Sunday, April 17, 2016

AFC Ann Arbor reveals bolstered roster for 2016 NPSL season

AFC Ann Arbor took to the streets on Sunday afternoon, revealing its 2016 NPSL roster in a community event at its Reveal & Roll occasion. Supporters attended the gathering in flocks to meet and interact with the Mighty Oak's squad members.

The club shocked the NPSL with its roster reveal, making it obvious that the addition of coach Eric Rudland did plenty in terms of recruitment for the 2016 campaign. The roster is a clear upgrade from the 2015 roster that AFCAA fielded in the inaugural Great Lakes Premier League season. 

A great deal of changes for AFCAA took place over the last nine months, especially with Rudland taking the transition from leading Lansing United to becoming the Sporting Director for the Ann Arbor club. 

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Fans of other NPSL teams assumed that Rudland would lead an exodus of United players and bring those players to AFCAA, but that is not the case. In reality, Thabiso "Boyzzz" Khumalo, Jack Smith, Leigh Rumbold, as well as brothers Zach and Chase Pagani are the only Lansing United products on the current Mighty Oak roster.   

"We tried to branch out more when it came to recruiting, but we still wanted to grad some players here in Ann Arbor  that are in our own backyard," Rudland said. "We wanted to look at players from outside of the state and outside of the nation to bring to Ann Arbor to hopefully bring our team to the next level."

Rudland and his team accomplished their goal of broadening the horizons of their squad. AFCAA boasts nine players from the Ann Arbor area, and also holds 12 total from Michigan. 

Players have come from across the country,  with squad members hailing from Alabama, Illinois, Virginia and Ohio. 

There are 17 players on the roster that represent 10 different countries including England, South Africa, Brazil, Frank, German, the Netherland, Mexico, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, and Bosnia. 

Probably the two most surprising signings from the offseason are two former Cuban Men's National Team players, Dario Suarez and Hector Morales. Suarez and Morales brings a whole new dynamic to a team that can only benefit from having players of their caliber involved in the squad. 

Both Morales and Suarez are excited to suit up for the Mighty Oak and equally ready to begin their careers in the United States after defecting from the Cuban Men's National Team during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. 

"We're very happy to be here in Ann Arbor, we like this city a lot," Morales told FTLOF. "We're also very happy to be a part of the team and to be in a position to help the team achieve more."

The duo plan to bring their seasoned skills to Ann Arbor, with the goal of making the playoffs and helping the club to a championship in its inaugural NPSL season. 

Hector Morales
"He's [Suarez[ a very good player because he's good on the ball with both of his feet, with very good technique who can handle the ball well," Morales said. "We think that with our style of play, we can help the team pull ahead.

"Our main goal is to bring the team to the top of the region and play really well," Morales continued. "We want to get into the playoffs, achieve that and then win the championship."

AFCAA was successful in bringing talented foreign-born players into the fold, but didn't forget what made it popular among fans, and included local players into the roster. 

Amongst returners is 2015 standout and current University of Michigan midfielder, Tristan Jacobs. Jacobs was vital in the Mighty Oak's campaign last season, commanding the midfield and becoming a leader on the pitch. 

He looks to do the same in the upcoming season. 

"It means a lot to come back to this team and represent Ann Arbor," Jacobs said. "I'm from here, I play for Michigan so it means a lot to be able to play for my hometown club."

With the club moving into the NPSL, Jacobs believes that he is in a good place to continue contributing to the team and credits that to his collegiate experience. 

"I definitely think Michigan prepares you for the NPSL with the quality of the team and our opponents. It's going to be good competition," he said. "We have a bunch of international players and we're both excited.

"But I have to practice and work hard. It's going to be great to play against the guys on other teams that also play for Michigan, It's going to be great competition."

AFCAA displays high talented players from the United States and from abroad, and amidst those players are two former Major League Soccer players in Knox Cameron and William Bayemi. Both Cameron and Bayemi are formerly forwards for Columbus Crew SC. 

Knox, a co-owner of the club and returning player joins Bayemi in bringing professional experience to the club. 

Other returning players include: Peter Tappenden, Lars Eckenrode, Johno Heslop and Kevin Taylor. 

At the goalkeeper position, AFCAA brings in German born Fabian Veit. Veit recorded an impressive 12 clean sheets for the University of Charleston Golden Eagles in the 2014 season. 

Joining Veit in the crease will be Tappenden and Rhys Moller out of Cornell University.

AFC Ann Arbor kicks off its season with a friendly against Northwood University on April 23. A week later the Mighty Oak faces off against Oakland County FC in its Arbor Day season opener.

*Photos courtesy of AFC Ann Arbor

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