The University of Charleston’s Men’s Soccer program is no stranger to winning. The program has flourished since Coach Chris Gassie took the helm 5 years ago. In his short time with Charleston, Gassie has already earned the title of all time winningest coach in program history. Coupled with two consecutive NCAA Division II Final Fours, the success has cemented his ability to attract top notch talent from around the world and brought a plethora of talent to the Golden Eagles.
Those winning ways came to Ann Arbor as four of Gassie’s top players spent their summers with The Mighty Oak. Fabian Veit, Bruno Oliveria, Jermaine Windster and Rafael Simoes each played a significant role in AFC Ann Arbor’s 2016 campaign, including the 2016 Ironman Award winner, Bruno Oliveria, who competed in every minute of every league match for AFC.
The Charleston Boys came to Ann Arbor looking to make the club’s first year in the NPSL a memorable one. They wasted no time in making an impact for the club.
Sporting Director, Eric Rudland added, “In the team building process it was really important for us to attract players with winning mentalities. The men from UC have won numerous matches in their youth and collegiate careers. Success breeds success so we knew they would enter our program with high expectations. Without a doubt their inclusion in our inaugural NPSL roster was a key factor in advancing to the playoffs.”
Spending the majority of the season atop the table of the Great Lakes West division of the Midwest Region, the men experienced how tough it is to be the biggest game on every opposing team’s schedule. Lessons that would prove invaluable after Charleston started the 2016 college season 6-1.
In addition to the hot start and national ranking in NCAA Division II, Veit has earned four clean sheets in the Golden Eagles 6-1 start to help him break the University of Charleston school record for career clean sheets.
We had some time to catch up with the guys for our latest edition of Mighty Oak Monday.
AFC: After last year's disappointing loss in the tournament, how do you feel you are better prepared to go all the way this year? Did your experience with AFC AA this summer help prepare you to compete at a higher level this season?
Bruno: In the last two years we had tough losses, in the national championship in 2014 and in the final four last year. We are very confident that this year can be the one when we will finally win it all, I believe that we are prepared just like the last two years, now all we just need to finish it. Playing in Ann Arbor during the summer was definitely of a great help for me, to keep playing in a high level helped me to come back in a great shape for the fall season. Also, the experience in general in Ann Arbor had a great value for me.
Rafa: We are more prepared this year because we have more experience now and having gone to the final four two years in a row makes the team very experienced in important games.
Jermaine: I think everyone needed to clear their minds and the summer was most definitely a way to do that. Playing with AFC gave me back the feeling of winning and how much I enjoyed it. For myself it was the people behind the scenes that helped me a lot. To always stay positive, to keep looking forward and to make the best out of a situation.
Fabi: Spending the summer with AFC AA was an amazing experience and set the basis in preparing myself for the 2016 College season. I came back to Charleston game-ready and very excited to win the NCAA championship after being NCAA Runners-up and Semi-finalist. It is my senior year and so I want to round up my college-career with a big success for UC.
AFC: What was your most memorable experience in Ann Arbor this summer? What was the biggest takeaway to help you improve as a footballer?
Bruno: I believe that the most memorable experience was to play at Detroit City in front of 7,000 people, which was the most that I've ever played for. The biggest takeaway was to play with different players and coaches, who always have a different way to think about soccer and that is something that makes a player improve.
Jermaine: The most memorable experience in Ann Arbor this summer was going to one of the owner’s parent’s lake house. I had a great time there with my teammates and it was a good recovery day as well. Coaching kids was one of the most memorable experiences for me too because after I had coached them I would see the same kids at the game. You would instantly create a sort of bond with them that would continue through the summer. There were coaches with lots of experience that wanted to share it with us. Even when practice was over Boyzzz and I would work on some things on our own. It soon caught the eyes of other teammates and started to become a weekly thing.
Rafa: My favorite moment at AFC Ann Arbor was our game away against Kalamazoo, where we won the game and made to the playoffs. And the most important thing that made me improve as a player was the experience from coach Eric Rudland and Coach Boyzzz with the daily practice. I was able to be comfortable and work hard and harder! They are really good and competent coaches that I am really glad to have been coached by them.
Fabi: My most memorable experience was the away-game against Detroit FC, because the entire AFC family was representing the club incredibly well (on the stands, as well as on the field!). The biggest takeaways as a footballer are losses and mistakes, because you can learn from them and improve right away. Personally, I learned that people from a very diversified background and with different experiences can be very powerful together but it bears a higher risk of some mistakes at the beginning. Nonetheless, I am convinced that the big diversity at AFC AA pushes the club forward and I am very excited to see how AFC will develop within the next years.
AFC: What did it mean to you to be able to spend part of your summer with 3 of your teammates? Have you seen the extra time you've spent together translate to positive outcomes on the pitch yet?
Bruno: I was happy to play with Rafael, Jermaine and Fabian during the summer, they are three of the guys that I like the most in the school so it was awesome to spend the summer with them in a city like Ann Arbor, we had a great time and that definitely helped us to become even better friends and that translates every game on the pitch.
Jermaine: I knew Fabi pretty well going into the summer, but I wasn't with Bruno as much as I was with Fabi. I’m really happy I got the chance to get to know this wonderful guy. Not only did I get to know Bruno more but AFC gave me the chance to get to know others as well. Other then Jake, Frenchie, Rafa, Willy and more, I got really close with Nate and JP. In a short time they had a positive influence on me. I'll probably text a couple of those guys right after this.
Rafa: Playing with 3 teammates really give us more chemistry on the field and make us play with harmony because we know where the other player is able to do it already.
AFC: Anything else you want to add about the time you spent in Ann Arbor this summer?
Jermaine: I felt really blessed that AFC Ann Arbor gave me the opportunity to be part of their family. I would recommend everyone to play for AFC If they get the chance to. Hopefully I'll be a part of the team next year to. God willing I'll bring home a national championship while striving for another with AFC Ann Arbor.
Rafa: I already miss the people from AFCAA and I really hope I can play my next summer season again for The Mighty Oak.