The Mighty Oak’s campaign to defend the 2017 Great Lakes Conference Championship kicks off Saturday at Hart Park in Wisconsin. Ann Arbor will begin their National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) schedule exactly as they did in 2017, on the road against the Torrent.
Coach Rudland and team are excited for the 2018 campaign to kickoff.
“It's great to be back at it. Being on the field, training, preparing for matches and working to get better is the fun part of coaching and the best part for the players as well. Last year is last year. We now enter a new chapter with a lot of new faces in the team. Obviously everyone in the league will be gunning for us, but we have a team who is hungry to prove themselves and I sense a desire from every man to perform well day in and day out so we can achieve our club objectives,” said Rudland.
Last year’s opening match proved to be a challenge as the Torrent possesed early and created serious chances missing only the final piece. Ann Arbor battled to steal three points on the road with a 3-1 victory as Dario Suarez (now with Miami FC 2), Kyle Breitmeyer and Yuri Farkas each scored in the league opener.
Farkas and Breitmeyer are two of seven returning players that will dress this weekend with the remaining roster comprised of new faces looking to fill big shoes.
In the backline, Joseph Okumu (Kenyan U23 MNT) and Sergio Campbell (Jamaica MNT) bring a level of experience that will compliment Captain Matthieu “Frenchy” Braem’s style of play quite well. The anchors of the defense will add even more depth when new teammate Jack Cawley arrives from the UK next week.
University of Michigan standout and Ann Arbor native, Marc Ybarra, is a strong addition to The Mighty Oak’s midfield for 2018. Michigan Soccer Now says, “Ybarra is strong in the tackle and reads the game extremely well.”
"He was a mainstay in Michigan's lineup this past fall as a freshman, which speaks to his ability to step into a new environment, win a job and flourish with good players around him," added Rudland. "We expect him to do the same with us this summer."
Recently signed Azaad (AZ) Liadi, from Saginaw Valley State University, will also be joining the team after a stellar performance as a substitute trialist in Sunday’s friendly against Force FC. AZ not only assisted on the equalizer to Pat Rose but also set up the play that drew the game winning penalty with a beautiful ball to Kyle Breitmeyer before he was brought down in the box.
Although Ann Arbor went unbeaten in the preseason including a thrilling late comeback vs Force FC in the final friendly, Rudland says the men still have plenty of work to do.
“The pre-season matches have all been beneficial for different reasons. Most importantly though we've been able to introduce players into the team while also building up the fitness levels of a handful of players. Tactically we have made progress in both our attacking cohesion and our defense schemes, which are both still a work in progress, but we are in a better spot than we were 4 weeks ago,” said Rudland.
AFC Ann Arbor have only faced the Torrent twice, both times in 2017, but one thing was clear, points are hard earned against Milwaukee. Ann Arbor stole three points on the road and earned a tough 1-1 draw at home vs the Torrent in 2017.
“We have a decent handle on Milwaukee's system and what they have been working towards in pre-season. In regards to an in-depth report on their strengths weaknesses and tendencies a lot of that is still to be determined this early in the season. They have a few important returning players from last year, which we have good notes and thoughts on. So we will compile the information that we have and share it with our players in an effort to make sure that we all (players and staff) have a working document of what to expect,” added Rudland.
Note: Due to a red cards in the last match of 2017, Milwaukee Head Coach Andreas Davies along with Drew Ruggles, Andrew Wiedabach, Isaac Pereyra will all be ineligible to play.
WATCH: The Match will be streamed on Milwaukee Torrent's Facebook Page
Three Matches in Eight Days
NPSL play begins Saturday at Milwaukee followed by the first round US Open Cup match at Eastern Michigan University on Wednesday May 9th, before The Mighty Oak host their official home opener on Sunday May 13th vs Detroit City FC.
With three important matches in a short stretch, managing the lineup will be a challenge for Rudland but nothing he’s unprepared for.
He added, “We always forecast our available players and potential line-ups 3 matches in advance. With 3 critical matches in a week's time it's important look at the fine-line between player rest and rhythm, knowing that players need to be rotated to keep everyone at their maximum playing potential. This time of year that is easy, with new players coming into the team we can create a natural rotation of personnel to achieve the objectives of both competing and staying healthy.”
Jersey No - Player
1 - Joe Smith
2 - Jake Rosen
3 - JP Rylah
4 - Marlon Freitas
7 - Yuri Farkas
8 - Alec Lasinski
9 - Kyle Breitmeyer
11 - Azaad Liadi
12 - Brandon Katona
13 - Kyle Bandyk
14 - Matthieu Braem
15 - Breno Stapcinskas
16 - Joseph Okumu
17 - Sergio Campbell
20 - Marc Ybarra
66 - Hunter Morse