The revised format of the Michigan Milk Cup in 2018 meant The Mighty Oak had a different path to the finals than last year, as they look for a back to back title for the second time in five days (Friday they clinched the Great Lakes Conference Championship for the second consecutive season).
“With the cup being a separate competition this year, involving more teams, there is a different feel to the competition. Hopefully our men still feel like they have something to prove on Wednesday and recognize the opportunity to claim the championship back to back,” said Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland.
The cup run began with a two-leg bout with Oakland County FC. Traveling to Clawson for OCFC’s home opener, Ann Arbor were able to bring a two goal lead back to Ann Arbor for the May 28th matchup. It was then they sealed the deal with a 2-1 win to give them an aggregate score of 4-1 in the first round of the tournament.
After drawing Kalamazoo in the semi-final blind draw, Ann Arbor prepared to face KZFC for a third time this season, a challenge in itself. But thanks to the ‘Milk Cup Miracle’ in stoppage time via Brandon Katona, Ann Arbor punched their ticket to the finals and a chance at a $5,000 prize.
“We've had the chance to create a player rotation for the matches and it's been great to see guys step into roles and flourish. That was a great moment for Brandon. He was in our team during the early stages of the season and is now working his way back in. The goal for him should provide a huge confidence boost and it was a great moment for our cup run,” added Rudland.
Managing league matches (NPSL), in addition to the US Open Cup and Michigan Milk Cup, Rudland has had to be strategic in the selection of his team sheet considering many variables including of course, player fitness and wellness. We’ve seen his ability to recruit, develop talent and consistently win, but even with the additional matches and layers this season, Rudland seems unphased.
When asked about the lineup for Wednesday, Rudland commented, “We will for sure have some changes based on our player rotation, player availability and injury status. We are also looking to play one or two players in a different position as we explore positional options for a few of our players heading into the playoffs. As we've done in our previous cup matches, we want to put out a balanced team regarding experience and youth and we want to make sure everyone is eager to prove themselves.”
“The United Dairy Industry of Michigan's support of local soccer has been massive. They've displayed a commitment to all levels of soccer from grassroots, to the women's game and the men's game. The soccer community is tight-knit and UDIM's loyalty has been well received across the state,” said Rudland in regards to the continued support of Milk Means More.
The team sheet for Wednesday’s Milk Cup Final will be released Tuesday afternoon.
Rudland has built a reputation for winning, even since he brought home a Midwest Region title, with his former club, Lansing United. Since taking the helm for AFC in 2016, Rudland has won two Great Lakes Conference Championships and has continued his winning ways.
Lansing departed the NPSL in the offseason to join the Premier Development League (PDL), a move doubters were surely questioning. Lansing United has quickly proven they can compete in the PDL and continue to earn impressive results, currently sitting in second of their division with three matches remaining.
In their semi-final match, The Hoops found themselves down a goal late before DeJuan Jones leveled the score in the 88th minute. Jones has the skill set to give the Ann Arbor backline one of their best challenges of the season.
“What's exciting for the players is playing against a team that we haven't faced yet this year after going home & home with all of the teams in our league and playing Kalamazoo for a 3rd time in the Milk Cup. For us as a staff this is a great opportunity to look at new match ups and prepare for a one-off match, which is virtually the same type of preparations we will have in the NPSL playoffs,” about facing Lansing United in the final.
Tickets purchased in advance are $10 for adults and $5 for youth here. Prices increase at the gate to $12 and $7 respectively.
Can't make the match on Wednesday? Stream it online at AFC Ann Arbor's YouTube channel.