AFC Ann Arbor hosted fellow NPSL member Kalamazoo FC to Hollway field on Friday night. The energy was high for both sides and this match did not disappoint.
The Mighty Oak were looking to build on an impressive NPSL win last week against Dayton, while Kalamazoo were looking to start their club on a positive note.
Play kicked off at a rapid pace, but that excitement saw only one shot in the opening ten minutes.
Both sides were fighting hard to get a foothold in the game, with Kalamazoo looking to press the AFC backline, and AFC playing long balls over the top for much of the first half.
In the 32nd minute, Kalamazoo FC took the lead after a chipped pass over the Mighty Oak defense found the feet of Jose Esparza. He worked his way past Fabian Veit for the opening goal of the match.
Right from the ensuing kick, AFC Ann Arbor looked to hit back, winning a corner. 7 minutes later, a hard challenge on Dario Suarez led to a free kick in a dangerous area and a yellow card for Kalamazoo FC defender David Whitaker. The free kick was whipped in excellently to the back post and Matt Braem smartly headed back across the face of the goal to find a wide-open Dario Suarez, who buried the chance in the back of the net to level the match.
In the final seconds of the first half, Dario had another excellent chance, beating his defender and sending a dipping shot at the Kalamazoo keeper, forcing a strong save. That was the last action of the first half, with the score deadlocked at 1-1.
The second half was a completely different story. The passing was tighter, the play was quicker, and there were more diagonal balls for the Mighty Oak, something AFC coach Eric Rudland emphasized during half time. “We talked about keeping the ball on the floor in the second half,” he said.
Plenty of chances came and went, but still there was no go-ahead goal. In the 72nd minute, former AFC player Jay McIntosh got a yellow card for a trip on Dario Suarez. Suarez was first-rate throughout the match, and in the 75th minute, he showed his skill once again. A deft scoop pass over the Kalamazoo backline found Yuri Farkas, and with the hard work done he slotted home to give the Mighty Oak at 2-1 lead, with fifteen minutes left to play at Hollway.
Kalamazoo was desperate to grab a point from their first NSPL match, but it was AFC who continued to dominate in the closing stages. J.P. Rylah had an excellent chance cleared off the goal line after his pace forced the Kalamazoo keeper out of his net, leaving the goal wide-open. Unfortunately for J.P. and the Mighty oak, Kalamazoo defender Lou Plascencia was wise to it, and cleared the ball. AFC absorbed the late pressure well and hung on to a vital 2-1 victory. After an equalizing goal, and an audacious piece of skill for the assist, the Audi of Ann Arbor Man of the Match could only go to AFC’s number 7, Dario Suarez.
Looking ahead to the next match against Detroit City FC, Coach Rudland felt ready for the challenge ahead, saying, “For us it’s going to be an exciting night. To play at their place is going to be great. We have a good understanding of their tactics, their schemes, what their going to do personnel wise. We have a good indication of that. I think it’s going to be a fun match, our guys will be up for it.”
Friday’s win was a big result for the Mighty Oak, leaving AFC Ann Arbor on top of the NPSL Great Lakes West Conference table. The Mighty Oak will be carrying that momentum forward to the next game, away at Detroit City FC on Friday, May 20th at 7:30 pm.