With the news that AFC Ann Arbor legend Knox Cameron would be retiring from football dominating the pre-match conversation, Oakland County FC and AFC Ann Arbor squared off at Hornet Stadium for the second annual Saline Showcase.
Prior to beginning play, Knox was presented with a framed jersey, before taking the microphone and addressing the fans, thanking them for all the support over the years, dating back to his days at the University of Michigan. Knox also singled out Coach Rudland and fellow AFC players Leigh Rumbold and Kevin Taylor, as well as his former college coach Steve Burns for their contributions to his career development. With the thanks and congratulations done, the match got under way.
It was The Mighty Oak who looked most dangerous in the first half. Dario Suarez was in one on one with the Oakland keeper within the first 2 minutes of the match, but his curling effort was off target.
The opening ten minutes were played at a rapid tempo. AFC possessed the ball well and were pressing high up the field. In the 14th minute, that early effort paid off when Jesse Muskwe slid an excellent pass through the Oakland backline to Audi of Ann Arbor Man of the Match Kyle Breitmeyer. Seizing his opportunity, KB rounded the keeper and finished comfortably into an empty net to make it 1-0 for AFC Ann Arbor.
Immediately after the restart OCFC looked to hit back, but Alex Serwatka’s low effort was saved easily by Adrian Motta. 7 minutes later it was Motta involved in the action again – this time punching clear a dangerous effort from an Oakland free kick, but getting injured in the process. Adrian had to leave the game, and TJ Tommaso came on in his place.
In the 30th minute, Knox came on for the final time and he jumped straight into the thick of it. Knox earned The Mighty Oak a corner in the 34th minute after his deflected shot went just wide of the Oakland goal. The pressure continued from AFC for the rest of the first half, but the scored remained 1-0 at the break.
The retirement send-off didn’t go completely according to plan, as in the 55th minute, Knox came up short after attempting to chase down a through ball. A pulled muscle meant the final match of Cameron’s playing career was cut short, and he left the field to the chants of “Knox! Knox! Knox!” from The Mighty Oak faithful.
The match got much more physical in the second half and both sides filtered in several substitutions. In the 67th minute Hector Morales had to leave the field as well after he too suffered a pulled muscle.
OCFC were pushing hard to get back in the game, but The Mighty Oak were able to hold off the pressure throughout the second half and walk away with a well-deserved 1-0 win in the Saline Showcase.
After the match, Knox spoke about how much football has meant to him over the years, saying:
“It truly means the world [to me]. I’ve met a lot of great people along the way. And for anyone who’s gotten to this point in their career and owe it to something fairly significant, then you always want to give back. For me now, I see the younger generation of players, youth players, guys who are aspiring pros who are in our locker room and I just want to give back in any capacity because I’ve truly been blessed and whatever bit of knowledge and experience that I have, I want to pass that on to the next generation of players.”
The Mighty Oak have a busy schedule coming up, starting with a trip to Milwaukee for the opening match of the 2017 National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) campaign against the Milwaukee Torrent. That match is followed up only four days later by a difficult US Open Cup match against the Michigan Bucks.
When asked about how he will manage the team, Coach Rudland responded, saying, “It’s going to be challenging, there’s no doubt about it. We’re still waiting for about 50% of our roster to come in. We’ll get more players in this week, after their college semesters end so we can start to build them into the group. Essentially, when you look at a lot of games [in quick succession] you have to look at player rotation and you have to find ways to keep guys sharp. That’s very much a part of the plan. You have to be able to rotate guys in without skipping a beat and get those guys up to speed with what we’re trying to do, both with and without the ball. Making them feel confident and comfortable in our system is the priority.”
The Mighty Oak travel to Milwaukee on Saturday, May 6th, for an 8 pm (7pm CST) start in the first NPSL match of the season. The next home match for AFC Ann Arbor is slated for Sunday May 14th at 3pm vs Kalamazoo FC for the NPSL home opener.