The man affectionately known as ‘Frenchy’, otherwise known as Matthieu Braem, by those around AFC Ann Arbor is something resembling a club legend with the side. One of just a select handful of players to have spent all three years thus far with the side in the NPSL, his skill as a defender made him a mainstay in the starting eleven. Those attributes are set to carry themselves over to a new challenge as Braem has signed his first official professional contract with the Harrisburg Heat in the MASL (Major Arena Soccer League).
For those who may be unfamiliar with the MASL as a whole, Braem broke it down. “It's like a mix between hockey and soccer, with a really fast paced type of game and lots of chances [for] goals.” While the game retains plenty of soccer elements, the indoor play style means many rules are similar to hockey.
There are six players on the field, five outfielders and a goalkeeper, with the option of a sixth attack (parallel to “pulling the goalie” in hockey) that can use their hands in their own penalty box. With walls surrounding the field, players may pass or bounce the ball off the walls to themselves or teammates as well. There are also cards corresponding to what would be considered a power play in hockey, with a “blue card” sending a player to the penalty box for two minutes. The yellow card in the MASL also excludes the player who committed the foul for five minutes.
With all the rules variations, adjusting to the game will be key for Braem. He is learning under Pat Healey in Harrisburg, though. Healey played collegiate soccer at Towson and was capped nationally on the United States’ national futsal team. Braem described his new head boss to be “known as one of the best defenders to play in the MASL.” As a defender himself, there are certainly very few people to learn about a new craft than someone who is well-versed in the sport themselves, and Healey certainly fits that bill.
There have been plenty of differences from the more expansive outdoor game to the tighter arena game for Braem. He said, “The fitness level is much higher, and more demanding. Your first touch has to be perfect or you get eaten alive. It is known as a veteran league with a lot of highly experienced players, so obviously, as a rookie, they try to put you under pressure and wait for your mistakes.”
While there may be a learning curve, Eric Rudland cited multiple attributes that will help him out. “Frenchy has quick feet and uses his body well. He's also strong in 1v1 duels and can play out of pressure.” These sorts of things playing such an important role in both the indoor and outdoor game prove that while the style of play may be quite different, there are plenty of things to link the two forms of soccer together.
For Braem, this means more than just a contract. “Since I was a kid, I have been dreaming about becoming a professional soccer player, and gave up so much and made so many sacrifices for it, that it makes [this] even more enjoyable. I was so close to giving up not a while ago, and I am really thankful I didn't.” This opportunity has been one coming after much hard work put in by Braem and determination shown to keep going in the world of soccer.
Braem also showed plenty of gratitude towards the AFCAA Family. “I could not be more thankful to the Main Street Hooligans. They’re absolutely amazing. I love to stay in touch with them over social media as well.” Ever the popular man, he continues to hold a wonderful relationship with those around the club. With the indoor season ending in April, Braem also did not want to rule anything out in the future, saying, “Maybe I will be able to compete again in the NPSL this upcoming season. We will see how everything goes and where I end up. But I wouldn't be opposed to coming back and play for the club again.” The future is always changing and never likely to be predicted, but on his current course, things are only looking bright for Ann Arbor’s favorite Frenchman.