The Mighty Oak may have dropped their first league match of the season last Friday, but Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland has his men ready for Friday’s contest against third place FC Columbus, a match with major postseason implications.
“Tactically we move forward with our system and the way we want to play. It’s all about our response as men, how we prepare and how we approach the match. We need to refine some decision making in the final third and continue to work with individual players in certain situations, but aside from that we want to keep the ball, defend with 11 players and do what we’ve done well all season,” said Rudland.
Three points this Friday will be the result that clarifies it all with the opportunity of locking up a postseason berth as well as securing the Great Lakes Conference Championship for the second year in a row. The Mighty Oak have been in control of their own destiny all season and will have one more opportunity to decide their fate. If they drop points on Friday with a draw or loss, AFC can surely still make the playoffs as their final match is against FC Indiana who have a -46 goal differential on the season, but they’ll need some other results to go their way to ensure a first place finish.
As always, to Rudland it comes down to preparation and mentality. FC Columbus are coming off a big 2-1 win against Grand Rapids FC in Columbus last Sunday, playing 70+ minutes with only ten men after Ezra Armstrong was shown red card for violent conduct according to the league’s official match report. The infraction also means Armstrong, the starting left back, will be suspended for Friday’s match in Ann Arbor.
“We need to be good everyday this week in training and enter the match with a clear understanding of how to break them down and how to neutralize their strengths. We have to be good going forward, we have to patient and pick the right moments. Without the ball we need solid individual & small group defending,” said Rudland.
In addition to suspensions, this part of the season can always be tricky for managers as they’re dealing with many moving parts including player departures, injuries and potentially card accumulations. Rudland shed some light on what to expect in regards to Friday’s line up.
“I’m sure every team in the league is juggling player availability to some degree and we are no different. Our GK Mike Novotny is no longer with us. He’s left for a trial in Europe. He was fantastic for us and we think he has a bright future in the game. With that said, we feel really good about our other available options. Stanley Okumu is still nursing a groin issue so he may or may not be available. And we have to take into consideration our mid-week Milk Cup match. We had a number if men play heavy minutes so we need to look at ground covered and see where players are at physically going into Friday,” he added.
The match is set for 7PM at Skyline High School and the first 100 fans will receive a FREE seat cushion courtesy of St. Joseph Mercy Health System while Probility Physical Therapy will be providing free injury assessments.
FC Columbus is the new kid on the block having joined the league and Great Lakes Conference this season. The unknown of FC Columbus has definitely caught clubs by surprise and as they currently sit, have the second highest max possible points in the table.
At their home field, they did well to get numbers behind the ball to try and slow down Ann Arbor’s press as much as possible, but The Mighty Oak held on in the end, winning 2-1 while bringing back a crucial three points to Ann Arbor. FC Columbus were successful in spoiling Ann Arbor’s streak of keeping opponents scoreless which finally ended after 488 minutes. Being the first, and only one of three, Great Lakes Conference teams to score on AFC shows the talent this side has.
They’re also dangerous on the counter which is especially impressive seeing how many they’ll have behind the ball defensively at times. They’re able to break and counter extremely quickly and have one of the top strikers in the region in Dimani Camara.
“They have a good system in place. They’re athletic and have found ways to be dangerous going forward. Their midfield has a good balance and the front 3 have caused problems for opponents In every match,” added Coach Rudland.