AFCAA’s third straight Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup kicks off tomorrow, May 8th at 7 PM in Lansing, Michigan. The Mighty Oak will square off with Lansing Ignite at Cooley Law School Stadium in hopes of advancing to the second round of the USOC for the first time in club history. A win would set them up for a date with Indy Eleven in Indianapolis next week, but for now it’s all eyes on Lansing.
“The US Open Cup is important for our men and our club. Obviously it's an honor to take part in the competition and a great opportunity for us to play against a professional side,” said Sporting Director & Men’s Head Coach, Eric Rudland.
The Mighty Oak are coming off a season-opening 2-1 victory on the road at Michigan Stars. After Stars went a man down in the 70th minute, AFC turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 final thanks to a pair of lovely outside-the-box hits from Jordan Montoya. The match, which was the first within the NPSL Midwest, hopes to set the tone for the season to come, as well as this USOC tie.
The Mighty Oak’s history in the USOC has not been to their liking, but they will have a chance to override their mistakes of previous years with a win over a professional side. They were defeated 1-0 by Michigan Bucks in the 2017 competition, and last year saw them host their first ever Open Cup match, but lost to Ocean City Nor’Easters 3-0. Against professional competition, the whole side is excited to turn around unfavorable results from seasons prior and kick on to another round.
Roster management is crucial this time of year, as amateur sides like Ann Arbor don’t have much time to train or play together because of the transient nature of the roster year to year. As new players have been arriving daily since Saturday, there’s only been a couple chances for the men to train together. Rudland added, “With the growth of professional football in the US, the challenges are even greater for amateur teams in this competition. We've had two days training with our group in preparation for the match, which isn't ideal, but it's the reality at our level of football and we have to make the most of it.”
Although The Mighty Oak boast a number of returning players, many newcomers have the opportunity to wear the AFC crest on their chest for the first. When asked about how he manages the obstacles and challenges of putting together a competitive side for this match, Rudland commented, “We've been planning out player availability for a month or so now, with the goal of putting together a competitive side for the match. We've tried to bring in 3 players in each position, knowing that arrival dates, injuries or other variables may take a handful of players out of consideration for selection. That being said, a few players will have a great opportunity to prove themselves in their debut match for the club.”
Playing in USL League One, Lansing are currently Michigan’s lone professional soccer team. Having played six games thus far in the new professional league, they currently sit ninth of ten sides with a 2-3-1 record. All seven of their points picked up have come against third-placed side Richmond Kickers, though, which offers something to think about heading into the match. Most recently, Lansing fought Richmond to a 2-2 draw away from home. Going behind early, they scored two goals in thirteen minutes to give themselves a 2-1 lead, before Richmond was able to snag a point at the death in the 90th minute.
Looking at personnel, Lansing offer a well-balanced attack. Ricky Lopez-Espin has scored twice in three appearances for Ignite, but aside from him their remaining seven league goals have come from seven different players. Likewise, eight of those goals have been assisted, and all eight assists have come from a different member of the squad. Selso Saint-Duc has created the most chances with nine, and he is followed closely by Xavier Gomez with eight in that tally. Brandon Fricke and Grant Stoneman are a pair of defenders that have started all six games for their side and played every minute of each game. Four other players have also played in each game, including Saint-Duc, Kyle Carr, who has also started each game, and former University of Michigan midfielder Ivo Cerda.
Lansing’s last starting eleven (4-4-2): Kyle Ihn, Grant Stoneman, Brandon Fricke, Kevin Coiffic, Rhys Williams, Nick Moon, Kyle Carr, Ivo Cerda, Tumi Moshobane, Selso Saint-Duc, Ricky Lopez-Espin
Wednesday’s US Open Cup first round match will be available on ESPN+. This marks AFC Ann Arbor’s first appearance on an ESPN platform.
About the US Open Cup
The first U.S. Open Cup was played in 1914, making it the oldest cup competition for soccer in the United States and the country’s oldest annual tournament for team sports. While professional soccer came and went in various forms and incarnations, at various stages of the 20th century, the Open Cup crowned a champion for each of the last 104 years. Even through the want and woe of the Great Depression and the challenges of two World Wars, the U.S. Open Cup survived. Teams from 17 different states have won the title.