Mighty Oak Monday

AFC Captain Calls Ann Arbor "Home"

 Leigh Rumbold controls the ball at Hollway Field on July 3rd vs. Detroit City FC

Leigh Rumbold controls the ball at Hollway Field on July 3rd vs. Detroit City FC


Footballers are no stranger to traveling the world, and it’s no exception for Leigh Rumbold, captain of The Mighty Oak. Football has helped him find a home away from home in Washtenaw County.

After playing for teams in his native England, Europe, and throughout the United States, Rumbold settled down in Saline in 2013 as he pursued a career in youth coaching. Currently, Rumbold is coaching 4 youth teams for Saline FC and is known as one the best coaches in the area.

Looking to stay active at the semi-pro level, he reunited with Coach Eric Rudland at AFC Ann Arbor, both formerly of Lansing United.

The AFC Ann Arbor captain’s ability to connect with players and people in the Saline and Ann Arbor communities, helped Rumbold earn the “Hometown Hero” award at the 2016 AFC Ann Arbor Awards Dinner. An award that not only surprised him, but also meant a great deal to the midfielder.  

“It was a great honor to lead the team this year and receive the Hometown Hero award, an award I definitely wasn't expecting. I think it gives me a little more responsibility in helping the lads who don't come from this area. Especially helping them get settled as quickly as possible when they first arrive, so they can just focus on playing football and not worry about some of the other things that come with moving to a new area.”

When asked about Rumbold, Coach Rudland said, “Leigh was a great addition to the club this past year. He has a strong connection to the local community and was a respected leader in the team. It was great for me to work with Leigh again after previously working with him in Lansing. He became a mainstay in our team and someone who we hope to keep as part of the club for years to come.”

As a youth coach Leigh’s greatest asset is his ability to teach young players technical skills, while while still being able to impress upon them the larger team skills that allow them to grow as players and people.

A big reward for me is how you can build character and teach life lessons through team sports. Teaching players how to deal with certain situations on the field that they may face later on in life away from sport,” said Rumbold.

He added, “The thing I love most about coaching is being able to help players improve their technical skills and understanding of the game I love.”

Just as Rumbold has become popular with the kids he coaches, he has also become a fan favorite, after just one season with The Mighty Oak.  “I still get stopped at the supermarket or at tournaments from people who had been to an AFC game last summer and are already looking forward to seeing us play again next year.”

 

About AFC Ann Arbor

AFC Ann Arbor, also known as The Mighty Oak, compete in the Midwest Region of the National Premier Soccer League. Entering just the 3rd season for the young club, AFC has quickly become a community staple in Washtenaw County. Under Head Coach and Sporting Director Eric Rudland The Mighty Oak made the Sweet 16 (out of 80 + teams) in the 2016 NPSL playoffs. 



From Pitch to Parent: The Front Office Transition of Knox Cameron

Everyone in the SE Michigan soccer community knows the name Knox Cameron. After an illustrious career at Michigan, the Jamaican born Cameron found himself working up the ranks of the soccer pyramid with short stints at the Brooklyn Knights (USL) and the Michigan Bucks (PDL) before eventually landing a professional contract with the Columbus Crew of the MLS.

Cameron’s career in soccer hasn’t been limited to the pitch, after his stop in Columbus he continued playing (including 2 seasons with NPSL rival Detroit City FC). As the Director of Saline FC (formerly Saline Area Soccer Association) over the past four years, Cameron has helped grow the game through the youth club platform and continues to make an impact by helping young players fall in love with the game that has given him so much. 

In late 2014, just after Cameron’s stretch with DCFC, he was approached with an opportunity to invest in an up and coming club, AFC Ann Arbor. Cameron didn’t shy away from the opportunity but instead found it was the perfect platform to transition into the next part of his career in the game. 

In the club’s first two seasons, Cameron slowly transitioned from player to overseeing player development, where he played an integral role in the development of the club’s overall talent, spearheading the coaching search that helped land current Sporting Director, Eric Rudland.

The transition on the pitch wasn’t the only change Cameron implemented in his life. In 2015, he began his MBA at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, an experience he says is, “much different this time around.” But no bigger change came about than the birth of his son, Andrew Patrick Cameron, this past summer. 

As priorities have shuffled over the past couple of years for Cameron, watching him gracefully develop and transition from the star on the pitch to the front office mover and shaker has been astounding.

For this week’s installment of Mighty Oak Monday, we sat down with Knox to learn more about the transition he’s made the last couple of years. 

AFC: The 2016 AFC Ann Arbor season began with the inaugural Saline Showcase, a game where you ended up heading in the game winning goal. What was that experience like for you? 

Knox: The Saline Showcase was very special for a number of reasons.  Certainly it was the beginning of the AFC Ann Arbor season which is a highlight within itself, but to have Saline FC and the entire community host the game proved to be that much better.  Having the opportunity to play and score in front of so many familiar faces was a dream.  Whenever I play, my hope is that I am able to contribute to the team in the form of goals, so I was happy to complete that objective.  It was also great to share the field with Kevin Taylor and Leigh Rumbold.  We have an amazing team of coaches but these two guys are an integral part of executing the vision I have for Saline FC. It was great to share that moment with them and have our kids see us all play. 

 

AFC: On top of your career at DTE Energy, your commitments to Saline FC and pursuing your MBA at U of M, you managed to become a Dad this summer. What has changed about you most after becoming a Dad? How has becoming a Dad impacted you overall?  

Knox: I never thought I would be sleeping less than I already did!  Certainly I don’t think anyone can plan for parenthood but my wife and I were as prepared as we were ever going to be when our son was born.  Outside of the lack of sleep, the impacts have been incredibly positive and life changing.  I feel a deeper sense of purpose and I am even more inspired to make an impact each day.  Parenthood has given me greater perspective on life; I reflect on the sacrifices my parents made to allow me to chase my dreams and I ultimately want the same for Drew.  I am better in all phases of my life because the level of responsibility and accountability that comes with being a parent. 

 

AFC: What are your goals with AFC Ann Arbor and the game of football overall?  

Knox: At this level of play, winning is paramount.  I would like AFC Ann Arbor to be champions of the NPSL, this is not a lofty goal but rather a very realistic one.  I think offering a winning product will help with a lot of the downstream impacts such as the acquisition of new supporters and growing our presence with the Ann Arbor sporting footprint.  I would also like for our brand (players included) to embody a lot of the great things within city of Ann Arbor – diversity, intelligence, efficiency, and honesty.  Football has meant everything to me and I could not have developed as a person without the experiences it has provided.  There is no greater satisfaction than giving and I would like to use the knowledge I have attained to help develop the next generation of talented American players.  The work being done at Saline FC allows me to impact the younger demographic, while at AFC Ann Arbor, I am in a position to help the aspiring professionals get to the next level.

 

AFC: As a former student-athlete at Michigan, we know you bleed Maize and Blue. As you pursue your MBA at Ross, what does it mean to you to be a Wolverine as a grad student? 

Knox: Well first I would like to say that I am much more of student now than I was thenJ.  What is great about Michigan, whether you are a student-athlete or a Ross MBA, is the desire to be a leader and be the best.  I know it sounds cliché but it is very true.  As a student-athlete, everyone came into the university great but still wanted to push their bounds. The Ross MBA experience is no different.  I am doing wonderful things and trying to make a positive impact, but so is every one of my other classmates.  I marvel at some of things people have done, are doing or will aspire to do in the future.  We all want to lead, grow and be the very best at whatever we are doing.  I love everything about the experience because I am learning from great people and I am being challenged to compete daily.  I am happy that I can leverage both my athletic and business experiences because they much mirror each other.

 

AFC: Where is Knox Cameron in 5 years?  

Knox: In the physical sense I will most likely still be close to the Ann Arbor area.  Natalie grew up close by so having her family’s support has been a blessing, particularly helping out with Drew.  I also have a great network of friends and colleagues which would make leaving very difficult.  Outside of location, I want to be 5 years wiser and be poised to make an impact on as many lives as possible. Ironically it was about 5 years ago when I took a hard look at myself, because I felt as though I wasn’t doing enough to maximize my potential.  I had to grow in a lot of areas individually before progressing to this phase of my life.  All of the things I am currently involved with are a direct result of that soul searching exercise and I couldn’t be happier with the result.  As I look forward, I will have completed business school and I want to take the learnings and experience to be a better leader.  I have a burning desire to extend my reach as far as possible and the work that I am doing now is preparing me to do so.  

 

AFC: Anything else you'd like to add? 

Knox: I am excited about the club’s future as I think we have an amazing group of owners helping to steer the ship. Thank you for the opportunity to express a few things about my life and my aspirations.  Ultimately anything in life can be accomplished if you have the 3 H’s working in concert: Hard work, Honesty, Humility. 

The Charleston Boys

The University of Charleston’s Men’s Soccer program is no stranger to winning. The program has flourished since Coach Chris Gassie took the helm 5 years ago. In his short time with Charleston, Gassie has already earned the title of all time winningest coach in program history. Coupled with two consecutive NCAA Division II Final Fours, the success has cemented his ability to attract top notch talent from around the world and brought a plethora of talent to the Golden Eagles.

Those winning ways came to Ann Arbor as four of Gassie’s top players spent their summers with The Mighty Oak. Fabian Veit, Bruno Oliveria, Jermaine Windster and Rafael Simoes each played a significant role in AFC Ann Arbor’s 2016 campaign, including the 2016 Ironman Award winner, Bruno Oliveria, who competed in every minute of every league match for AFC.

The Charleston Boys came to Ann Arbor looking to make the club’s first year in the NPSL a memorable one.  They wasted no time in making an impact for the club.

Sporting Director, Eric Rudland added, “In the team building process it was really important for us to attract players with winning mentalities. The men from UC have won numerous matches in their youth and collegiate careers. Success breeds success so we knew they would enter our program with high expectations. Without a doubt their inclusion in our inaugural NPSL roster was a key factor in advancing to the playoffs.”

Spending the majority of the season atop the table of the Great Lakes West division of the Midwest Region, the men experienced how tough it is to be the biggest game on every opposing team’s schedule. Lessons that would prove invaluable after Charleston started the 2016 college season 6-1. 

In addition to the hot start and national ranking in NCAA Division II, Veit has earned four clean sheets in the Golden Eagles 6-1 start to help him break the University of Charleston school record for career clean sheets.

 

 

 

We had some time to catch up with the guys for our latest edition of Mighty Oak Monday.

AFC: After last year's disappointing loss in the tournament, how do you feel you are better prepared to go all the way this year? Did your experience with AFC AA this summer help prepare you to compete at a higher level this season?

Bruno: In the last two years we had tough losses, in the national championship in 2014 and in the final four last year. We are very confident that this year can be the one when we will finally win it all, I believe that we are prepared just like the last two years, now all we just need to finish it. Playing in Ann Arbor during the summer was definitely of a great help for me, to keep playing in a high level helped me to come back in a great shape for the fall season. Also, the experience in general in Ann Arbor had a great value for me.

Rafa: We are more prepared this year because we have more experience now and having gone to the final four two years in a row makes the team very experienced in important games.

Jermaine: I think everyone needed to clear their minds and the summer was most definitely a way to do that. Playing with AFC gave me back the feeling of winning and how much I enjoyed it. For myself it was the people behind the scenes that helped me a lot. To always stay positive, to keep looking forward and to make the best out of a situation.

Fabi: Spending the summer with AFC AA was an amazing experience and set the basis in preparing myself for the 2016 College season. I came back to Charleston game-ready and very excited to win the NCAA championship after being NCAA Runners-up and Semi-finalist. It is my senior year and so I want to round up my college-career with a big success for UC.

 

 

AFC: What was your most memorable experience in Ann Arbor this summer? What was the biggest takeaway to help you improve as a footballer?

Bruno: I believe that the most memorable experience was to play at Detroit City in front of 7,000 people, which was the most that I've ever played for. The biggest takeaway was to play with different players and coaches, who always have a different way to think about soccer and that is something that makes a player improve.

Jermaine: The most memorable experience in Ann Arbor this summer was going to one of the owner’s parent’s lake house. I had a great time there with my teammates and it was a good recovery day as well. Coaching kids was one of the most memorable experiences for me too because after I had coached them I would see the same kids at the game. You would instantly create a sort of bond with them that would continue through the summer. There were coaches with lots of experience that wanted to share it with us. Even when practice was over Boyzzz and I would work on some things on our own. It soon caught the eyes of other teammates and started to become a weekly thing.

Rafa: My favorite moment at AFC Ann Arbor was our game away against Kalamazoo, where we won the game and made to the playoffs. And the most important thing that made me improve as a player was the experience from coach Eric Rudland and Coach Boyzzz with the daily practice. I was able to be comfortable and work hard and harder! They are really good and competent coaches that I am really glad to have been coached by them.

Fabi: My most memorable experience was the away-game against Detroit FC, because the entire AFC family was representing the club incredibly well (on the stands, as well as on the field!). The biggest takeaways as a footballer are losses and mistakes, because you can learn from them and improve right away. Personally, I learned that people from a very diversified background and with different experiences can be very powerful together but it bears a higher risk of some mistakes at the beginning. Nonetheless, I am convinced that the big diversity at AFC AA pushes the club forward and I am very excited to see how AFC will develop within the next years.

 

 

AFC: What did it mean to you to be able to spend part of your summer with 3 of your teammates? Have you seen the extra time you've spent together translate to positive outcomes on the pitch yet?

Bruno: I was happy to play with Rafael, Jermaine and Fabian during the summer, they are three of the guys that I like the most in the school so it was awesome to spend the summer with them in a city like Ann Arbor, we had a great time and that definitely helped us to become even better friends and that translates every game on the pitch.

Jermaine: I knew Fabi pretty well going into the summer, but I wasn't with Bruno as much as I was with Fabi. I’m really happy I got the chance to get to know this wonderful guy. Not only did I get to know Bruno more but AFC gave me the chance to get to know others as well. Other then Jake, Frenchie, Rafa, Willy and more, I got really close with Nate and JP. In a short time they had a positive influence on me. I'll probably text a couple of those guys right after this.

Rafa: Playing with 3 teammates really give us more chemistry on the field and make us play with harmony because we know where the other player is able to do it already.

 

 

AFC: Anything else you want to add about the time you spent in Ann Arbor this summer?

Jermaine: I felt really blessed that AFC Ann Arbor gave me the opportunity to be part of their family. I would recommend everyone to play for AFC If they get the chance to. Hopefully I'll be a part of the team next year to. God willing I'll bring home a national championship while striving for another with AFC Ann Arbor.

Rafa: I already miss the people from AFCAA and I really hope I can play my next summer season again for The Mighty Oak.

 

 

 

Adeniyi Continues to Press for Pro Contract

The inaugural season of AFC Ann Arbor was filled with excitement, surprises and a lot of firsts.  One of the most memorable highlights of the 2015 campaign came during the league opener at Hollway Field when The Mighty Oak earned a 4-1 result over Oakland County FC (formerly Oakland United FC). Leading the charge for AFC was Fuad Adedapo Adeniyi, better known as Ade to his teammates and coaching staff, who netted two goals in the match. Since then, Adeniyi has continued to make his mark on the club, becoming a fan favorite and one of the biggest impact players to come through the system.

 

The British born Nigerian has used the game of football as his international passport having traveled all over the world as he continues to search for his first pro contract.  Along the way, Adeniyi has played for the U21 Nigerian National team, University of Mobile, UC- Santa Barbra, AFC Ann Arbor, FC London (Ontario) and most recently, Sporting Kristina in Finland.

 

After the deflating loss for The Mighty Oak in the NPSL playoffs, Adenyi joined Sporting Kristina very late in their campaign, but wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see a new part of the world, develop his game and hopefully make an impact that would add yet another positive mark on his CV.

 

The 4th tier Finish team was slated to take on a top tier team upon Adeniyi’s arrival.  No one gave Sporting Kristina a chance to win this match, but Adeniyi knew that he was as talented as some of the players competing in the top tier, and wanted to prove his value right away.  He wasted no time scoring 2 goals in his debut, helping Sporting Kristina earn the unlikely victory.

 

Ade recently completed his short stint with the Finish side, and had a chance to catch up with us about his experience.

AFC: How did your path lead from Ann Arbor to Finland?

Ade: Even before coming to Ann Arbor, I had been in touch with an agent to help me explore all possible options. As things wrapped up in AA, I went back to Cali hoping to get a bigger opportunity but this was the best, most immediate option I had. Even though it was late in their season, I decided to join them and make the most of the experience.

AFC: When did you start playing with Sporting Kristina and what was the role you played on this team?

Ade: I was with the club for less than a month arriving in the middle of August and returning to California about 4 weeks later.  I see my self as a leader from the back and one of the better players that can help out the younger players who don't have the experience that I have.

AFC: As you keep climbing the ladder in the international world of soccer, what's your next goal on this journey?

Ade: My next goal is the goal I have always had and thats to play at the highest level I can

AFC: Having played for AFC Ann Arbor two years in a row, what did that experience mean to you and how did it help you become a better footballer?

Ade: AFC AA has helped me on and off the pitch, playing with people that have different backgrounds has helped me see the game differently and has helped my game on the pitch for the better.

AFC: What was your most memorable experience in Ann Arbor?

Ade: The most memorable moment from the first year was when I met my housemates who are now like my brothers and to this day some of my best friends.  The second year was when I came back and saw how much better the club was ran and how my FAMILY had developed for the better. I could never forget theses two summers.

Mighty Oak Monday (Week 6)

The Lansing game was a return to a familiar place for you. Prior to the match, were there any overwhelming feelings as a former coach of Lansing United once you entered East Lansing Soccer Complex?

The approach to last Friday's match was no different than the others on our schedule from a football standpoint. I was really looking forward to playing at the East Lansing soccer complex, as it's a grass pitch and one of the nicest in the league. I knew our men would enjoy the surface and the environment. It was great to see familiar faces at the match and reconnect with people who I have not seen in a while. Just like most clubs in the league, we are friends before & after the whistle blows, and the match was competitive & entertaining. 

Bruno secured the victory on Friday with a stellar corner kick. Did the 3 points earned in Lansing taste a little bit sweeter than our previous results being a victory against your former side?

It was a perfectly shaped ball from Bruno. Some may say it wasn't a shot, but we have seen him do that in training numerous times. Bruno has been a top man for us so far, I believe he has logged every minute for the club so far this season and has become a staple in our back-line along with Frenchy (Braem). Obviously the 3 points were crucial for us in the title race.

The team sheet for Sunday's game in Dayton saw some new faces and even some new players earning starts for The Mighty Oak. Can you speak to some of the challenges and strategies a manager deals with in short turnaround matches like this weekend?

With this past weekend being our first double NPSL weekend we thought it was best for the club to give a few other players a run in the first 11. The change wasn't due to players not preforming, rather it was an open door to play fresh legs on the back end of a hard match vs. LanU. I thought our men responded well with us creating a few really good scoring chances in the first 1/2 vs. Dayton & defensively we looked secure the whole match. All in all it was good for us to see what some of the other players on our roster can do in a competitive NPSL match, as we have to prepare to deal with another double weekend in July.

A spark for the Mighty Oak from the jump was striker JP Rylah who earned only his second start of the season against Dynamo on Sunday. Can you speak to how valuable having such a deep roster has proved to be especially in the attacking role positions?

I thought JP was really dangerous for us on Sunday. He has come on as a sub for us previously and with Sunday being his first NPSL start he took advantage of the opportunity. Yes, we are very fortunate to have a few quality players in each position, which bodes well for making changes when necessary. As we have seen in our matches, when we do make substitution changes those players have the capability to make an immediate impact. 

A deflating PK converted by Dayton resulted in a 1-1 draw on the road, but The Mighty Oak were still able to retain a point out of the trip and earn 4 total points over the weekend. With our club still sitting first in the table, can you add to how important road points are in this league?

Road points are critical in the league title race. Our men have exhibited a very professional approach when we travel. With only 2 home matches remaining, we know how important it will be to keep good form on the road.

Mighty Oak Monday [Week 3]

As the NPSL table sits, AFCAA is atop the list. Though the other teams not involved in Saturday's match have yet to start their league play, can you speak to how important an early jump in the league standings is in these first few matches?

The first 3 points in any season are crucial, so I was really happy for the players & the club this past weekend. 

 

Saturday's game marks three matches in a row the Mighty Oak have eaten a goal first. Though our team shows amazing comeback ability, do you sense our club is getting closer to a clean sheet? 

This is a trend that we will be working to change. Clean sheets are fundamental for team success & I believe we have the personnel to limiting goals against. After analyzation, all of the goals we have conceded can be attributed to new players playing with one another. I'm positive that as the group becomes more comfortable playing with one another our defensive schemes will continue to strengthen. 

  

Some new faces were broken in Saturday night. As the roster starts to take its true shape, does a coach look to incorporate other guys as we go or does the team sheet keep a similar list especially with positive results? 

Player/team selection is the art of management. There's no doubt that new players will break into the team over the course of the season. That is why we have brought in a list of talented players & feel confident in our depth. We will need to manage player availability, injury, over-playing, etc, which are all variables that impact player selection. That being said, we will strive for consistency from game to game & be strategic with the introduction of new players into the team.

  

Once again AFCAA plays a home NPSL match this Friday against a brand new face in the soccer landscape, KZOO. Does facing a brand new club without history present challenges when preparing? 

Playing KZoo will be similar to Dayton this last weekend. It will be their first league match & we haven't had an opportunity to scout them. However their are a number of players on their roster we are very familiar with. So we won't have a clear picture of their tactics, system of play & set pieces, we have a very good understanding of their individual qualities. 

  

You have been very consistent in the game by game approach, but does an exciting result like this past Saturday raise any expectations as a coach in terms of ceiling in team form or overall results?

No not at all. It's all about the next game, which will be the message to the players in training today. There's no time to dwell on the past & let that impact our approach moving forward. This week we will be back to the grind of preparing for Friday & I'm excited to see our men preform again at Hollway. 

Mighty Oak Monday (Week 2)

AFC-2016-04-29-81.jpg

As Friday's match acted as the final tune-up heading into NPSL play, do you take the result as a need for adjustments or is this club still in a team building stage?

We're definitely still in a building stage and Friday was a good step for us. Going into the match we were not too concerned with the result as the priority was to continuing improving as a group. I thought that the second 1/2 of Friday's match was the best that we've looked so far. With that said, we still have a lot of work to do this week in preparation for our NPSL home opener. 

 

Yuri has two goals in two games. Can you speak to his current form, and maybe some coaching methods that are applied to keep a player hot for consecutive matches?

It's been fun to watch Yuri preform with us so far. He has shown that he can not only play at our level...he can contribute at our level. I'm happy for him as his confidence should be high. As a manager when players are in good form I try to stay out of their way. My job is to put Yuri, and others, in the right spots to continue making plays & group them with player's who compliment their style & personality. So that will be the plan moving forward with Yuri & the other men who are impact players for us.

 

Saturday's match will be the first NPSL experience for the club, though you yourself have been a staple of this league for a couple years. Any specific thoughts on the NPSL opener as you reflect on previous years?

The NPSL experience is going to be exciting for AFC & the Ann Arbor community. It's a 12 game regular season that flies by with the blink of an eye. For me it's most important to take the schedule one match at a time. We very much want to respect every opponent on our schedule & make sure that we are well prepared for each match. That process obviously starts this week, and we are looking forward to kicking off NPSL action at Hollway.  

 

Result aside, it must feel good to have your first game at Hollway under your belt. Was the atmosphere what you were expectingFriday night and do you view our home venue as a useful advantage as we are set to host 6 NPSL matches?  

Playing home at Hollway was fantastic. Coaching in my backyard was exhilarating & the support from the community was welcoming. After looking back on the match we have been able to identify aspects of our play that we can highlight at home as we learn how to better take advantage of our home pitch. Our goal is to make sure that we preform well at Hollway & make it a difficult place for opposing teams to play.

 

A lot of the college players will begin training with the club this week. What are some tactics you utilize to build team chemistry quickly?

Obviously we will train every day this week, which will be a critical integration step as we look to build new players into the team. Along with our work on the pitch we have a few events in place to accelerate relationship building. We have a night planned at Revel & Roll & a pre-match meal at Jolly Pumpkin. Both local sponsors of ours and we are thankful for their help in the team building process!

Mighty Oak Monday (Week 1)

What were the positive takeaways from the preseason friendly? What are some areas you'll be working to improve in this week’s in training?  

There were a few positives for me. First of all, it was encouraging to see the men's excitement for the match, which secures a solid foundation for our team culture. Secondly, it was good to carry on the player evaluation process. Since the match, our technical staff has been dissecting the match & analyzing each player's performance. The more time we have to observe each player the better we understand their tendencies & personality as a player. 

Lastly, the support from the Saline Community for Team Katie was contagious. The energy for supporting such a great cause was definitely felt by our men. With all that said we still have a long ways to go as we prepare for NPSL action. 

 

How much of the complete roster do you expect to compete this Friday?  

With our current projections we should have 7-8 of our rostered players in the team for Friday. Most of our college players will be wrapping up their final exams this week and are set to report the week of May 2nd in preparations for our home NPSL opener on May 7th. 

 

What does your match week prep typically look like?  

Early in the team building process we spend our time working through; all phases of the game, positional responsibilities, match situations & set pieces. After 3-4 weeks of working through this stage of the team building micro cycle we settle into a weekly regime, which typically starts with big picture concepts & narrows down to preparing for the up-coming opponent as the training week progresses. 

 

How are you feeling about managing your first match at Hollway Field in front of the Ann Arbor home crowd? 

I'm excited to manage a match at Hollway. It seems like there is a buzz regarding the match & hopefully the Main Street Hooligans & community are ready to embrace the 2016 Might Oak as we kick things off at Hollway. 

 

Saturday’s match ended with a late goal to secure the win. Do you take away anything knowing your club has the ability to find a late goal in close games?

It's always a positive step for a group when they go down a goal and then show resiliency to come back and win. The men played with poise & I actually thought that we improved as the match went on. Those are important factors in a group's maturation & it shows that the players care about getting results for the club. 

 

Mighty Oak Monday (Pre-Season 3)

Now that the roster has been released, are there any highlights on the team sheet that fans should take note of?

At first glance, think it's worth noting the groups of players we have brought in. We're really excited to have multiple players from the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Northwood University, Colgate University & the University of Charleston. These programs all compete on a national stage, so for us to pull in more than one player from each program is/was a key factor in our team building process. 

We also have some really great stories to tell with the connections to the club that enabled us to sign players like Colin Watson, who came through Manchester United's academy from age 8-16, J.P Rylah who was a YTS at Millwall, Willie Bayemi from the Columbus Crew & French Center Back Matt Braem from Loyola University Chicago. With that said I hope there is a place & time this season to speak about each player on the roster because they will all play a critical role in our team's success.

As the team begins training this week in preparation for an April 23rd scrimmage, not all roster players will be here in Ann Arbor yet. Is there a major advantage held by these guys that are here from the start in regards to field time as the season progresses?

They definitely have an early opportunity to improve their fitness, acclimate to our system of play & win a spot in the team. These men also have the privilege of shaping our team culture. With that said, I expect training to be competitive as new players enter with hopes of dressing for our NPSL matches.

We’ve learned that 17 international players will be representing the Mighty Oak this season. Are there any chemistry concerns in terms of team communication issues on the field?

In football there is only 1 language, with no translators needed, & that's the beautiful game.  For me, it's important to bring in a diverse group with different playing histories & influences. Each match on our schedule will call for a different tactic, scheme or individual personality & hopefully with the multiplicity in our roster we have all of our bases covered. 'd also say that the players are excited to be a member of a diverse club and make note that the differences are only cultural as each player we have coming in is accustomed to playing a similar brand of football.  So off the field there will be a lot of Google Translate (mostly by me!) taking place, but on the field we will let the football speak for itself. 

The team sheet holds 2 players from Northwood University; these guys will face off against their own college on April 3rd. Can you shed some light on your relationship with the Northwood University Soccer program?

I've been fortunate to work with some of Northwood's top players the last two summers & have a built a great relationship with their staff of coaches. Northwood has made a name for itself in NCAA Div 2 as a nationally ranked program, so we are fortunate to have James Vaughn & Jack Smith coming in to play with us. The match this weekend vs Northwood will be a good early test for our men & we are thankful that they are coming down to play.

When skimming the roster, 2 individuals from Cuba sticks out. Both have booked extended minutes for Cuban 20, U23 & Men's National Team and have high level playing experience under their belts. Can you give any details as to how the recruiting process developed with Hector and Dario?

Signing Hector & Dario is a neat football story that should be shared over a pint, but I'll try to briefly shed light on how we were able to sign them. Hector came to the USA in the fall of 2015, after a highlighted career in the Cuban National Team Program. Upon crossing into the USA, he was given a list of people to contact for help in his football career. My name & number happened to be on the list. So he & his close friend (translator) Ernesto contacted me to see if I would be interested in working with Hector. After vetting him thoroughly, I told both Hector & Ernesto that I would love to help Hector sign a pro contract. He spent pre-season with Miami FC of the NASL & then with the Richmond Kickers of the USL. Due to the rules and regulations pertaining to the number of roster spots for international players, Hector was not signed by either club. Based on the relationship we had built over the past 4-5 months he immediately communicated that he would like to come play for AFC Ann Arbor in an effort to push on to a professional contract. 

Dario's situation was a little bit different. He was a member of the Cuban Men's National Team this past summer that played in the Gold Cup here in the USA. He came on as a sub vs Mexico and then again vs Trinidad and Tobago. Prior to Cuba's last group stage match vs Guatemala, he defected to the USA with the hopes of signing a professional contract. Along with Hector, Dario spent a month of pre season with Miami FC & was not signed. After which, he chased a few other professional opportunities which didn't pan out. While exploring his options earlier this month, Dario spoke with Hector about his plans. Having known one another since childhood back in Cuba and having played with one another on the international stage, Dario decided to come to AFC Ann Arbor to play with his friend & teammate. 

Mighty Oak Monday (Pre-Season 2)

What is the coaching staff looking for, on the field, in the upcoming friendly on the 23rd?

With most of our college players not available until sometime in May, the friendly on April 23rd will provide us with an excellent opportunity to evaluate our local players in a real match vs a quality side. Northwood had a historic season this past fall and has been in good form so far this spring. They will provide a competitive stage for our local players to prove themselves. Furthermore, we will use the match as the initial building phase of implementing our team tactical schemes.

The roster will be released after the April 17th event, What type of excitement does a complete roster release bring to a coach?

Our staff is excited about the individual talent our roster boasts, but still reserved as we all know that the individual quality of the players has to mesh collectively as a unit. So I guess you could say, there really isn't any satisfaction or reward until the ball starts rolling and we see how the groups performs with one another. 

With so many players coming from different playing backgrounds, what are coaches looking for as the team begins training?

It's all about player's winning spots in the team. The team has been built with 3 players in each position so the best man can win the job. The training environment will be competitive, while also aiming to group players together that perform well with one another. This is the essence of balancing individual quality & team needs, which is a fascinating dynamic.

After the Saline friendly, the team plays host for the first 3 matches of the season. When going over the schedule, do any challenges or advantages stick out in your head?

There are definitely challenges in our schedule, as each match will provide a different variable that we have to deal with. With that said, our first 3 matches at home will ignite a desire to perform well in front of our home supporters. The other notable challenge is that we start earlier than most NPSL clubs with the May 7th fixture, so our pre-season plans will be expedited to prepare for that match.

As you have 2 years of NPSL head coaching experience under your belt, what are some early season techniques you use to build chemistry with such a diverse roster?

For me, the chemistry on the team has already begun to build through different channels. We have groups of players coming in who know one another through various connections in the game and are excited to be reconnected. Our staff has been diligently building relationships with the incoming players to make sure that each man on the roster feels comfortable. And lastly, when the players arrive we will spend a lot of time together; on the pitch, at team building events and in the Ann Arbor community, which is the best way to establish & strengthen any relationship.

Mighty Oak Monday (Pre-Season 1)

What have the last few months been like for you with the club?

The past few month have been really exciting. I've enjoyed the energy of the ownership group, getting to know the club's connections in the community & most of all the challenge of building a competitive team. The busiest aspects of the off season are recruiting & vetting players, along with aligning all of the logistics of the season: staff, training regime, player housing, etc. 

What are you most excited about for the upcoming season?

I'm really thrilled to be coaching in my back yard. To have the platform to build a team in Ann Arbor is really neat. Also, I always look forward to building relationships with new players, while sharing the game with them. The player manager relationship is very important to me & I'm looking forward to working with all of the men we have coming in. 

What can fans expect this season on the field?

Fans can expect a team that is prepared to execute a match plan, plays with passion & is eager to prove themselves in the NPSL. I'm looking forward to the support of the Ann Arbor community in the continued growth of our following. 

With 6 NPSL teams in Michigan, has your recruiting approach changed?

With the addition of Grand Rapids FC, Kalamazoo FC and ourselves, recruiting has become even more competitive. Every club is fighting over the same players, which is far different than years past. We have worked really hard to build on existing relationships for player recruitment & ID all of the players in our back yard. On top of that we are going to supplement our roster with a few international players who will represent us well adding depth to our roster.