Now that the roster has been released, are there any highlights on the team sheet that fans should take note of?
At first glance, think it's worth noting the groups of players we have brought in. We're really excited to have multiple players from the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Northwood University, Colgate University & the University of Charleston. These programs all compete on a national stage, so for us to pull in more than one player from each program is/was a key factor in our team building process.
We also have some really great stories to tell with the connections to the club that enabled us to sign players like Colin Watson, who came through Manchester United's academy from age 8-16, J.P Rylah who was a YTS at Millwall, Willie Bayemi from the Columbus Crew & French Center Back Matt Braem from Loyola University Chicago. With that said I hope there is a place & time this season to speak about each player on the roster because they will all play a critical role in our team's success.
As the team begins training this week in preparation for an April 23rd scrimmage, not all roster players will be here in Ann Arbor yet. Is there a major advantage held by these guys that are here from the start in regards to field time as the season progresses?
They definitely have an early opportunity to improve their fitness, acclimate to our system of play & win a spot in the team. These men also have the privilege of shaping our team culture. With that said, I expect training to be competitive as new players enter with hopes of dressing for our NPSL matches.
We’ve learned that 17 international players will be representing the Mighty Oak this season. Are there any chemistry concerns in terms of team communication issues on the field?
In football there is only 1 language, with no translators needed, & that's the beautiful game. For me, it's important to bring in a diverse group with different playing histories & influences. Each match on our schedule will call for a different tactic, scheme or individual personality & hopefully with the multiplicity in our roster we have all of our bases covered. 'd also say that the players are excited to be a member of a diverse club and make note that the differences are only cultural as each player we have coming in is accustomed to playing a similar brand of football. So off the field there will be a lot of Google Translate (mostly by me!) taking place, but on the field we will let the football speak for itself.
The team sheet holds 2 players from Northwood University; these guys will face off against their own college on April 3rd. Can you shed some light on your relationship with the Northwood University Soccer program?
I've been fortunate to work with some of Northwood's top players the last two summers & have a built a great relationship with their staff of coaches. Northwood has made a name for itself in NCAA Div 2 as a nationally ranked program, so we are fortunate to have James Vaughn & Jack Smith coming in to play with us. The match this weekend vs Northwood will be a good early test for our men & we are thankful that they are coming down to play.
When skimming the roster, 2 individuals from Cuba sticks out. Both have booked extended minutes for Cuban 20, U23 & Men's National Team and have high level playing experience under their belts. Can you give any details as to how the recruiting process developed with Hector and Dario?
Signing Hector & Dario is a neat football story that should be shared over a pint, but I'll try to briefly shed light on how we were able to sign them. Hector came to the USA in the fall of 2015, after a highlighted career in the Cuban National Team Program. Upon crossing into the USA, he was given a list of people to contact for help in his football career. My name & number happened to be on the list. So he & his close friend (translator) Ernesto contacted me to see if I would be interested in working with Hector. After vetting him thoroughly, I told both Hector & Ernesto that I would love to help Hector sign a pro contract. He spent pre-season with Miami FC of the NASL & then with the Richmond Kickers of the USL. Due to the rules and regulations pertaining to the number of roster spots for international players, Hector was not signed by either club. Based on the relationship we had built over the past 4-5 months he immediately communicated that he would like to come play for AFC Ann Arbor in an effort to push on to a professional contract.
Dario's situation was a little bit different. He was a member of the Cuban Men's National Team this past summer that played in the Gold Cup here in the USA. He came on as a sub vs Mexico and then again vs Trinidad and Tobago. Prior to Cuba's last group stage match vs Guatemala, he defected to the USA with the hopes of signing a professional contract. Along with Hector, Dario spent a month of pre season with Miami FC & was not signed. After which, he chased a few other professional opportunities which didn't pan out. While exploring his options earlier this month, Dario spoke with Hector about his plans. Having known one another since childhood back in Cuba and having played with one another on the international stage, Dario decided to come to AFC Ann Arbor to play with his friend & teammate.