Golden Limousine Match Preview: [2018 NPSL Midwest Region Final] AFC Ann Arbor vs Duluth FC

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Approximately a year ago, Ann Arbor found themselves in a similar position: headed to the Midwest Region Final after a 1-0 win in the semifinal. The difference is rather than playing against the host, AFC Ann Arbor will be the one hosting this time around.

“Hopefully being at home in front of our fans will be the difference maker tomorrow night. We worked hard to host and our men are excited to be in our backyard competing for the regional championship,” said Head Coach & Sporting Director, Eric Rudland.

The Mighty Oak host the Blue-Greens, today, Saturday, July 21st at Huron High School to determine the 2018 NPSL Midwest Region Champion. The quick turnaround isn’t the norm across the league, as most other regions did their semifinals midweek, but Saturday the conference playoff schedules align. The remaining eight teams (out of 98 teams nationwide) will all be competing in their respective regional final, looking to earn one of four spots in the 2018 NPSL National Semifinals.

The back to back matches can be very physically demanding on the men, but both teams are essentially in the same situation. Rest and recovery is key, but at the end of the day, Rudland knows exactly what it all comes down to.

“It’s definitely not easy, but at the end of the day this is when you have to trust the training process and hope that mentality of our men can supersede their physical state,” he said.

 

The Opponent

Duluth FC’s path to the final has been a magical run beginning with a thrilling penalty shootout against Grand Rapids FC in the quarterfinals. Yesterday, Duluth secured a 2-1 victory, and found their second goal in the second half of extra time, preventing another penalty shootout.

DFC will have to find more of that magic as they will have to get past the backline of The Mighty Oak, anchored by Stanley Okumu and Jack Cawley.

The two sides have never met before, but ‘In Rudland We Trust’ and Coach and his team have the boys prepared.

“We’ve watched a few of their games. They are good at what they do with a few special players. Locking into their system will be important and neutralizing their key lives will be critical as well. We need to play on our front foot and look to dictate play,” said Rudland.

Tickets are $10 for adults / $7 for youth. Purchase them online in advance and show your mobile ticket at the gate for easy entrance.

Ann Arbor Punches Ticket to Midwest Region Final with 1-0 Win Over Cleveland

The Mighty Oak punched their ticket to the Midwest Region Final with a decisive 1-0 victory over Cleveland SC. A physical game featuring six yellows and one red showed just how tough and resilient this Mighty Oak team can be when the challenge is presented to them.

A first half marked by four yellows and enough fouls for a full game saw AFC Ann Arbor and Cleveland SC head into halftime knotted at zero. AFC controlled the ball much of the first half with a decent chance from AZ in the fifth minute. Cleveland showed flashes, but was unable to convert on any of their opportunities in the half.

Yuri and Odhiambo had AFC’s best looks at goal in the first half. Yuri did an exceptional job possessing a long ball sent from the back line in the 27th minute to make a quick move into space to take a shot that was collected by the keeper. A little over ten minutes later Yuri had another attempt after making a quick turn on a defender. Again though, the ball couldn’t find the back of the net. In the 44th minute Yuri was at work again this time making a play for Odhiambo who’s shot was just off target of the back post.

AFC Ann Arbor came out in the second half with a renewed sense of urgency, hungry for the first goal. It didn’t take long. In the 53 minute Sercan Cihan was able to create space for himself after a nice one, two sequence with Yuri. Cihan cut towards goal, catching a Cleveland defender flatfooted, giving him enough time to send a centering ball to a streaking Serge Gamwanya who finished with a composed low, driven one-timer.

The goal, Serge’s second of the NPSL season, couldn’t have come at a more decisive moment for the club. 

Cleveland SC came back with a bit of offense of their own shortly after the goal, but The Mighty Oak was able to escape the pressure without conceding. The remainder of the second half saw AFC relying on their stout defense and complete team composure to protect the 1-0 lead.

A full ninety-minute effort earns AFC Ann Arbor a spot in in the Midwest Region Final where they will face Duluth City FC. The final will be played at Huron High School at 7:30pm tomorrow, July 21. Get tickets here

Golden Limousine Match Preview: [Midwest Region Semifinal] AFC Ann Arbor vs Cleveland SC

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It’s amazing what Association Football Club Ann Arbor has accomplished in three short seasons in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). The ‘worst’ regular season finish The Mighty Oak had was their first year in the Great Lakes Conference when they finished second behind Grand Rapids FC, while being crowned conference champions the following two season (2017 & 2018). The Mighty Oak won’t slow down now and look to lift a trophy that has eluded them for the past two summers.

Ann Arbor has qualified for the playoffs each of the three seasons, but both 2016 and 2017 ended in heartbreak for the club. No one will ever forget the match in Grand Rapids against AFC Cleveland back in 2016. After ninety minutes of regulation and thirty minutes of extra time, the two sides went to penalties where AFC Cleveland prevailed and eventually went on to win the National Championship. The hardest part of that match were the three goals that were called back creating a roller coaster of emotions for players, staff and supporters alike.  

Flash forward to 2018 where AFC Cleveland no longer exists, and a new franchise, Cleveland SC, has taken control of the market’s NPSL franchise. New ownership, branding, venue and team name have separated this new franchise from any previous ties to AFC Cleveland, but the supporters and many of the of players once wore the AFC Cleveland badge. Come Friday, Ann Arbor will see some familiar faces, including standout striker, Vinny Bell.

“Looking back to 2016 there were some obvious reasons why things didn't go our way in that match. We have been working diligently to get those things right in how we prepare and how we play. For us it's about doing what we do. Playoffs aren't a time to reinvent the wheel. It's about finding ways to dictate play within our system and working to neutralize the opponent. Cleveland are very good at what they do. Their system fits their players well and they have a few veterans with a National Championship under their belt,” added Rudland.

One thing Rudland’s side has shown time and time again is their depth, especially in the backline and frontline. But no matter how deep a team is, they’ll always hope to have their MVP with them, especially come playoffs time. When Stanley Okumu left earlier this month for his USL trial, little was known about this future with the club, other than the fact he would be missed while away. It is confirmed now, that Okumu will be with The Mighty Oak for the playoffs, just days after receiving the Team MVP award.

“The experience this past week for Stanley was really valuable. He spent a week in a USL environment and had an opportunity to train and take part in their daily rhythm. The club he was with liked him and wants to bring him back in for a more extended look at the conclusion of our season. Fortunately for us, they were willing to release him back to us for the playoffs.  His presence obviously breads confidence into the team and it's a great opportunity for him individually to showcase his abilities on a national stage. So we are excited to have him back in the team for our playoff run,” commented Rudland.

The stage is set. Ann Arbor has an opportunity to earn revenge from the 2016 loss (new club or not), have finished first in the Great Lakes the past two seasons, earned the right to host the 2018 Midwest Region Championship but came up short last season in the Midwest Region Final and are hoping to have a different outcome this go around.

“The opportunity to host is neat for us as a club and for the greater Ann Arbor community. A lot of energy has gone into the past 3 seasons so it means a lot that all of the variables lined up this year and we won the bid to host. We love playing in front of our fans and feeding off their energy so we’re thrilled to have these matches in Ann Arbor,” said Rudland.

To purchase tickets click here. If you’re unable to attend the matches this weekend but want to tune in, all matches will be streamed at YouTube.com/AFCAnnArbor.



 

Ann Arbor Wins Bid to Host 2018 NPSL Midwest Region Playoffs

 
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After winning back to back Great Lakes Conference Championships (2017 & 2018), The Mighty Oak will look to lift their first Midwest Region Championship in club history next weekend in Ann Arbor, when they face Cleveland SC in the semifinals at 7:30PM. The match will be played at Huron High School, the host location for the 2018 National Premier Soccer League Midwest Region Semifinals and Final.

“This is really exciting for us as a club, and a great thing for our community. Ann Arbor is a fantastic place in the summertime and we’re excited to put our city and club on display,” added Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland.

Friday will feature two matches as the top seeded MPLS City will take on conference rival Duluth FC at 4PM. AFC will kick off at 7:30PM vs Cleveland SC with the winners of each match set to face one another at 7:30PM on Saturday evening. All three matches will be streamed at YouTube.com/AFCAnnArbor for free.

Tickets will go on sale Monday morning at 10AM. Tickets for Friday cover both matches, and is $10 for adults and $7 for youth (ages 4-12). Weekend passes can be purchased for $15 ($10 for youth) which covers admission to all three matches. A limited number of VIP tickets will also be on sale for $30 for the weekend pass only, which includes admission to all three matches, free water and pop and on-field seating in the Audi VIP tent. All AFC Ann Arbor Members (Premium, General and Youth) will be required to purchase a ticket.

“In just three seasons in the NPSL, we’ve finished 2nd, 1st and 1st in the Great Lakes Conference. I believe we’ve earned this opportunity and we’re looking forward to making the weekend a great experience for the players, coaches and supporters,” said AFC Ann Arbor Chairman, Bilal Saeed.

The host location is determined by the four finalists voting on the teams that submitted bids. All six teams who qualify are eligible to submit bids but the vote occurs after the quarterfinals and the four semifinalists are confirmed. After the completion of last night’s matches, a vote took place and Ann Arbor was awarded the bid to host this year’s regional playoffs.

Be on the lookout for more information around this weekend’s 2018 NPSL Midwest Region Playoffs follow AFC Ann Arbor on social media. 

2018 Awards Announced at Annual Team Banquet

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On Wednesday evening, the players, coaches, staff and Main Street Hooligans gathered for a small awards banquet. Players were treated to a dinner on Palio’s rooftop followed by gelato at Iorio’s ahead of the awards ceremony which was held at LIVE.

When players arrived, they were able to choose from over 100 framed photos from the season, all part of the traditional AFC Ann Arbor awards banquet. The MC for the evening was the club’s match broadcaster Michael Kroodsma who helped honor players who had spent three season with the club. Kyle Breitmeyer aka KB9, Alec Lasinski, Matt Braem, Yuri Farkas and Jake Rosen (unable to attend) all received a framed jersey of from one of their seasons with The Mighty Oak.

From there, Coach Rudland announced the award winners who were unable to be with the team that evening which included Mike Novotny who received the Defensive MVP, Marc Ybarra who received the Hometown Hero award and Stanley Okumu the 2018 Team MVP.

For the first time in four years, the club introduced a new award, the Boyzzz Khumalo award. As Chairman Bilal Saeed described, he’s one of the unsung heroes of organization and having an award named after him was their way of showing their appreciation.

It was fitting that the first recipient of the award was Sergio Campbell, a friend of Khumalo’s who joined the team in April of 2018. Campbell, who was unable to play past the last preseason game due to medical reasons, stepped into a role for the club this year that was unexpected for both the organization and himself. After receiving the award, Campbell was quiet and still and his emotions were heavy in the moment. After twenty seconds of silence passed as he gathered his strength, he spoke to the crowd and specifically his teammates about how much he wish he could be on the pitch with them. His genuine and beautiful words stole the night and the night was just beginning.

After Michael Shaikly and Yuri Farkas received Co-Offensive MVP awards, Jack Cawley received the COYMO award (formerly known as the Strength In The Oak award)  to end the awards portion of the evening.

Early front runner for the best dressed competition Yuri Farkas saw some serious competition from Michael Shaikly. But it was late in the competition when the finalists were called to stage and Moco Watson surprised everyone, once again, and won best dressed for the evening.

The evening ended with a special video for the team recapping some of the best moments of the season put together by Bruno Postigo, Creative Director.

Just before the video played, Coach Rudland spoke to everyone about how special this evening was, nonetheless, the past is the past and the focus is on the playoffs. His message was clear and the players and others in attendance agreed wholeheartedly; there is plenty of work left to be done.

 

Award Winners

Team MVP- STANLEY OKUMU

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Co-Offensive MVP- Michael Shaikly

Co-Offensive MVP- Yuri Farkas

Defensive MVP- Mike Novotny

Hometown Hero- Marc Ybarra

COYMO* Award- Jack Cawley

Boyzzz Khumalo Award- Sergio Campbell

*formerly the Strength In The Oak Award

Okumu Invited for USL Trial

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With the completion of the 2018 regular season, The Mighty Oak finished top of the table in the Great Lakes Conference and top of the nation in goals allowed per game (.333 avg). Center back Stanley Okumu was a huge reason Ann Arbor allowed only 4 goals in 12 matches and the twenty-one year old Kenyan has left an impression on opponents, opposing coaches and scouts alike.

Okumu was the only AFC Ann Arbor player to be on the pitch every minute of the 488 minute streak where they held opponents without a goal. He dazzled fans with his passing ability both creatively in small spaces and especially down the pitch to play over the defenders to his attacking wingers.

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He has done so well, that he has been extended the opportunity to join a professional club on trial in the United Soccer League (USL) and Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland knows Stanley is very deserving.

“Pushing players on is always a part of the dialogue when we are recruiting a player who we believe has the capacity to move up levels of the game here in North America. So that was very much apart of the conversation when working with Stanley before he committed to AFC Ann Arbor. We made it very clear that if he did well for us, day in and day out, we would work hard to provide opportunities for him to move up the ladder of football,” said Rudland.

“Anyone who has seen us play can tell he is a cut above the standard NPSL/PDL level player. His pace and athleticism are top shelf and he has soft feet as well, which is a necessity for high level center backs. Most importantly though is his mentality. He trains like an animal every day and goes about his day with winning as the primary focus,” he added.

From the team perspective, with the playoffs around the corner, losing one of your most talented players can be challenging, but for Rudland, it’s expected.

“We know where we stand in the football pyramid. So we take it as our job to identify potential pro prospects, give them a platform to prove themselves, and then open up pathways for them to advance their career. Obviously we had high hopes that Stanley would be of that pedigree, and when he proved that he was, we started working immediately to open up doors for him at the USL level.”

As news develops on Okumu’s professional trial, we’ll be sure to keep you updated. For now, the club is wishing Stanley all the best as he pursues his dream at the next level.

 

Ann Arbor Awaits Opponent for July 20th Midwest Region Semifinal

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With a convincing 9-0 win on Saturday evening to close out the regular season, AFC Ann Arbor secured a bye into the Midwest Region Semifinals. They’ll await the results of the July 14th quarter-final matchups to see who they’ll play and where they’ll play.

Clubs who are interested in hosting will be submitting bids this week. Once the quarterfinals matches are complete the evening of the 14th, the four remaining clubs will vote on the bids deciding a venue for the Semi-finals and Final on July 20th and 21st respectively. Last year, Ann Arbor and Detroit City each received two bids to host at which point a coin-flip decided that DCFC had won the bid. This year, after some lobbying from AFC Ann Arbor, the tie-breaker, if needed, will come down to points per game (PPG), favoring The Mighty Oak.

Regardless of where the playoffs are, you’ll be able to support AFCAA and watch them play as one of the requirements to host is providing a stream to all matches.

The men worked hard all season and are deserving of a bye, but along with that reward comes extra days off. To keep the men sharp, Coach Rudland has organized an inter-squad scrimmage on Saturday, July 14th at 9AM. The training home of AFC Ann Arbor, WideWorld Sports Center, will host the event on their new outdoor turf field. Fans are welcome to attend and admission will be free.

Golden Limousine Match Preview: AFC Ann Arbor vs FC Indiana [NPSL National Game of the Week]

Last Friday, Ann Arbor scored a late stoppage time winner to defeat FC Columbus 1-0. Those three points were enough for The Mighty Oak to secure back to back Great Lakes Conference Championships.

Although the title is locked up, Saturday’s match does have playoff implications for Ann Arbor. They need another three points to retain their position as the second highest points per game average in the region to earn a bye and advance to the Midwest Region Semifinals.

This may be the main reason the league has selected Saturday’s match as the National Game of the Week. The matchup itself pairs the 5th ranked team in the nation, AFC Ann Arbor, against the 98th (out of 98) in FC Indiana. But that same last placed team isn’t giving up on the season yet. Just last week they hung tough with FC Columbus scoring first and hanging even for a good length. Impressive both because of the quality of the opponent as well as the point in the season at which this match was played. The Lions of Indiana no doubt have heart and would love to be spoilers in Ann Arbor Saturday night.

“This is a big game for us. I keep telling the men that. We need 3 points to position ourselves for a playoff bye. We've also talked this season on a few occasions about respecting our opponent. This is a game where we need to do that to the highest degree. Indiana scored first against FC Columbus this past week and played at 1-1 for a spell of the match. Anyone in this league can beat anyone so we need to be sharp,” said Head Coach & Sporting Director, Eric Rudland.

 

The Opponent

Saturday is simple. A test of heart for FC Indiana, and a test of mental sharpness for Ann Arbor. FC Indiana is not a team that gives up and knows that they can make their season a memorable one with a huge upset over The Mighty Oak. Ann Arbor will need to do as Rudland suggested and respect their opponent and come out sharp and ready to hammer home these final three points.

 

Main Street Hooligans

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The Mighty Oak don’t boast thousands and thousands of fans or hundreds of hooligans, but our roots have continued to grow and the AFCAA Family continues to extend its branches. A key part of the 2018 campaign has been the increased presence of the Main Street Hooligans, the independent supporter group of AFC Ann Arbor, at every single match. As we plan to lift the 2018 Great Lakes Championship trophy as a family together after the match on Saturday, consider joining in on a ‘COYMO’ chant during the match to show your appreciation for their continued support. The team and even Rudland have noticed their commitment this season.

“The hooligans have been fantastic this season. Their commitment of full support has been the best this season compared to my first two with the club. Hopefully we can give them a great show in our final home match of the regular season,” added Rudland.

 

Ball Kids and Walkout

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We have an open call for our future Mighty Oak’s this Saturday. Sign up to be a ball kid or walkout with the players and take part in the final regular season match of the season!

SIGN UP HERE

 

Tickets

Online (Advance) - Adult $8 / Youth $5 (Ages 4-12) / Kids 1, 2 and 3 are free

At the Gate - Adult $10 / Youth $6 (Ages 4-12) / Kids 1, 2 and 3 are free

Golden Limousine Match Preview: [Milk Cup Final] AFC Ann Arbor vs Lansing United

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The revised format of the Michigan Milk Cup in 2018 meant The Mighty Oak had a different path to the finals than last year, as they look for a back to back title for the second time in five days (Friday they clinched the Great Lakes Conference Championship for the second consecutive season).

“With the cup being a separate competition this year, involving more teams, there is a different feel to the competition. Hopefully our men still feel like they have something to prove on Wednesday and recognize the opportunity to claim the championship back to back,” said Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland.

The cup run began with a two-leg bout with Oakland County FC. Traveling to Clawson for OCFC’s home opener, Ann Arbor were able to bring a two goal lead back to Ann Arbor for the May 28th matchup. It was then they sealed the deal with a 2-1 win to give them an aggregate score of 4-1 in the first round of the tournament.

After drawing Kalamazoo in the semi-final blind draw, Ann Arbor prepared to face KZFC for a third time this season, a challenge in itself. But thanks to the ‘Milk Cup Miracle’ in stoppage time via Brandon Katona, Ann Arbor punched their ticket to the finals and a chance at a $5,000 prize.

“We've had the chance to create a player rotation for the matches and it's been great to see guys step into roles and flourish. That was a great moment for Brandon. He was in our team during the early stages of the season and is now working his way back in. The goal for him should provide a huge confidence boost and it was a great moment for our cup run,” added Rudland.  

 

Team Sheet

Managing league matches (NPSL), in addition to the US Open Cup and Michigan Milk Cup, Rudland has had to be strategic in the selection of his team sheet considering many variables including of course, player fitness and wellness. We’ve seen his ability to recruit, develop talent and consistently win, but even with the additional matches and layers this season, Rudland seems unphased.

When asked about the lineup for Wednesday, Rudland commented, “We will for sure have some changes based on our player rotation, player availability and injury status. We are also looking to play one or two players in a different position as we explore positional options for a few of our players heading into the playoffs. As we've done in our previous cup matches, we want to put out a balanced team regarding experience and youth and we want to make sure everyone is eager to prove themselves.”

“The United Dairy Industry of Michigan's support of local soccer has been massive. They've displayed a commitment to all levels of soccer from grassroots, to the women's game and the men's game. The soccer community is tight-knit and UDIM's loyalty has been well received across the state,” said Rudland in regards to the continued support of Milk Means More.

The team sheet for Wednesday’s Milk Cup Final will be released Tuesday afternoon.

 

The Opponent

Rudland has built a reputation for winning, even since he brought home a Midwest Region title, with his former club, Lansing United. Since taking the helm for AFC in 2016, Rudland has won two Great Lakes Conference Championships and has continued his winning ways.

Lansing departed the NPSL in the offseason to join the Premier Development League (PDL), a move doubters were surely questioning. Lansing United has quickly proven they can compete in the PDL and continue to earn impressive results, currently sitting in second of their division with three matches remaining.

In their semi-final match, The Hoops found themselves down a goal late before DeJuan Jones leveled the score in the 88th minute. Jones has the skill set to give the Ann Arbor backline one of their best challenges of the season.

“What's exciting for the players is playing against a team that we haven't faced yet this year after going home & home with all of the teams in our league and playing Kalamazoo for a 3rd time in the Milk Cup. For us as a staff this is a great opportunity to look at new match ups and prepare for a one-off match, which is virtually the same type of preparations we will have in the NPSL playoffs,” about facing Lansing United in the final.


Tickets

Tickets purchased in advance are $10 for adults and $5 for youth here. Prices increase at the gate to $12 and $7 respectively. 

Stream

Can't make the match on Wednesday? Stream it online at AFC Ann Arbor's YouTube channel
 

Novotny Pursues Professional Career Abroad

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The goalkeeping injuries for AFC Ann Arbor to start the season were such a bad spell of luck it almost seems unbelievable looking back. First, TJ Tomasso suffered a preseason hand injury before backup and assumed fill-in for Tomasso, Nick Barry had his hand injured in the April 22nd friendly vs Saginaw Valley State University. Hunter Morse, a freshmen backup keeper at Michigan State University, stepped in and played the first league match on the road at Milwaukee for The Mighty Oak before he was sidelined for a few weeks.

As it seemed like a streak of bad luck at the time, it can easily be called fate now, as Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland made a call he didn’t expect to make this entire season. He reached out to a keeper he connected with at his Midwest Pro Soccer Combine event in December, Mike Novotny.

“Not everything always goes to plan but I feel that everything happens for a reason. Eric called me with the opportunity to play for AFC Ann Arbor. He told me a little about their problem with injuries. It kind of felt like a sign to me. I respected Eric as a coach already from the combine and being able to play for this team with the high level of players that are there along with getting that professional level training from Eric, Shuk and all the other coaches, just made my decision that much easier to come out,” said Novotny about the situation.

Needless to say, Novotny made his presence felt with Ann Arbor this season, beginning his first four league matches with clean sheets and finishing with six total before playing in his last match on June 22nd. The Eastern Illinois grad will now chase his dream to become a professional as he heads overseas to showcase his talents for professional scouts and coaches.

“The goal of the program is to give the players opportunities to go on trials and sign contracts in Europe for players who have fallen through the cracks of the American soccer system. In 30 days we'll play about 9 games against top division, second division professional teams in Sweden and Denmark. During that time you have the opportunity to go on these trials with the hopes of signing a contract,” added Novotny.

Although Nick Barry’s timely return and massive performance in Tuesday’s Milk Cup semifinal win lessens the blow, Novotny will be missed by his teammates, coaching staff and fans, as he surely made his mark on the club. Novotny now shares the record for most clean sheets in a season with TJ Tomasso (6) and was also a part of the impressive team record of holding opponents scoreless for 488 consecutive minutes.

“My goal coming into Ann Arbor was two things: how can I help this team to be as successful if not more than last year and how can I improve myself to be a more well-rounded keeper,” said a humble Novotny.

“The biggest things I could take away from this experience in Ann Arbor were the relationships I built with the players and the coaches. It's the dream when all you have to worry about is soccer in life and I hope to continue to live this dream for many years to come,” he added.

Golden Limousine Match Preview: AFC Ann Arbor vs FC Columbus

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The Mighty Oak may have dropped their first league match of the season last Friday, but Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland has his men ready for Friday’s contest against third place FC Columbus, a match with major postseason implications.

“Tactically we move forward with our system and the way we want to play. It’s all about our response as men, how we prepare and how we approach the match. We need to refine some decision making in the final third and continue to work with individual players in certain situations, but aside from that we want to keep the ball, defend with 11 players and do what we’ve done well all season,” said Rudland.

Three points this Friday will be the result that clarifies it all with the opportunity of locking up a postseason berth as well as securing the Great Lakes Conference Championship for the second year in a row. The Mighty Oak have been in control of their own destiny all season and will have one more opportunity to decide their fate. If they drop points on Friday with a draw or loss, AFC can surely still make the playoffs as their final match is against FC Indiana who have  a -46 goal differential on the season, but they’ll need some other results to go their way to ensure a first place finish.

As always, to Rudland it comes down to preparation and mentality. FC Columbus are coming off a big 2-1 win against Grand Rapids FC in Columbus last Sunday, playing 70+ minutes with only ten men after Ezra Armstrong was shown red card for violent conduct according to the league’s official match report. The infraction also means Armstrong, the starting left back, will be suspended for Friday’s match in Ann Arbor.

“We need to be good everyday this week in training and enter the match with a clear understanding of how to break them down and how to neutralize their strengths. We have to be good going forward, we have to patient and pick the right moments. Without the ball we need solid individual & small group defending,” said Rudland.

In addition to suspensions, this part of the season can always be tricky for managers as they’re dealing with many moving parts including player departures, injuries and potentially card accumulations. Rudland shed some light on what to expect in regards to Friday’s line up.

“I’m sure every team in the league is juggling player availability to some degree and we are no different. Our GK Mike Novotny is no longer with us. He’s left for a trial in Europe. He was fantastic for us and we think he has a bright future in the game. With that said, we feel really good about our other available options. Stanley Okumu is still nursing a groin issue so he may or may not be available. And we have to take into consideration our mid-week Milk Cup match. We had a number if men play heavy minutes so we need to look at ground covered and see where players are at physically going into Friday,” he added.

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The match is set for 7PM at Skyline High School and the first 100 fans will receive a FREE seat cushion courtesy of St. Joseph Mercy Health System while Probility Physical Therapy will be providing free injury assessments.

Tickets for Friday’s match are available here. To stream the match, click here.

 

The Opponent

FC Columbus is the new kid on the block having joined the league and Great Lakes Conference this season. The unknown of FC Columbus has definitely caught clubs by surprise and as they currently sit, have the second highest max possible points in the table.

At their home field, they did well to get numbers behind the ball to try and slow down Ann Arbor’s press as much as possible, but The Mighty Oak held on in the end, winning 2-1 while bringing back a crucial three points to Ann Arbor. FC Columbus were successful in spoiling Ann Arbor’s streak of keeping opponents scoreless which finally ended after 488 minutes. Being the first, and only one of three, Great Lakes Conference teams to score on AFC shows the talent this side has.

They’re also dangerous on the counter which is especially impressive seeing how many they’ll have behind the ball defensively at times. They’re able to break and counter extremely quickly and have one of the top strikers in the region in Dimani Camara.

“They have a good system in place. They’re athletic and have found ways to be dangerous going forward. Their midfield has a good balance and the front 3 have caused problems for opponents In every match,” added Coach Rudland.
 

Team sheet will be released Friday morning.

Golden Limousine Match Preview: AFC Ann Arbor at Kalamazoo FC (Milk Cup Semi-final)

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The Michigan Milk Cup defending Champions, AFC Ann Arbor, will travel to Kalamazoo on Tuesday for the 2018 semi-final match and their third match against KZFC this season. The winner will advance to the Milk Cup Finals to take on Lansing United of the Premier Development League on July 4th.

Tuesday’s match comes ahead of arguably the biggest match of the season this Friday when Ann Arbor hosts FC Columbus and a win for The Mighty Oak will secure the 2018 Great Lakes Conference Championship. But advancing to the finals of the Milk Cup is important to the club and Coach Rudland has his men ready.

“It's always hard to play a team three times in one season, especially having just played one another last weekend. Kalamazoo did a good job maximizing their potential this Saturday in Detroit and we have to respect the fact that they've been very good at home this season. They may make some small tweaks or changes for Tuesday but for the most part at this point of the seasons teams have found their identity and are who they are. So for us it's just about focusing on executing our match plan in an effort to advance,” said Rudland.

A midweek match ahead of a conference clinching league matchup means tapping into the depth of the roster once again.

“The team on Tuesday will feature changes from our group last Friday in Grand Rapids. We have some players who have been knocking on the door in training and deserve a run, so Tuesday is a great opportunity for them. We want to blend in a few of our veteran players as well to make sure the team has good balance in terms of positional play and experience,” added Rudland.

Tickets for Tuesday’s match can be purchased here. Follow along for updates on Twitter. No plans to stream the match have been confirmed at this time.

 

The Opponent

Kalamazoo FC is coming off a solid road performance earning a tough point against hosts Detroit City this past weekend. The 1-1 draw showed that Kalamazoo will play hard to earn every result regardless of the implication of the match.

Knowing their NPSL postseason hopes are dead, the opportunity to continue their cup run will be the extra motivation Kalamazoo will need to see if they can earn their first win over AFC Ann Arbor in club history.

AFC traveled to Kalamazoo for a league match back in May that ended in a 0-0 draw, but Ann Arbor weren’t short of chances in the scoreless match.

“When I look back at our last visit to Kalamazoo it wasn't a matter of creating chances because we did a good job of that. We carried play for spells of the match and were good at getting to goal. Their GK on the day was very good and we squandered some chances that we wished we could have had back. So taking our chances is really the focus,” commented Rudland.

Note: Former AFC Ann Arbor player Dumisani Munyangay (2016 team) is know playing his second season with KZFC and had one of the best scoring chances for his side in the last meeting between the clubs 10 days ago.

Team Sheet will be released Tuesday morning.

 

The Cup

In the event the after 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) the score remains tied, the teams will play two-additional 15 minute halves of extra time. If at the end of that extra time (120 minutes) the score remains tied, the winner will be decided from penalty kicks following FIFA rules (5 kick method).

Golden Limousine Match Preview: AFC Ann Arbor at Grand Rapids FC

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Association Football Club Ann Arbor is competing in only it’s third season in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). In the first two seasons, The Mighty Oak finished second in 2016 and first in 2017 in the Great Lakes Conference, arguably one of the most talent loaded regions in the country.

Now, three quarters through their third regular season, Coach Rudland has his side exactly in the position he had hoped they would be, in control of their own destiny. With just three regular season matches to go, Ann Arbor can secure the 2018 Great Lakes Conference Championship with two wins. A win on Friday night will also guarantee AFC a third consecutive postseason berth.

The two clubs have strong ties as both were founding members of the former Great Lakes Premier League in the 2015 season before jointly leaving to join the NPSL for the 2016 campaign. Grand Rapids finished first and Ann Arbor second in just the first season that these two teams competed in the Great Lakes Conference. Houseman Field had always been an obstacle for The Mighty Oak until last year’s 2-1 thanks to Yuri Farkas’s game winner which secured the 2017 conference title for Ann Arbor. The two sides find themselves in a familiar situation with Ann Arbor sitting atop the table with Grand Rapids close behind.

“I think we were in the same position late in the 2016 season, sitting as the top two teams in the league during our inaugural campaigns So from day one both teams have shown they can compete and position themselves for postseason play. Last year we won the league at Houseman when we visited, so we are looking forward to heading over there again,” said Coach Rudland.

“We're definitely not hanging our hats on our previous results or looking past the next match. We are well aware that everything is about the next match and focusing on the process of preparation. Our objective has been to control our own season and in order to remain in that position we need to be prepared for Friday's test,” he added.

One of the reasons Rudland and his side continue to find success is the mentality and work ethic of the players, and of course the depth of the roster.

“The collective mentality of our group has been very professional. Guys put in an honest day's work every time they train. Sometimes you get a mixed bag of mentalities with summer teams, but our men have bought into our approach and the way we go about our business. To see guys still fighting to get into the 11 and the 18 keeps our staff sharp and creates a competitive environment for the players,” said Rudland.
 

The Opponent

Grand Rapids has won four of their last five matches to bring them up to the second spot in the table while gaining some serious momentum heading into the final stretch of Great Lakes Conference play.

There are a few things to keep an eye out for come Friday night.

We’re all familiar with Grand Rapids not-so-secret, secret play aka the long throw in. Even when teams are prepared to defend against this, GRFC have found ways to capitalize especially when on their home pitch. Keep an eye out for this tactic and be sure to take note on The Mighty Oak’s approach to defending the long throw.

Their attackers are athletic and dangerous. Last Sunday’s 2-0 win over Detroit City FC came from goals by Scott Doney and Morris Kamara, both of whom have proven to be a handful for a number of NPSL defenders. Ann Arbor will need to be extra alert when GRFC looks to counter utilizing Doney’s height and strength in addition to Kamara’s speed.

Add in the final ingredient of beating the first place team and you’ll realize just how big this match is for Grand Rapids Football Club. Expect a battle come Friday night at Houseman.

Team Sheet will be released Friday afternoon.

Ann Arbor Cruise to 4-0 Win Over Kalamazoo FC

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After a crucial 1-0 win last Sunday against rival Detroit City FC, AFC Ann Arbor played one of its most complete games of the season against Kalamazoo FC to earn three more points, stay unbeaten in NPSL play, and remain atop the Great Lakes Conference.

From the kickoff The Mighty Oak were poised and confident, knowing how crucial this game was for the standings going forward. AFC Ann Arbor’s possession of the ball and movement off the ball created havoc for Kalamazoo FC.

The final ten minutes of the first half proved to be one of AFC’s best sequences all season. AZ Liadi opened the scoring at the 32nd minute, after stealing the ball from a Kalamazoo Midfielder. AZ proceeded to cut through the heart of Kalamazoo’s defense and rip a shot from the top of the eighteen.

Two minutes later The Mighty Oak were on the attack again after the defense warded off a press from Kalamazoo. This time, Man of the Match, Michael Shaikly rocked a shot upper-ninety after receiving a center ball from Chris Odhiambo to give AFC a 2-0 advantage.

In the 41st minute a service from Breno Stapcinskas from the back found its way to Serge Gamwanya who found himself looking at a 3 on 1 situation for the Mighty Oak. Gamwanya advanced the ball before passing it to a streaking Jordan Montoya who finished with a beautiful one-timer at the edge of the box to give The Mighty Oak a 3-0 lead.

The Mighty Oak unsatisfied with the margin continued to press in the waning minutes before halftime and once again they were rewarded for their efforts. The duo of Shaikly and Odhiambo struck again, as Shaikly tallied his second goal off a quick shot in the box, and Odhiambo was once again the man with an assist.

AFC Ann Arbor came out in the second half with a 4-0 lead and Kalamazoo had no answers. The Mighty Oak played the second half as a complete unit, possessing most of the play in the final third. Although AFC AA didn’t score in the second half

AFC’s defense warded off every chance Kalamazoo had, the midfield dictated possession, and the forwards took smart opportunities on net.

The win tonight marks the sixth clean sheet for The Mighty Oak in NPSL play this season and improves their overall record to 7-0-2 in the Great Lakes Conference.

Next, AFC Ann Arbor will travel to Housemann Field Friday, June 22 at 7:30pm, to take on Grand Rapids FC in a critical match up between the top two teams in the conference.

Golden Limousine Match Preview: AFC Ann Arbor vs Kalamazoo FC

Two-thirds into the regular season AFC Ann Arbor have managed to earn twenty out of twenty-four possible points, remain unbeaten while conceding only two goals and to break more than five club records to date. It’s been a great start but Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland hasn’t lost an ounce of focus on what his side set out to accomplish.

“The effort and mentality of the men so far has been solid. We don’t take anything for granted and we know that there’s plenty of work still to be done on the training page and in our remaining matches. We want to continually evolve & grow as a group, so we know that process is still in full swing,” said Rudland.

The Mighty Oak are coming off four matches in nine days playing back to back league matches each of the past two weekends. Those four matches equal one-third of the twelve match Great Lakes Conference regular season schedule and were against some of the toughest opponents, making it the most crucial stretch in the season for AFC. The challenge proved to be tough but Ann Arbor prevailed earning ten of twelve points beginning with a convincing 2-0 win over Grand Rapids FC before capping it off with a massive 1-0 road victory against Detroit City FC this past Sunday.

In each of the first thirds of the season, Ann Arbor left points on the table earning draws at Kalamazoo and vs Milwaukee. This Friday, The Mighty Oak will host KZFC at Skyline High School with a bit of a chip on their shoulder after being held scoreless in Kalamazoo. With a convincing result, AFC hopes to make it clear they’re the better of the two sides.

With no more double-match weekends the rest of the way, the men will be fighting for their spot in the lineup as the rotation now adjusts to match the scheduling.

“We told the group before first session this week that we’re in a normal rhythm of one match per week, so our objective is to pick the top 11 and the top 18. We don’t need to think about a player rotation or resting players. We can just focus on managing the workload throughout the week to make sure that our top players are fully fit and at maximum capacity for each match from here on out,” added Rudland.

There’s no doubt Ann Arbor has proven itself as one of the best teams in the NPSL, and much of that credit goes to the man at the helm, Eric Rudland. The club is now competing in its third season in the league and to date, Rudland’s record is a staggering 25-6-6 (includes postseason). His ability to recruit talent across the globe while mixing in the top local players has proven to be a formula hard to duplicate for other clubs.

“Eric is the driving force behind all of our success on the pitch,” said Chairman, Bilal Saeed.

“He’s proven his ability to recruit, develop and manage players and of course earn results. But the most valuable thing he brings to the club is the culture he’s helped build by bringing in guys who understand our commitment to the community and building a family atmosphere within and beyond the club,” added Saeed.

Rudland is known to talk about how “this is a players game” and the ability to earn results lies completely on them once the whistle is blown. He’s not the type to take credit for what his team has went out and earned, but it is without a doubt his blueprint and strategy that have made The Mighty Oak the team to beat in the Great Lakes Conference.

 

The Opponent

Drawing in their first meeting of the season meant different things to each club. For Kalamazoo, it was proof they could hold strong defensively and stay organized against the pressing Ann Arbor side. Although they were unable to get three points, it was the first point Kalamazoo had ever earned against AFC, so it meant more to them than it would to most teams. For Ann Arbor, it was points left on the table with a copious quantity of chances that came up short.

Kalamazoo desperately needs three points to have any real playoff chances and win at Ann Arbor would be the perfect fuel to get some momentum into the final stretch of their season. They’ll put up a huge fight and will be well coached and ready to make adjustments as needed but if Ann Arbor execute their usual game plan and can finish their chances they should be too much for Kalamazoo to handle.

Note: These two sides will meet again outside of league competition in the Michigan Milk Cup Semi-finals on June 26th at Mayor's Riverfront Park in Kalamazoo. 

 

Tickets

Adults- $8 online // $10 at the gate

Youth- (Ages 4-12) $5 online // $6 at the gate (Kids 1, 2 and 3 get in free; Kids under 13 dressed as their favorite soccer star or superhero will receive free admission to Friday's match.)

 

Main Street Hooligans

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The “COYYYYYYYYYYMOOO” chants are something you’ll definitely notice at every AFC Ann Arbor match this season (home and away). The Main Street Hooligans, the independent supporter group of The Mighty Oak, have been a staple in the stands at every match and continue to make their presence felt each match, more this year than ever before.

“At the end of the day our support is what helps draw energy and passion during matches. Our players really do feel a sense of connection that drives us to perform. To see the Main Street Hooligans coming out in numbers at home and making trips to support us on the road has been phenomenal. We know the sense of pride our supporters have and they’ve made a big impact in our season so far,” said Rudland.

Give them a follow on social media and sing along at matches and show your pride for AFC!

Main Street Hooligans Social Media: Twitter // Instagram // Facebook

 

TEAM SHEET FOR FRIDAY JUNE 15TH VS KALAMAZOO FC