Twenty three players who joined or returned to the AFC Ann Arbor family in 2018, are back on campus ready to kick off their collegiate college soccer seasons. As one of the clubs in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) that use both collegiate players and aspiring professionals who are not in college (or already graduated), The Mighty Oak keep close tabs on our former and current players making a name for themselves in the collegiate athletic world.
“We are very grateful to the universities that entrust their players to us during the summer months. It's always our ambition to give college players a thrilling football/summer experience and return them to their respective universities ready to fire on all cylinders. The hope is that our season's success can bleed through our men and into their fall campaigns," said Head Coach & Sporting Director Eric Rudland.
A comprehensive schedule to all games featuring AFCAA Family players can be found here (apologies in advance for lack of fancy formatting).
Let’s take a closer look at who to watch and where.
Madonna University- Yuri Farkas, Marlon Frietas, Caio Mazzo and Leonardo Abonizio
We’ve always worked closely with Madonna University Men’s Soccer program but this year we had an even bigger Crusaders presence than previous season. Yuri Farkas is now one of five players to have spent three season with The Mighty Oak and in 2018, he set the single game goal scoring record with four goals in one match. Frietas scored his first NPSL goal in the league opener vs Milwaukee and continued to improve during his second summer in Ann Arbor. Abonizio, although limited to only a few appearances, showed he’s capable of playing at a higher level and should contribute to Madonna’s build up play nicely in the middle. Also in the middle, Caio became a fixture for Ann Arbor and helped set the tone for their defensive, physical style of play. Madonna is coming off their best season ever but hope to take it one step further at Nationals this year. All four players will be impactful in the 2018 campaign for Madonna with Farkas’ goal-scoring abilities leading the way.
Stony Brook University - Stephen Turnbull, Martieon "Moco" Watson, Serge Gamwanya
Between Martien “Moco” Watson, Stephen Turnbull and Serge Gamwanya, the Stony Brook players made quite a name for themselves. It all began with Moco’s stoppage time game winner vs Detroit City FC (which he scored only a few days after joining the club) back in May, but three became fixtures in the lineup contributing in massive ways to help the club earn their second straight Great Lakes Conference title. Each of them scored goals this past season and combined for five total in the 2018 summer campaign. Gamwanya and Watson enter their senior season with Turnbull only being a junior. These three could help lead the Seawolves to an America East title and an NCAA tournament berth if they continue to play as they did this summer.
Saginaw Valley State University- Jake Rosen, Azaad Liadi, Michael Shaikly
After third year player Jake Rosen transferred to SVSU after the 2017 season, Ann Arbor was excited to have its first Cardinal in the lineup. The surprise, however, came when Michael Shaikly and Azaad Liadi also joined Rosen in Ann Arbor for the summer, building a massive bridge between the club and Saginaw. These three players not only made a huge impact on and off the pitch, they also combined for some of the most memorable moments of the season (has to be a tie between them and the Stony Brook crew). Shaikly diced defenders as Liadi streaked by opponents on the wing, with Rosen delivering one of the sweetest balls of the season, notching the game winning assist in the 1-0 victory vs Detroit City in Ann Arbor. The coaches preseason poll for the GLIAC ranked SVSU in second only behind Davenport but don’t be shocked if you see the Cardinals lifting the trophy come
University of Michigan- Marc Ybarra
He became the midfield maestro from his first training of the season and didn’t slow down or hold back at all from that point forward. Ybarra showed that he’s not only one of the best young up and coming midfielders in the game- he simply showed he’s one of the best regardless of age or anything else. He’ll contribute at a high rate for the Wolverines this fall as they look to defend their Big Ten title.
Michigan State University- Hunter Morse
The Spartans starting goalkeeper Jimmy Hague enters the season as the #12 overall ranked collegiate soccer prospect according to Top Drawer Soccer. That makes it tough for his backup, Hunter Morse, to show what he can do between the posts. Morse is young, still gaining valuable match minutes, but you wouldn’t know it from how he handled himself this summer with AFCAA. Heading into the first league match of the season, Morse was slated as the third keeper for The Mighty Oak, but due to some unexpected injuries, his number was called to start the first NPSL match of the season, on the road against Milwaukee. Morse not only held his composure, but showed why MSU might be the hotbed for keepers in the entire midwest. He earned a clean sheet that first match (prior to Novotny arriving) and came up with some massive saves, without even knowing all of his teammates names in that first match. He might not see a ton of action with it being Hague’s senior season, but be sure if his number is called again, he will be ready and able to show that he will lead the next generation of players at MSU beyond 2018.
Marshall University- JP Rylah
In 2016, JP Rylah joined The Mighty Oak for Eric Rudland’s inaugural season with the club. Rylah’s speed with the ball on the wing was nothing short of spectacular, drawing the attention of many different collegiate coaches around the country. He landed at American International College where he had a standout season before returning to Ann Arbor for his second stint in 2018. His season was cut short due to a minor injury, but Rylah looked even better than he did in 2016, and will look to show off his abilities with his new collegiate side, Marshall. Look for Rylah to make a big splash in Conference USA.
Note: Former 2-year player and AFCAA Family member Rafael Simoes, is the current GA at Marshall University.
UMKC- Henry Ramirez
Henry Ramirez joined AFC Ann Arbor after playing for FC Indiana in 2017. He spent half the season with The Mighty Oak and was an active and impactful piece of the midfield, who absolutely bought into and lead the charge for Rudland’s defensive schematics. The Summit League title is within reach and with Ramirez back at full strength, the Kangaroos can clinch the conference title by downing powerhouse Denver and holding off Western Illinois.
Adrian College- Brandon Katona
Brandon Katona joined AFC Ann Arbor from the open tryout held back in February. Rudland spotted something beyond Katona’s work ethic that helped him earn a spot on the roster. Katona featured in a handful of league matches but was a fixture in the Michigan Milk Cup scoring one of the most memorable goals of the season on the road vs Kalamazoo FC to advance to the Milk Cup Finals. Katona sharpened his skills and returns to campus with confidence like never before which will make him a dangerous threat for the Bulldogs this season.
Spring Arbor University- Baba Valdmanis, Hunter Gibbons
Baba Valdmanis and Hunter Gibbons didn’t see a ton of action this season, but both players proved they can hang with the some of the best. Valdmanis should be one of the most electric attackers for SAU this season and could tally some goals for his side as they look to continue their success in the NAIA’s Crossroads League.
Bowling Green University- Zach Beuscher
Zach Beuscher, one of the younger players on Ann Arbor’s roster this summer, returns to Ohio for his sophomore season, with a ton more experience under his belt. Having featured in a bunch of league games as a midfield substitution, Beuscher was consistent in his efforts and quality, making it easy for Rudland to rely upon him when he needed some fresh legs in the middle. As he continues to gain experience, Beuscher can be one of the better midfielders in the ever-so-competitive MAC.
Butler University- Justin Savona
Justin Savona, a native of Canton, plays for one of the top sides in the Bulldogs. Although his collegiate career is just beginning, Savona continues to improve as an outside back and should be able to break into the lineup this fall, contributing in one of the better backlines in the country.
University of Detroit-Mercy- Kyle Bandyk
Sophomore Kyle Bandyk enters his sophomore season for the Titans as they look to lift the Horizon League Tournament trophy for the first time in over 20 years. UIC has dominated the conference for the past three seasons, but Bandyks’ experience this summer will only help UDM’s run in 2018. Bandyk appeared in a handful of league matches (early on in the season especially) and proved to be an effective wingback in the 3-5-2 schematic The Mighty Oak deployed early in the campaign.
Additional AFCAA Family to follow:
Western Michigan University- Jake Rufe, Ben Thornton
Ben Thornton and Jake Rufe, both members of AFC Ann Arbor in 2017, along with Tommy Clark (2016), look to defend the first MAC Championship in school history. Earning the respect of coaches and opponents around the country, the Broncos have been ranked as high as #8 heading into the season but know these things mean very little in the long run. As the three seniors begin their final campaign, expect them to leave everything on the field this season, in arguably one of the toughest conferences in the country.
American International College- Jake Durham
Jake Durham (2017) had quite the summer with PDL side Reading United after a great season with AIC last fall. The British midfielder may be without former teammate JP Rylah this season (transferred to Marshall University), but if he continues to play at the level he’s been at for the past 18 months, Durham may fielding offers of his own from D-1 schools come the end of the season.
Drexel University- Kwesi Allen
Kwesi Allen, one of the most exciting strikers ever to wear the AFC Ann Arbor crest, joins Drexel University this fall after a successful couple of seasons with Iowa Western. The T&T has great pace, length and can move the ball forward quickly, creating plenty of chances for his teammates.