Association Football Club Ann Arbor is competing in only it’s third season in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). In the first two seasons, The Mighty Oak finished second in 2016 and first in 2017 in the Great Lakes Conference, arguably one of the most talent loaded regions in the country.
Now, three quarters through their third regular season, Coach Rudland has his side exactly in the position he had hoped they would be, in control of their own destiny. With just three regular season matches to go, Ann Arbor can secure the 2018 Great Lakes Conference Championship with two wins. A win on Friday night will also guarantee AFC a third consecutive postseason berth.
The two clubs have strong ties as both were founding members of the former Great Lakes Premier League in the 2015 season before jointly leaving to join the NPSL for the 2016 campaign. Grand Rapids finished first and Ann Arbor second in just the first season that these two teams competed in the Great Lakes Conference. Houseman Field had always been an obstacle for The Mighty Oak until last year’s 2-1 thanks to Yuri Farkas’s game winner which secured the 2017 conference title for Ann Arbor. The two sides find themselves in a familiar situation with Ann Arbor sitting atop the table with Grand Rapids close behind.
“I think we were in the same position late in the 2016 season, sitting as the top two teams in the league during our inaugural campaigns So from day one both teams have shown they can compete and position themselves for postseason play. Last year we won the league at Houseman when we visited, so we are looking forward to heading over there again,” said Coach Rudland.
“We're definitely not hanging our hats on our previous results or looking past the next match. We are well aware that everything is about the next match and focusing on the process of preparation. Our objective has been to control our own season and in order to remain in that position we need to be prepared for Friday's test,” he added.
One of the reasons Rudland and his side continue to find success is the mentality and work ethic of the players, and of course the depth of the roster.
“The collective mentality of our group has been very professional. Guys put in an honest day's work every time they train. Sometimes you get a mixed bag of mentalities with summer teams, but our men have bought into our approach and the way we go about our business. To see guys still fighting to get into the 11 and the 18 keeps our staff sharp and creates a competitive environment for the players,” said Rudland.
Grand Rapids has won four of their last five matches to bring them up to the second spot in the table while gaining some serious momentum heading into the final stretch of Great Lakes Conference play.
There are a few things to keep an eye out for come Friday night.
We’re all familiar with Grand Rapids not-so-secret, secret play aka the long throw in. Even when teams are prepared to defend against this, GRFC have found ways to capitalize especially when on their home pitch. Keep an eye out for this tactic and be sure to take note on The Mighty Oak’s approach to defending the long throw.
Their attackers are athletic and dangerous. Last Sunday’s 2-0 win over Detroit City FC came from goals by Scott Doney and Morris Kamara, both of whom have proven to be a handful for a number of NPSL defenders. Ann Arbor will need to be extra alert when GRFC looks to counter utilizing Doney’s height and strength in addition to Kamara’s speed.
Add in the final ingredient of beating the first place team and you’ll realize just how big this match is for Grand Rapids Football Club. Expect a battle come Friday night at Houseman.
Team Sheet will be released Friday afternoon.