AFC Ann Arbor are pleased to welcome back Matthieu Braem back for the 2019 NPSL season. The 2016 AFCAA Defensive Player of the Year, the Loyola (IL) graduate and French native is returning to Ann Arbor for what will be his fourth season with The Mighty Oak. Affectionally dubbed ‘Frenchy’ within the club and amongst its fans, Braem has been an ever-present for the side in its NPSL lifetime. He returns for 2019 wiser than before coming off his first ever professional contract with the MASL’s Harrisburg Heat. His longevity is key for head coach Eric Rudland who said, “This will be Frenchy's fourth season with us. That is unique to our level of football and pretty special for our club.”
Braem’s impact on the side far surpasses the on-field aspect of the game. As he himself says, “I think that the biggest value I personally add outside of [on] the field is the knowledge of the club and everything that comes around it.” Indeed, having been around for what will be coming upon year number four with the side, Braem has been around for all three previous times to the NPSL Midwest Regional playoffs and has played a role in all three runs. With his experience living within the club’s history itself, he is a valuable asset for players around him as a whole to learn and improve.
When talking about his play style, Braem understands that answers may vary. He said, “I feel like opinions and answers would change depending on who you talk to. But I like to describe myself as a smart and robust defender who always enjoys playing out of the back and start the attack from there.” Indeed, Braem has generally been a fixture within defense, generally deployed as a central defender for the boys in blue and white. He continued on, saying, “I also like playing with a high line, which fit Eric's tactics perfectly as he likes to press up the field and put the opponents under constant pressure.” Rudland agreed that Braem is a proper fit for the side as he said, “He has a clear understanding of our system and style of play and the way we go about our business day in and day out.” As previously mentioned, experience is key.
Featuring not only in AFCAA’s plans last season, but also in the CONIFA World Cup, ‘Frenchy’ is well-and-truly a world traveler of the sport. As he prepares to return from his stint in Pennsylvania, the newest returnee said, “It has been a crazy learning experience. But I am enjoying every single second of it. I get to wake up every morning doing what I love, so I can't complain.” He continued onward with a point that Rudland would concur with saying, “It's also nice to be able to stay fit and head to AFC fully fit and ready to get started.” Rudland later added, “That being said, we are hopeful that we will be able to rely on him early in our important May matches.” With Braem, there are certainly hopes that he will be a productive player, yet again, for the full NPSL campaign.
When thinking about the club as a whole, Ann Arbor’s favorite Frenchman is able to contribute plenty to the set-up of not just the team on the pitch, but as a leader off it. Braem said, “AFC as a whole, values its community and I think that it is really important for new players to understand that as soon as the season starts.” In addition to being able to help new players to the side adjust to the demands and rigors of an NPSL season, he, too, has a greater understanding now of what is needed of him than ever before. He detailed, “As a player, by now, I have a really close relationship and understanding with Eric and the coaching staff, which definitely helps setting up expectations during games but also practices.” Knowing what to expect gives Braem an extra edge over opposing teams who may be attempted to gain that same level of understanding amongst themselves.
Over his time with The Mighty Oak, two memories stand out for Braem. When pressed for a favorite, he replied, “[The] first thing that comes to my mind is the win over Lansing at home, when we were down 2-0. That was incredible.” He continued, saying, “The other one would probably be clinching our back-to-back conference title last year, at home in front of our fans.” The Mighty Oak’s faithful will be hoping for plenty more memorable moments like these as the new league season approaches.