AFC Ann Arbor will visit Grand Rapids tonight as a 2nd place team for the first time ever this season. The host, GRFC, now sit in first place of the Great Lakes West. Tonight's match, kicking off at 7:45pm, will be the first of two road NPSL tests for The Mighty Oak as the men will travel to Kalamazoo Sunday for a matchup against Kalamazoo City FC kicking off at 6:05pm.
Sunday's road match will conclude NPSL regular season play for the club meaning The Mighty Oak must finish the weekend in one of the top two table slots of the Great Lakes West to be guaranteed postseason play. The storied matchup against GRFC highlights the weekend as it will feature the 1st and 2nd place clubs, but only a win in both matches over the weekend will secure a spot for AFC Ann Arbor as other teams in the table still have points to steal in their respective schedules.
As a part or our Mighty Oak Monday series with coach Eric Rudland, we wanted to pick his brain as we enter the biggest weekend in club history. In the same fashion, we interviewed our own head coach in regards to the team's mindset and form heading into two matches that will define our season. Read the entire piece here including audio from coach.
Our club has no choice but to move on quickly from a tough defeat last Friday. How do you keep a team focused on solely game #1 of a duel match weekend, knowing that with 2 wins something very special could be accomplished?
Yes last Sunday was not the result that we wanted but in this business you have to have a short-term memory. So we're very much looking forward to our first match of the weekend on Friday in Grand Rapids. With a two match weekend like this it's difficult to prepare for both opponents, so our training for the most part has focused on our first match and then Saturday we will spend time focusing on our Sunday match up.
Like all football played at this high a level, we have seen some injuries and suspensions affect our roster. As a seasoned coach in this league you have tweaked rosters for success numerous times in your past. Can you speak to what it will take out of some of the newer faces seeing increased minutes in such important matches this weekend?
We feel good about our group. Obviously we won't have Jack Smith due to the suspension and a few other players have moved on their way and are no longer with the club. With that said, we do have some players who have been chipping away and waiting to break into the team. Some of those men will have a great opportunity this weekend to make a positive impact.
The Mighty Oak now sit in second place in the league, after spending the entire season in first, does a coach in your position appreciate where his team sits in the table going into such pivotal matches? Does it cause a team to play a certain way tactically or provide any advantages/ disadvantages?
After sitting at the top of the league for the season and now being in second place I think that creates a hunger and ambition to get back to the top of the table. I don't think much changes tactically or technically as we've had a lot of success with our personnel, schemes & our system. However the psychological elements and desire to compete & succeed will be heightened going into the weekend.
Scoring a single goal on the road is a heightened feat in itself in the NPSL. Can you speak to your confidence in this team's ability to score goals in back to back road venues?
I'm definitely confident in our ability on the road. As mentioned earlier we will take it one game at a time. After Friday's match we will use Saturday to get right & ready for Kalamazoo on Sunday.