The Midwest Pro Soccer Combine is right around the corner and the names of players participating have began to be confirmed. One name AFC Ann Arbor fans are surely familiar with is Henry Ramirez. Henry just finished his senior season with UMKC and spent the summer with The Mighty Oak, though it was cut short due to injury. Now, on December 19th and 20th, Ramirez gets a chance to perform in front of professional scouts and teams. This also due to a little help from the Main St. Hooligans.
MSH have funded two scholarships for AFC Ann Arbor players to help them take that next step in realizing their professional sporting dreams. “The idea came up because we were watching Stanley Okumu play for Real Monarchs the same day that one of us read an article that mentioned Lars Eckenrode, who is playing for Toronto FC II,” the MSH told AFCAA. “It was kind of a, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to follow more AFC players on pro teams?’”
The combine itself produces plenty of top-tier talent. Last year alone saw three attendees drafted into MLS, seven players play in the USL, and a whole slew go overseas. Eric Rudland is known as the Head Coach and Sporting Director of The Mighty Oak, but he’s also the Director of the MPSC. When asked what the combine meant to him, Rudland responded, “The combine was developed to help players push on and achieve their goals. For me it's been a great platform to build bridges from our level to the pro game.” Rudland also noted that AFC have managed to acquire talent from the combine as well. Of last year’s participants, Jordan Montoya and Mike Novotny were selected from the combine to play key roles in AFC’s season.
A show of support like this for former players is more than just one gesture. For the Hooligans, they also take pride in providing a fantastic experience for the players. “Supporting the players though, it’s a little different, on top of showing up for games, the little things go a long way, like communicating on twitter, supporting them on their college or other teams so we make an effort to do that… We want them to look back on their time with the team fondly.” Eric Rudland understands just how impactful the MSH are for the club too, as he said, “The supporters group is the life blood of our club. They are a reflection of the community, of the club and are the driving force of our players during competition. The fact that they are willing to take another step in supporting our men is very generous.”
That is incredibly evident when speaking to Henry Ramirez himself. Ramirez gave a special message specifically for the fans of AFCAA, “I’d like to say thank you to the Main St. Hooligans because they are the best fans ever and on top of that they are the most loyal. My time in AFC Ann Arbor wasn’t long, [but] they have always showed support and welcomed me as one of their own and I am very thankful for them.”
Ramirez considered his time with AFC Ann Arbor “absolutely amazing” and considered the fans the best in the NPSL. He mentioned something you find common with AFC alumni, that you play not simply for an organization, but rather for a community. The fans will certainly look back at Ramirez’s time with the club with nothing but positive thoughts, and that is exceedingly evident given his reception of a scholarship for the combine.
Rudland himself had high praise for Ramirez as a player as well. “Henry is a really intelligent footballer with a huge engine. He's the type of player that has a good chance of making the jump to the next level.” Ramirez plays the number ten with most frequency and was a key in the more up-tempo brand of football that The Mighty Oak are known for. He is active both on and off the ball, whether in possession or not, and constantly works hard on the pitch. Despite the injury-shortened season, Rudland said, “He's 100% healthy now and looking to take the next step in his career.”
For Ramirez, the combine represents a continuation of the chance to pursue a lifelong dream of his. Henry told AFCAA, “Ever since I’ve been a little kid my dream has been to become a professional soccer player. With the combine I feel like this is amazing opportunity to showcase my skills and abilities in front of professional scouts!” The feeling is surely quite similar for plenty of fellow players that will join the midfielder in performing in front of, as of now, a confirmed seventeen professional clubs – a list that includes three MLS teams and four overseas clubs.
For players like Ramirez, the MPSC serves as a chance for players to play the game they love for a living. In lower-levels of the American football pyramid, this can be difficult. The Main St. Hooligans touched upon this, saying, “We get that these guys are here because they absolutely love the game, not because they’re chasing money or glory, so it makes it even more important to show them that we appreciate them being here and being a part of our AFCAA Family.” No matter how they may help, the support that the Main St. Hooligans provide to both the players and team itself remains vital for the club’s heart to continue beating.