Four matches into the 2018 National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) season and The Mighty Oak find themselves in a similar position, atop the Great Lakes Conference standings having earned 10 points (3-1-0) without conceding a single goal so far. But The Mighty Oak will face another unbeaten team in Grand Rapids FC (2-1-0), a club that Ann Arbor has deep roots with.
“We're expecting a great game. They are on a good roll in league play and we have to respect their results and prepare to play against a top team,” said Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland.
The two sides both played their inaugural season in the Great Lakes Premier League back in 2015 before the two left for the NPSL prior to the 2016 season. Over the three years they’ve met 6 times with AFCAA owning the overall record at 4-2-0 after sweeping the season series last summer to break the tie.
Regardless of results from previous years, The Mighty Oak will have to shut down Grand Rapids and continue to defend as a unit if they want another clean sheet.
“Defending is a team effort. Obviously we've had some great individual efforts to keep clean sheets, but really the defending for us starts with our front 3. When they buy into a pressing mentality that spreads through the team, allows us to close spaces quickly and play with tight lines. On the training pitch we are always stressing a front to back & back to front defensive mentality that encompasses all 11 players both mentally and tactically,” said Rudland.
AFC Ann Arbor will be without captain Matt “Frenchy” Braem and the Great Lakes Conference leading goal scorer Yuri Farkas these next two weekends as both were selected (along with Hector Morales) to compete in the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) annual World Football Cup being held in London, England this year.
The Mighty Oak have shown their depth early on and Rudland is known to build his teams around systems rather than an individual player, so Coach and his team are well prepared for the matches that lie ahead this weekend.
Grand Rapids began the season the same way Ann Arbor did, on the road at Milwaukee, but only left with one point as the match ended 0-0, contrary to AFC’s 4-0 road three pointer. Since then, GRFC have won 4-0 at Indiana and most recently, 2-1 over Milwaukee (this time in Grand Rapids).
Grand Rapids will look to take control early with strength in the attack being lead by familiar names like Scott Doney or even Anthony Bowie. But keep an eye out for newcomers such as Kenroy Howell formerly with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds or even Matt Whelan, one of three players originally from Ireland on GRFC.
Match Day Experience
After the release of the 2018 Great Lakes Conference schedule, The Mighty Oak were informed by their then venue, Pioneer High School, that they’d be unable to host their matches this summer as plans to get the turf resurfaced were finally moving forward.
As AFC Ann Arbor worked diligently to find a new home for the 2018 campaign, Skyline High School emerged as the best option, outside of one conflict, June 1st. They will be hosting the local high school soccer districts Friday evening, so Ann Arbor were forced to find another location.
Having already made arrangements for their US Open Cup match at EMU, the club knew it was the next best option.
“EMU has one of the best natural grass surfaces in southeast Michigan and we are grateful for the opportunity to use their facility as our home pitch again,” added Coach Rudland.
The bleacher seating is VERY limited and reserved for premium members and elders. There will be some additional benches set up and some standing room areas but fans are encouraged to bring their own chair to the match.
The match will be kickoff at 6PM at Eastern Michigan University’s Scicluna Field. For parking, directions or more information please refer to the map below. Click here to purchase tickets.
Will be released Thursday evening