AFC Ann Arbor Women's Team Set to Compete in United Women's Soccer in 2019

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Association Football Club Ann Arbor will be adding a women’s team to the club, set to compete next summer in United Women’s Soccer (UWS). The team will begin the search for a head coach immediately to take the helm for the inaugural campaign next summer.

“I’m excited to see us take the obvious next step to truly becoming a soccer club. This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a while now, and I’m glad we’ve made it happen,” said club founder Jamey Amrine, who planted the seeds for The Mighty Oak in 2014.

“Providing a platform for female footballers to be a part of the AFCAA family is an important step in the evolution of our club. The United Women's Soccer League is a growing league both nationally and here in Michigan, with a proven track record of facilitating a competitive diet of competition during the summer months. I'm excited to see the local rivalries grow for the women's team as they have done for the men over the years,” added Head Coach & Sporting Director, Eric Rudland.

The women’s season will run alongside the men’s with training expected to begin in late April with matches beginning in May. The men’s and women’s team will train at the same location, will both be wearing Capelli Sport, will share home venues and will be working together in the community, but the new coach will oversee recruiting and team management while operations will fall to the responsibility of a new general manager.

The nationwide league founded in 2015 boasts a Midwest Region that includes seven teams (five from the state of Michigan) with AFC Ann Arbor being the eighth. Although this will mark the inaugural season for Ann Arbor’s women’s side, fans won’t have to travel far for road matches and will be familiar with certain clubs including Grand Rapids FC and Lansing United (GRFC won National Championship in 2017).

“For me personally I'm a husband to a former player and have two young daughters, so this is huge for both my family as well as our local community. Our local team will give the future generation of female players positive role models and possibly spark a dream of playing for the AFCAA Women one day. For the current amateur and college players this provides an immediate opportunity in 2019 to suit up for the Mighty Oak women and we are excited to see the team take shape,” said Rudland.

About United Women's Soccer

UWS is a national women’s soccer league sanctioned by U.S. Soccer. UWS is a professionally operated league created for teams that meet high minimum standards. The season runs from May until the end of July, culminating in a National Championship match. The UWS player pool is comprised of college players, aspiring & former professionals and international stars.




2018 College Soccer Preview for AFCAA Family

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Twenty three players who joined or returned to the AFC Ann Arbor family in 2018, are back on campus ready to kick off their collegiate college soccer seasons. As one of the clubs in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) that use both collegiate players and aspiring professionals who are not in college (or already graduated), The Mighty Oak keep close tabs on our former and current players making a name for themselves in the collegiate athletic world.

“We are very grateful to the universities that entrust their players to us during the summer months. It's always our ambition to give college players a thrilling football/summer experience and return them to their respective universities ready to fire on all cylinders. The hope is that our season's success can bleed through our men and into their fall campaigns," said Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland.

A comprehensive schedule to all games featuring AFCAA Family players can be found here (apologies in advance for lack of fancy formatting).

Let’s take a closer look at who to watch and where.

 

Madonna University- Yuri Farkas, Marlon Frietas, Caio Mazzo and Leonardo Abonizio

We’ve always worked closely with Madonna University Men’s Soccer program but this year we had an even bigger Crusaders presence than previous season. Yuri Farkas is now one of five players to have spent three season with The Mighty Oak and in 2018, he set the single game goal scoring record with four goals in one match. Frietas scored his first NPSL goal in the league opener vs Milwaukee and continued to improve during his second summer in Ann Arbor. Abonizio, although limited to only a few appearances, showed he’s capable of playing at a higher level and should contribute to Madonna’s build up play nicely in the middle. Also in the middle, Caio became a fixture for Ann Arbor and helped set the tone for their defensive, physical style of play. Madonna is coming off their best season ever but hope to take it one step further at Nationals this year. All four players will be impactful in the 2018 campaign for Madonna with Farkas’ goal-scoring abilities leading the way.

 

Stony Brook University - Stephen Turnbull, Martieon "Moco" Watson, Serge Gamwanya

Between Martien “Moco” Watson, Stephen Turnbull and Serge Gamwanya, the Stony Brook players made quite a name for themselves. It all began with Moco’s stoppage time game winner vs Detroit City FC (which he scored only a few days after joining the club) back in May, but three became fixtures in the lineup contributing in massive ways to help the club earn their second straight Great Lakes Conference title. Each of them scored goals this past season and combined for five total in the 2018 summer campaign. Gamwanya and Watson enter their senior season with Turnbull only being a junior. These three could help lead the Seawolves to an America East title and an NCAA tournament berth if they continue to play as they did this summer.

 

Saginaw Valley State University- Jake Rosen, Azaad Liadi, Michael Shaikly

After third year player Jake Rosen transferred to SVSU after the 2017 season, Ann Arbor was excited to have its first Cardinal in the lineup. The surprise, however, came when Michael Shaikly and Azaad Liadi also joined Rosen in Ann Arbor for the summer, building a massive bridge between the club and Saginaw. These three players not only made a huge impact on and off the pitch, they also combined for some of the most memorable moments of the season (has to be a tie between them and the Stony Brook crew). Shaikly diced defenders as Liadi streaked by opponents on the wing, with Rosen delivering one of the sweetest balls of the season, notching the game winning assist in the 1-0 victory vs Detroit City in Ann Arbor. The coaches preseason poll for the GLIAC ranked SVSU in second only behind Davenport but don’t be shocked if you see the Cardinals lifting the trophy come
November.
 

University of Michigan- Marc Ybarra

He became the midfield maestro from his first training of the season and didn’t slow down or hold back at all from that point forward. Ybarra showed that he’s not only one of the best young up and coming midfielders in the game- he simply showed he’s one of the best regardless of age or anything else. He’ll contribute at a high rate for the Wolverines this fall as they look to defend their Big Ten title.

 

Michigan State University- Hunter Morse

The Spartans starting goalkeeper Jimmy Hague enters the season as the #12 overall ranked collegiate soccer prospect according to Top Drawer Soccer. That makes it tough for his backup, Hunter Morse, to show what he can do between the posts. Morse is young, still gaining valuable match minutes, but you wouldn’t know it from how he handled himself this summer with AFCAA. Heading into the first league match of the season, Morse was slated as the third keeper for The Mighty Oak, but due to some unexpected injuries, his number was called to start the first NPSL match of the season, on the road against Milwaukee. Morse not only held his composure, but showed why MSU might be the hotbed for keepers in the entire midwest. He earned a clean sheet that first match (prior to Novotny arriving) and came up with some massive saves, without even knowing all of his teammates names in that first match. He might not see a ton of action with it being Hague’s senior season, but be sure if his number is called again, he will be ready and able to show that he will lead the next generation of players at MSU beyond 2018.

 

Marshall University- JP Rylah

In 2016, JP Rylah joined The Mighty Oak for Eric Rudland’s inaugural season with the club. Rylah’s speed with the ball on the wing was nothing short of spectacular, drawing the attention of many different collegiate coaches around the country. He landed at American International College where he had a standout season before returning to Ann Arbor for his second stint in 2018. His season was cut short due to a minor injury, but Rylah looked even better than he did in 2016, and will look to show off his abilities with his new collegiate side, Marshall. Look for Rylah to make a big splash in Conference USA.

Note: Former 2-year player and AFCAA Family member Rafael Simoes, is the current GA at Marshall University.

 

UMKC- Henry Ramirez

Henry Ramirez joined AFC Ann Arbor after playing for FC Indiana in 2017. He spent half the season with The Mighty Oak and was an active and impactful piece of the midfield, who absolutely bought into and lead the charge for Rudland’s defensive schematics. The Summit League title is within reach and with Ramirez back at full strength, the Kangaroos can clinch the conference title by downing powerhouse Denver and holding off Western Illinois.

 

Adrian College- Brandon Katona

Brandon Katona joined AFC Ann Arbor from the open tryout held back in February. Rudland spotted something beyond Katona’s work ethic that helped him earn a spot on the roster. Katona featured in a handful of league matches but was a fixture in the Michigan Milk Cup scoring one of the most memorable goals of the season on the road vs Kalamazoo FC to advance to the Milk Cup Finals. Katona sharpened his skills and returns to campus with confidence like never before which will make him a dangerous threat for the Bulldogs this season.

 

Spring Arbor University- Baba Valdmanis, Hunter Gibbons

Baba Valdmanis and Hunter Gibbons didn’t see a ton of action this season, but both players proved they can hang with the some of the best. Valdmanis should be one of the most electric attackers for SAU this season and could tally some goals for his side as they look to continue their success in the NAIA’s Crossroads League.

 

Bowling Green University- Zach Beuscher

Zach Beuscher, one of the younger players on Ann Arbor’s roster this summer, returns to Ohio for his sophomore season, with a ton more experience under his belt. Having featured in a bunch of league games as a midfield substitution, Beuscher was consistent in his efforts and quality, making it easy for Rudland to rely upon him when he needed some fresh legs in the middle. As he continues to gain experience, Beuscher can be one of the better midfielders in the ever-so-competitive MAC.

 

Butler University- Justin Savona

Justin Savona, a native of Canton, plays for one of the top sides in the Bulldogs. Although his collegiate career is just beginning, Savona continues to improve as an outside back and should be able to break into the lineup this fall, contributing in one of the better backlines in the country.

 

University of Detroit-Mercy- Kyle Bandyk

Sophomore Kyle Bandyk enters his sophomore season for the Titans as they look to lift the Horizon League Tournament trophy for the first time in over 20 years. UIC has dominated the conference for the past three seasons, but Bandyks’ experience this summer will only help UDM’s run in 2018. Bandyk appeared in a handful of league matches (early on in the season especially) and proved to be an effective wingback in the 3-5-2 schematic The Mighty Oak deployed early in the campaign.
 

Additional AFCAA Family to follow:

Western Michigan University- Jake Rufe, Ben Thornton 

Ben Thornton and Jake Rufe, both members of AFC Ann Arbor in 2017, along with Tommy Clark (2016), look to defend the first MAC Championship in school history. Earning the respect of coaches and opponents around the country, the Broncos have been ranked as high as #8 heading into the season but know these things mean very little in the long run. As the three seniors begin their final campaign, expect them to leave everything on the field this season, in arguably one of the toughest conferences in the country.

American International College- Jake Durham 

Jake Durham (2017) had quite the summer with PDL side Reading United after a great season with AIC last fall. The British midfielder may be without former teammate JP Rylah this season (transferred to Marshall University), but if he continues to play at the level he’s been at for the past 18 months, Durham may fielding offers of his own from D-1 schools come the end of the season.

Drexel University- Kwesi Allen

Kwesi Allen, one of the most exciting strikers ever to wear the AFC Ann Arbor crest, joins Drexel University this fall after a successful couple of seasons with Iowa Western. The T&T has great pace, length and can move the ball forward quickly, creating plenty of chances for his teammates.


 

Okumu Signs with Real Monarchs of the USL

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Joseph Stanley Okumu, 2018 TopDrawerSoccer.com Player of the Year, has signed with the Real Monarchs of the United Soccer League (USL). The Monarchs are the affiliate club of MLS side, Real Salt Lake, and currently sit in first place of their respective conference and have the most wins in the entire league through twenty-three matches.

The Kenyan center back joined Association Football Club Ann Arbor in April, and made his presence felt right away. The Mighty Oak began the season by holding opponents scoreless for more five plus consecutive matches (488 minutes total). Okumu and team were best in the country in goals allowed per game.

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“It's thrilling to see Stanley take the next step in his career. We have been on edge waiting to see where he would land and we couldn't be happier to see him sign with Real Salt Lake's USL affiliate, Real Monarchs. RSL's reputation at pushing players form their USL affiliate to the first team speaks for itself. Their technical staff and facilities are first class and will provide Stanley a great framework to develop at the next level,” said Head Coach & Sporting Director, Eric Rudland.

The next chapter in Okumu’s story takes him to Utah, competing with one of the top clubs in the second division professional league, with a direct line to the MLS with their affiliate club, Real Salt Lake. The RSL organization have some Michigan ties that may help Okumu in his transition with former University of Michigan Men’s Soccer Assistant Coach Craig Waibel now serving as the RSL GM, along with former program assistant Tim Weaver now serving as RSL Team Admin.

For more information on Okumu’s signing, click here.

Novotny Inks First Professional Deal

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Mike Novotny has officially become a professional soccer player; joining third division Swedish side, Stode IF, for the remainder of the 2018 campaign. Stode currently sits in second place and the addition of Novotny is one of many strategic moves by the club, to ensure the best possibility of promotion come October (first place gets automatic promotion; second place goes into a playoff).

After an unbelievably successful career at Eastern Illinois University, Novotny was connected with Eric Rudland, through the Midwest Pro Soccer Combine. When AFC Ann Arbor faced some early season goalkeeper injuries, Rudland reached out to Novotny who jumped at the opportunity to join The Mighty Oak for the 2018 campaign.

Novotny made his presence felt immediately, earning four clean sheets in his first four NPSL starts. He helped lead the defensive efforts, alongside Joseph Stanley Okumu, to earn the lowest goals allowed per game average in the entire country. For his efforts, Novotny was named AFC’s Most Valuable Defensive Player for 2018.  

 

We had a chance to catch up with Mike recently to talk about his first professional contract.

AFCAA: How does it feel to sign your first professional contract?

MN: It’s a great feeling to sign here in Sweden and a new challenge for sure. This definitely is a stepping stone on where I want to end up, and that is eventually in the USL/MLS scene in America. I will be with Stode for the rest of the season which will end in October.

 

AFCAA: What have you learned about your new club Stode IF so far and the 3rd division of Swedish football?

MN: It is a solid level for me to continue to grow as a soccer player. There is a lot of history in this club here, this being the 100th year they have been in Swedish soccer. Being in 3rd place at the moment, it will be huge to make a run for promotion. In which the first place team will automatically get promoted, while the second place team will be in a playoff game with a division 2 and the winner will end up in division 2 next season.

 

AFCAA: Walk us through the few weeks leading up to this with Bridges FC and how you were able to find this opportunity.

MN: Bridges was a good opportunity being able to play some solid teams and we got some solid results along the way. I actually found the opportunity to play with Bridges FC with the help of a couple Americans on the team. They talked to the coach to give me a chance to play here.

 

AFCAA: When does your season run from? Is there a way fans of AFCAA can follow along with your career?

MN: The Swedish season runs from April to October, so I will have a couple months of soccer here in Stode before I head back to the States. They do have a website which you can follow  but I will make constant posts on my social media about the whole journey.

 

AFCAA: What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

MN: The main thing is to help Stode get promoted into division 2. Personally, I just want to continue growing as a soccer player. I am still young and very eager to learn and adapt new things to help my game.

 

AFCAA: What's the typical training day like for you so far?

MN: A typical training day is usually get some touches in or a workout in each morning, while we have team training at night. Since it has been the hottest it has ever been in Sweden in over 60 years, the night is the coolest part of the day. Then, games will be every Saturday.

 

AFCAA: I've actually noticed a few Americans on different clubs in this division of Swedish football. Have you been able to connect with some to help guide you through this?

MN: We actually have 5 Americans here on this team. I live with them and a guy from England; so it has been a very easy adjustment because I have known or played with these guys before.  They have really made me feel welcome around town and with the team as well.

 

AFCAA: You were recently named to the Football Manager All-NPSL team and just a few weeks/days later you're a pro player. What does that say about the level of play in the NPSL and how did your summer with AFC prepare you for this opportunity?

MN: There has been nothing but good things that have come out of my experience at AFC Ann Arbor. From the solid level of play, to the amazing coaches, great owners, fantastic fan base, to the way we were treated by everyone, Ann Arbor will have a special place in my heart as one of my favorite places to play at. It felt like we were treated as a professional side both on and off the field.

The players we had were very talented. The strong GK core of Nick, Hunter, Joey, and Tito really helped me push myself each day at training. Nothing but massive respect for those guys as they all have very bright futures ahead of them.

Okumu Named 2018 TopDrawerSoccer.com Player of the Year

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The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and TopDrawerSoccer.com (TDS) announced Thursday that Joseph Stanley Okumu, center back for Association Football Club Ann Arbor, has been selected as the 2018 Player of the Year, an award selected by the staff at TDS.

“Over the course of AFC Ann Arbor's young history there have been a handful of very talented players who have suited up for the club. So for Stanley to be the first player in our club history to be named the Top Drawer Soccer NPSL National Player of the Year is a great honor, and he is very deserving of this award,” said Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland.

The Kenyan center back joined The Mighty Oak in April, after spending time with the Free State Stars (South Africa), as well as the Kenyan U23 Men’s National Team.

His impact was felt in the first training session bringing a level of intensity and professionalism, second to none. It didn’t take more than a few minutes into that session for his teammates to recognize his talents, but Okumu’s dedication to developing his skills, his hard working mentality and his winning mindset helped contribute to the high level training environment developed by Rudland and his staff.

“Stanley lived up to all of the expectations we had for him; he was a great man in the change room, trained every session at full tilt and was an impact player for us in every match. Realistically we couldn't have asked for anything more from him,” added Rudland.

From the first match, fans were blown away with Okumu’s ability to defend as well as his passing ability. One of his first passes in a match was at Milwaukee in the NPSL season opener where he struck a ball from box to box finding the feet of winger, JP Rylah. That match also marked the beginning of 5 plus matches where The Mighty Oak held opponents scoreless (488 consecutive minutes to be exact).  

Okumu played a massive role in the defensive efforts that resulted in the fewest goals allowed per game average in the country, nine clean sheets, a number of club records and of course the second consecutive Great Lakes Championship.

“We always talk about defending as a team concept, with each of our 11 players playing a critical role in regaining possession. To start the 2018 campaign we went 488 minutes without conceding a goal. Stanley was obviously key for us in that stretch in setting the tone for our defense mindset,” said Rudland.

Okumu has surely left his mark on this community, the fan base, and his teammates while making history as the club’s first National Player of the Year recipient.

Here’s what some of his teammates had to say about him:

When Stanley steps on the pitch, you instantaneously feel it. He brings not only talent and athleticism to a back line, but also passion and that competitive spirit. He is the kind of player that makes everyone around him a better overall player.
— Matt Braem, Defender
It’s always special to play with high level players, so playing with Stan was a great experience. I learned from him everyday from how he carried himself to his approach on the pitch. He’s one of those guys who leads without having to say very much, an all around great guy and class act.
— Azaad Liadi, Forward
He’s one of the best defenders I’ve played with. His soccer IQ is unteachable along with his height and his ability to thread the needle to find forwards into space. He’s one special defender and it is no coincidence he’s receiving this well-deserved recognition.
— Mike Novotny, Goalkeeper
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Open Letter from the Chairman

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To my AFC Ann Arbor Family,

Without a doubt, my heart is still broken from Saturday’s loss in PKs to Duluth FC in the Midwest Region Final. As tough as this loss is, the things we’ve accomplished this season and the memories we’ve created together between the players, coaches, supporters and staff, help remind me how lucky I am to be the Chairman of AFC Ann Arbor.

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One of those moments came in Saturday’s loss, in stoppage time, when AZ scored to send the match to OT. I’ve had multiple staff members, players and plenty of fans tell me they teared up and some even cried at that moment. I was on the sideline at the time preparing the post match ceremonies, and I don’t know what came over me I just looked at AZ and started screaming things trying to channel my inner Eric Rudland, all while the entire stadium chanted COYMO. For me, that will always be one of the greatest moments in club history.

Winning the Great Lakes Conference title for the second consecutive season was huge because out of the current teams in the conference, we are the only one to win back to back titles as well as make back to back appearances in the region finals. Add to that the lowest goals per game average in the entire country plus close to a dozen team records and I think we’ve confirmed that we’re one of the most competitive teams at our level.

Off the pitch, we did some special things this season including launching our non-profit sister, The Mighty Oak Youth Project, aimed at increasing access to soccer through financial support, clinics and equipment donations. TMOYP is in its infancy but has already provided five youth scholarships for travel soccer thanks to support from amazing partners like Saint Joseph Mercy Health System.

TMOYP also teamed up with the United Dairy Industry of Michigan and 2x Gold Medalist, Lindsay Tarpley, to launch Community Kicks and held four clinics in Portage, Muskegon, Ypsilanti and Detroit that reached children in underserved communities who the majority of had never played soccer before.

Different clubs measure success differently, but for us it’s a mixture of on-field performance, community impact, creating opportunity for our players as well as making sure we’re continuing to be financially sustainable. It’s great to say that in our fourth year, we have had our most successful year yet but we are only looking forward and hope to continue to do more on and off the pitch.

Our success on the pitch is driven by Eric Rudland and his amazing coaching staff of Boyzzz Khumalo, Ron Rudland, Jeff Shuk and Rod Asllani. The assistant coaches, and the Director of Soccer Operations, Tito Schwabe, are probably the biggest unsung heroes of our team. They are the ones at training day after day, helping develop our culture and building our environment. All under the guidance and leadership of our trusted leader, Eric Rudland. In Rudland We Trust is the truth. We are beyond lucky to have him in Ann Arbor and I can’t even begin to explain how much I’ve learned from him. I appreciate everything you guys do for this club and look forward to continuing our work together.

Thank you all for your support throughout the 2018 campaign. Special thanks to our amazing and dedicated sponsors as well as our Premium, General and Youth Members who make what we do for the community possible. A very special thank you to the Main Street Hooligans who were louder than any previous season. I’ve been able to get to know so many of our supporters over the past few seasons and it’s an honor to call so many of you friends now.

And of course, thank you to the amazing staff, mostly for putting up with me, but obviously for your hard work and dedication to the club. Bruno, you are a wizard my friend and I’m lucky to have had you by my side for the past eight years as a friend and colleague.

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Lastly, to the guys. Coach said it best when he told us the hardest part isn’t losing, it’s knowing that our time together has come to an end. I know, you guys know, how much I care about you and that you’ll always be a part of the AFC Ann Arbor Family. But don’t forget how proud I am of each and every one of you. You represented this club and community with such pride and heart, and for that I am forever grateful.

 

COYMO,

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Bilal Saeed, Chairman

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