AFC Ann Arbor are pleased to announce the newest member to the 2019 squad, goalkeeper Lukas von Lienen. The first keeper to be announced for the club, von Lienen joins the likes of T.J. Tomasso and Mike Novotny as players set to suit up at the position for AFCAA, which has a rich history of the spot. Coming off his freshman season at Western Michigan, von Lienen is a native German who spent time at the high-club ranks before making the move over to WMU where he won the starting job at one of the MAC’s premier schools.
As the starting keeper, von Lienen appeared in sixteen games, starting fifteen of them. The Broncos were 8-3-3 with him in net, and the German held a MAC-low 1.00 goals-against-average while making fifty saves over the course of the season. His save percentage of 75.8% is the highest since 2015 – Toronto FC goalkeeper’s Drew Shepherd’s sophomore season – of any Bronco spending at least fifteen games in net. He recorded three shutouts on the season, two of those being full-game efforts, and had a season-high of eight saves in his final outing against Akron.
To go with his high level of collegiate production is his impressive youth level exploits. He spent some important developmental years with the Bundesliga’s Werder Bremen’s youth ranks. When talking about his strengths as a player, he highlights those years in the German side’s academy as a formative experience. “Learning the European way of soccer at one of the best youth academies in Germany, the focus on goalkeepers was to play out with their feet and have a precise and fast distribution,” von Lienen noted. With how much the modern game has changed, and given how AFCAA remain at the forefront of it in the NPSL, this is crucial for the side as Eric Rudland also notes. Rudland said, “Lukas is a very technical goal keeper with a solid body of high-level experience back in Germany. He has good intuition and great distribution.” He added to that, saying, “His ability to play out for the back will fit our style of play and be a great asset to the team.”
While these German experiences were key in his development, the importance of the American game has not been lost on von Lienen at all. “The diversity between the European and American style of soccer helped me to become a more balanced goalkeeper in distribution and shot stopping,” von Lienen responded, when asked about what has helped to make him so solid in net. He also cites the seasonal experience as a whole being key for his betterment. The keeper said, “My first season with Western was a lot about competing for your starting spot. Going up against our Fifth Year Senior Eli [Elijah Hughes, fellow WMU keeper] was very tough and I could never rest, always trying to do extra work.” He added, “This and the high expectations from our coaches, which always pushed us to the limit, helped me to develop a strong mindset and character.”
With a strong mental mindset already in place it is clear that von Lienen understandings the level he will be at over the summer. He spoke about these nerves and the importance of keeping cool, as he noted, “Playing with [AFCAA], we will probably have some close games and it’s very important to keep a clear mind under high pressure.” The sport of football being as mental as it is, it will be crucial to have someone levelheaded in net, and von Lienen certainly makes sure that he is that person. In Ann Arbor, as Rudland notes, he will be surrounded by the right people to continue to spur him on, as he says, “Coach [Jeff] Shuk will do a great job of pushing Lukas to help him continue to refine his game.”
The summer will not just be about soccer for von Lienen. When assessing what made The Mighty Oak such a great fit, von Lienen had multiple things he would take into account. “It was definitely the great level of success the team has accomplished in the last years, but also the closeness to a great flying school, where I can get my Private Pilot license simultaneously in summer, to move forward on my bachelor of Aviation Flight Science.” The community and city of Ann Arbor in itself has been able to serve as a key draw for the keeper, and with brains being so important in not just the goalkeeper’s position, but the game itself, it is abundantly clear that von Lienen is one smart person.
The fans of AFCAA already have a reputation that von Lienen knows about. The keeper would state, “I heard a lot about the great fans of Ann Arbor, and I am very excited to meet you all and celebrate a lot of wins together.” When it comes to the experience as a whole, von Lienen says, “The ambition is to win the championship at the end of the season, but also have a lot of fun and enjoy the city of Ann Arbor.” Between the sport, the city, and obtaining a pilot’s license, it is clear that the addition of von Lienen will be welcome for both player and club.
About AFC Ann Arbor
Founded in 2014, Association Football Club Ann Arbor launched it’s men’s semi-pro team in 2015 and has competed in the NPSL since 2016. Led by Head Coach & Sporting Director, Eric Rudland, the team has found great success winning back to back Great Lakes Championships (‘17 & ‘18) and earning US Open Cup bids three straight years (2017-2019). In October 2018, the club announced the launch of the women’s side, who will be skippered by Andy “Pritch” Pritchard in their inaugural season of the United Women’s Soccer national league. Owned and operated by a group of local soccer fans and entrepreneurs, AFC Ann Arbor has become a fixture in the greater Ann Arbor community.