rudland. 

As a handful of players haven't arrived for the 2017 season, a limited roster will see action tonight in Canton. 

Proud Sponsor of AFC AA






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.

British Defender Looks To Increase Impact in 2017

Colin Watson was plagued with injuries most of the 2016 NPSL season which has left him wanting more for the coming spring. The Lancashire, Britain native, who plays his college ball at Seton Hill, left the UK to pursue an opportunity of playing high level soccer while earning a degree. An opportunity Watson says doesn’t really exist overseas.

Watson made limited appearances for the club last summer, but when he did his impact was definitely felt in the backline, specifically in a 1-0 win at Lansing United.

“That was a great win and performance on the road. The main thing I remember was it being a grass pitch, made me feel like I was back at home in the UK! But yeah it was a great feeling playing a part in getting the win and I think that gave us a great boost in the rest of the season,” said Watson about his one of his more memorable moments from 2016.

Watson will be competing for playing time in a very talented group of defenders but he’s hopeful to make more of an impact for The Mighty Oak in Season Tree.


Read our full interview with Colin below:

AFC: It's exciting to have some familiar faces returning to Ann Arbor this summer. What made you so eager to come back and spend 2017 with The Mighty Oak?

Colin: It’s great to see some of the same faces coming back, I think that speaks for itself really with how many people are returning it shows just how good of an experience it was overall. Even though it was a bit disappointing for me personally with my injuries, everyone involved in the club and the fans all made it as enjoyable as it could have been. On a personal level though i'm eager to come back and hopefully be injury free and have more of an impact on the pitch.


AFC: Injuries limited your match time a bit in 2016. What do you hope to accomplish with the club this summer?

Colin: It was a bit frustrating for me last year with my injuries but I think that’s made me that bit hungrier to come back stronger this year. After losing in the playoffs last year I think we will all have the belief that we can go a couple steps further this year and become champions ourselves. Im also really looking forward to being involved in the U.S open cup, I think that will be a great experience for everyone and we will look to try and cause some upsets and go as far as we can.


AFC: You helped lead AFC to a 1-0 win over Coach Rudland's former team Lansing United on the road last year. What stood out to you about that match and how did it feel to get the result?

Colin: Yeah that was a great win and performance on the road, the main thing I remember was it being a grass pitch, made me feel like I was back at home in the UK! But yeah it was a great feeling playing a part in getting the win and I think that gave us a great boost in the rest of the season.


AFC: You came to the US to play college soccer in PA at Seton Hill. What inspired you to leave England on this journey? What's next for you on this adventure?

Colin: I think the key thing that inspired me to come to the U.S was the opportunity to pursue a soccer career whilst studying for a university degree. There isn't really opportunities like that back in the UK it’s either one or the other. I'm not sure what’s next to be honest I’ve still got one year left of college so i'm just taking it one step at a time at the minute and focusing on the summer ahead, then will go from there.

AFC Ann Arbor Draws Michigan Bucks In U.S. Open Cup First Round

The Mighty Oak will face the Michigan Bucks in the first round of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Bucks will host AFC Ann Arbor on Wednesday May 10th at Ultimate Soccer Arenas at 7PM.

Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland is looking forward to the challenge saying, “When looking at things geographically, the draw went as we expected and to be honest, as we hoped. We want to play against the best and prove ourselves in a real match so we are thrilled about the draw.”

The May 10th matchup will mark AFC Ann Arbor’s first U.S. Open Cup appearance since the club was founded (first season in 2015). The Bucks first competed in Cup back in 1997 and most recently in 2016, when they lost to Detroit City FC in penalties, and have an overall record of 13-11-2.

These clubs have partnered for closed door scrimmages in the past but AFC Ann Arbor and the Michigan Bucks have never met in an official capacity on the pitch.

The winner of the May 10th match up will host the National American Soccer League’s (NASL) Indy Eleven on May 17th.

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.

International Flavor Remains With AFC Ann Arbor in 2017

The Mighty Oak is made up of local and international players and also host to a few players who check both boxes.

Yuri Farkas, a native of Brazil, plays collegiate soccer at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan. He found himself on an AFC Ann Arbor roster made up of players from all over the world last summer, which for him and most footballers, is nothing new and almost comforting.

Farkas, who started the season blazing hot scoring 3 goals in in the first 4 games, spent a lot of his minutes on the pitch up top with Dario Suarez and Hector Morales, fellow international players he became real close with off the pitch.

That chemistry translated into a trio, which Dario Suarez nicknamed: El Tridente, that became a dangerous offensive threat and a friendship that extended well past the season.

Farkas, after arriving to Madonna University as a bit of an unknown, is now a respected named in the Michigan soccer community after his standout season with AFC Ann Arbor in 2016. He now returns to The Mighty Oak with high hopes for the team and himself in season three.

Read our complete interview with Yuri below:

AFC: What was one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 season for you?

Yuri: The game against Lansing United at home stands out. We were down 2-0 and came back to win in the last 15 minutes. That defined our team perfectly: we never gave up and everybody always played with heart.


AFC: You're half local/half international so you got the best of both worlds. How did this help you in terms of creating chemistry within the team?

Yuri: I have the best of both words which allows me to adapt to any type of game. Paying up top with Hector and Dario was great because we had great chemistry off the pitch which translated into a great connection on the pitch. That was true with all players but especially with them.


AFC: What was the biggest lesson learned from the 2016 season?

Yuri: Not always the best team wins.


AFC: You became a fan favorite very quickly. Scoring a handful of goals early in the season definitely helped that. What did it mean to make that kind of impact on the team and in the community?  

Yuri: It meant a lot to me. I was doing my best and being recognized because of that is priceless, I hope this year I can do more and score more goals and bring the championship home for Ann Arbor.


AFC: We watched on-field relationships translate into off-field friendships. What was so special about the group of guys Coach Rudland got together this past summer?

Yuri: Coach Rudland created a perfect environment on and off the field which was a major reason we got the results we did. He gave us the liberty to create conversation with him, as a friend and player and he was always there to listen. It made a big difference for everybody but especially for me.

AFC: What are you looking forward to most in 2017 and what do you hope to accomplish with AFC?

Yuri: I hope to help our team win the championship and score more goals than last year.

Western Michigan Standout Returns to Ann Arbor

Western Michigan midfielder Jake Rufe played a huge role in AFC Ann Arbor’s inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League. Rufe, perhaps among the most disliked players by opposing teams, has earned a bulldog-like reputation in Ann Arbor staying very active in the middle of the pitch.

As the season progressed and chemistry increased among the team, Rufe excelled as a sparkplug to help raise the energy on the pitch. Playing some of the top minutes on the team in the middle of the pitch, his impact was felt each match.

Following an outstanding fall season in the Midfield for Western Michigan, Rufe has high expectations to pick up where the team left of with AFC Ann Arbor: winning.

Read the full interview with Jake below:

AFC: You're coming off a really strong season with Western Michigan University. What were some of the highlights of your college season? How did the 2016 season with AFC AA help you this fall?

Jake: Had a great year with Western, but I had a few battles through sickness and injury. To start the year 6-0-0 was special to the team and I think our performances against in-state rivals (UM and MSU) had to have been some highlights. Going into the season after my time with AFC AA this last year, I was full of confidence and playing some of my best soccer. I was so relaxed playing and I think a lot of that has to do with the environment I trained in all summer to prepare me.


AFC: You're a fun player to watch and super active on the pitch. How do you stay fit to play the type of minutes you do?

Jake: I am not a fitness freak by any means but being able to stay active and dynamic is a massive advantage for any player and sometimes is the edge you need in a game. I like to do some cross training when I can to change my routine and the type of fitness. I love to play basketball when I can and I like to swim. A lot of it is a mentality. Its a small sacrifice that can have a big impact. Taking care of your body during off days can be equally essential during peak times in the season.


AFC: Last summer you made a massive impact on the pitch for The Mighty Oak and also made some great new friendships in your new teammates. What were some of the highlights for you last year?

Jake: Last years win against Lansing was an unforgettable game to be a player in so that’s an easy highlight. The staff and team wanted to win every game and you could feel the energy that a mentality like that brings. It was fun to be a part of that hunger for winning every time we stepped on a field.


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

Jake: This summer, I want to be even more of an impact than last year. More than that though, I want to see us as a club raise the level every day. I want to be a part of seeing this team committed to being even better than last year and setting new standards for the future.


AFC: One of the interesting things about having so many strong NPSL clubs in Michigan is you end up playing against a bunch of your teammates throughout the season. What's that like for you?

Jake: The most fun games to play in are the ones against your arch rivals and the ones against your friends. To have so many good teams in Michigan makes it so your friends become those rivals. More broncos are in the league this year as well so those are some of the games circled on my calendar. Bragging rights for the year to come.


AFC: Who's been the biggest influence in your life to help you to get where you are today?

Jake: The biggest influence in my life thus far has been my family. My mother and father have been trying to help me see the big picture for years. Always encouraging me and telling me that there was more planned for me than what I could think or imagine. Time proves them right. My sister too; she stuck out watching more club soccer games than most could have and still brags about me every once in a while. It brings a special happiness to know that my family is proud of me.


AFC: What's been the biggest moment in your career so far?

Jake: There is a lifetime of memories in my career and I don't know if I could pick a defining moment. One time in high school, we played our bitter rivals and I think 6 of my best club mates were on the other team. They were supposed to be a better team than us. I ended up scoring two goals and forcing an own goal (which I claimed as mine to complete the hat trick) and we won the match 3-2 and I had never had a crowd that large go crazy like that. That moment of euphoria is hard to replicate and I think I wanted to be on that stage again. All that is not to say that I peaked in high school either haha.


Center back Matthieu 'Frenchy' Braem Returns for 2017

Last season’s Defensive Player of the Year for The Mighty Oak, Matthieu Braem, will return to the team for the 2017 season.

The center back was one of two players on the roster to played every minute of every league match last season. His impact was made through his dominant play and natural leadership which played a massive role in earning the club’s first playoff berth.

Coach Rudland is thrilled to have him back adding, “Frenchy is a very important returning player for us as he was a mainstay in our backline last year. He has high end insight, soft feet and is a very good ball winner. We have high expectations for him and I know he is eager to get back into the team.”

As a fan favorite, Frenchy is not only excited to play for the Ann Arbor fans once again, but hopes to play another lead role securing another playoff berth for AFC Ann Arbor.

Read our “Five Questions with Frenchy” below:

AFC: How does it feel to be returning to Ann Arbor for another summer? What did you love most about the city?

Frenchy: It honestly feels awesome. I can't wait to be back and spend another summer in Ann Arbor. There are a lot of things I loved about the city but what I would probably want to point out the most would be the people and the city itself. I think that the fact that you can just go downtown during a random afternoon and always have something happening within the city and seeing people loving life and smiling is something that not a lot of cities have.

AFC: As the team's "Defensive Player of the Year" you obviously made your mark on this club, its fan base and helped earn a playoff berth in a very difficult division. What were the best moments from 2016 and what do you hope to accomplish in 2017?

Frenchy: I have two best moments... The first one would be when we were down 2-0 at home vs Lansing United with 10 minutes to go and we came back and won the game. I will probably remember that feeling my entire life. The stadium was pretty full and I can remember the celebration with the fans after the game.

The second one would be when we secured our spot for the playoffs at Kalamazoo FC. It was a prideful moment to reach the playoffs during the club's first year in the division.

This season, I want to achieve at least as much as we did last year. Reaching the Playoffs is a must if we want to make some noise within the NPSL itself. From a personal standpoint, I am still chasing after a professional contract so I am setting the bar pretty high regarding the level I want to be at during the upcoming season.

AFC: Last season you used to mention how your Dad would follow along on Twitter (and watch when stream was available) back in France. What does it mean to have that kind of support?

Frenchy: My Dad has always been an example for me but also my biggest fans (far behind my Mom). They both made a lot of sacrifices in order for me to be able to come to the United States and pushed me to reach my dreams when I was close from giving up. Luckily, he is planning on coming to Ann Arbor for the beginning of the season and it feels amazing. This season might be the last I play, so it is very important for him and myself to know that he will be there to support me.

AFC: You were 1 of only 2 players to play every minute of every league match last season. What's your training and fitness routine like?

Frenchy: I have always been pretty unlucky with injuries. A lot was bad luck, but a lot was due to not having a proper hygiene and preparation. During the last couple years I have been focusing a lot on that. Last year I was going to the gym to lift whenever I could to get stronger and prevent these muscular issues. Beside that, I would say that the most important thing is taking care of what you are eating. Ice creams and hamburgers always sound pretty good but if you want to be healthy and reach your maximum potential, you need to be careful regarding what you eat.

AFC: You spent a lot of time coaching some of the youth players in the area last summer and seemed to make quite an impact. What is it about coaching that you love so much? What advice do you have to those younger players who hope to play in college and beyond?

Frenchy: Coaching is just something that has always attracted me. Kids, and especially the one I worked with last summer are always willing to learn and get better. They always enjoy advices and I think that this is why coaching is something that I always loved. What is better than knowing that you might have an impact on how these kids will see and think about the beautiful game for the rest of their lives?

The biggest advice I have would be to always enjoy the game. I found myself sometimes complaining about having to go to practice and such... and this is not good. You need to always enjoy being on the field and try to get 1% better every single time you step on the field. Plus, if you enjoy it, you will find yourself performing much better than if you don't.


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.