The Mighty Oak of AFC Ann Arbor went to Grand Rapids to take on AFC Cleveland in the NPSL Regional Playoffs on Friday night. After 120 minutes of extreme heat, and penalty kicks, AFC bowed out of the playoffs, losing 4-2 in the shootout.
The first half started brightly for The Mighty Oak. In the 6th minute, Leigh Rumbold climbed high to head back across the face of goal. The header was just inches away from Yuri Farkas’ head at the back post. Another clear-cut chance came in the 12th minute. Bruno Oliveria’s effort went over the crossbar after an excellent overlapping run.
In the 17th minute, Ade Adeniyi was shown a yellow card, despite the player protesting his innocence to the referee. After the booking, the momentum shifted slightly, and AFC Cleveland began to work their way into the match.
The heat was a definite factor for both sides in this match. The referee had to call for a water break several times throughout the match, this first of which came in the 34th minute.
The half-time whistle couldn’t have come sooner for the players, and the sides went into the break level.
In what was a bizarre start to the second half, Hector Morales was issued a yellow-card for entering the field late and not checking into the game. Despite this incident, The Mighty Oak started the second half in positive fashion. In the 50th minute, Dario Suarez worked an angle and unleashed a dipping effort that flashed just inches wide of the far post.
The middle of the second half saw AFC Cleveland start to create more chances, earning several corners. This momentum was cut short when in the 76th minute; AFC Cleveland’s Coletun Long was issued a red card for his challenge on Ade Adeniyi. Ade was in on goal, but was ripped to the ground, denying him a clear goal scoring chance. Bruno stepped up to take the ensuing free kick. His effort was just off target.
In the 83rd minute, it was Ade Adeniyi again playing an important role. He found himself one on one with the keeper, and his lobbed effort nestled in the back of the net. Despite the fine finish, the referee determined Ade was offside, and the goal did not stand.
In extra time, AFC Ann Arbor had an excellent chance to steal the match. Kevin Taylor’s headed effort was on it’s way in and was cleared off the line at the last possible moment to keep the score level. That was the last action of regular time. The referee blew his whistle, indicating the sides would play two fifteen-minute halves of extra-time to determine a winner.
The first half of extra-time began in similar fashion. The Mighty Oak were dictating possession and pressing high up the field to make things difficult for AFC Cleveland. In the 91st minute, Bruno Oliveria had another excellent opportunity, smashing a shot at the Cleveland keeper, who parried his shot clear.
In the 98th minute, Peter Tappenden made an exceptional save from a dipping free kick that was surely heading in.
The real drama began in the 103rd minute, when Dario Suarez buried a chance at the back post. As Dario and The Mighty Oak celebrated, the referee discussed the play with his assistants and, for the second time in the match, ruled that the goal did not count. It remained scoreless as the sides finished the first half of extra time.
On the other side of the break, Dario put the ball in the back of the net again, but again the referee ruled that Dario was in an offside position.
That was the last real action of extra time. With the scored locked at 0-0 after 120 minutes, it was a penalty kick shootout that would determine the winner.
AFC Cleveland won the coin toss and opted to take the first kick. They buried their chance. Bruno Oliveria stepped up for The Mighty Oak and converted to level the score. Cleveland again converted, and Matt Braem was up next for The Mighty Oak. He coolly slotted home, leveling the shootout once more.
Despite an exceptional save from Peter Tappenden on Cleveland’s next effort, Dario Suarez was unable to convert his penalty.
Cleveland converted again, and Kevin Taylor stepped up to take a crucial penalty. His effort was low and hard, but the Cleveland keeper saved well.
With one kick left, Cleveland only needed to score to advance to the regional finals. Cleveland’s Antonio Manfut stepped up and finished the match, and AFC Ann Arbor’s season came to a close.
It was a fantastic year for The Mighty Oak. The Clubs first season in the NPSL saw us make the NPSL playoffs. This was a huge achievement for the team, and a great building block moving forward.
AFC Ann Arbor Head Coach Eric Rudland was pleased with his first season in charge of the club and feels there are definitely positives to take forward. “It’s been neat just to see us build a solid team on the soccer side of things and then obviously now its about ‘Hey what can we do to build from what we’ve created this year?’” he said.
Rudland added, “We want to be a resource for each and every guy who played for us this year moving forward. Whether it’s helping their college program, post-college career, whatever it might be. That’s the cool thing now is to see us maintain relationships with the guys who were with us.”