Thursday, April 14, 2016

'I hope to make a positive impact', Rudland ready for new challenge at AFC Ann Arbor

Last season, AFC Ann Arbor exploded into the Washtenaw area with a bang by drawing over 2,000 fans at its inaugural match at Holloway Field in Ann Arbor. The Mighty Oak went on to finish third in the newly formed Great Lakes Premier League (known now as the Premier League of America), a non-division soccer league located in the Midwest.

AFCAA went on to reach the finals of the USASA Region II National Amateur Cup tournament, being defeated in the championship round. At the helm of the AFC Ann Arbor success was Midwest-known coach, Dave Hebestreit. 

In the off-season, the club and Hebestreit mutually parted ways. While Hebestreit quickly found a new home at Toledo United, AFCAA were able to bring on a successful and traveled coach in Eric Rudland after being promoted to the NPSL for the 2016 season.

"When Dave [Hebestreit] decided to move down to Toledo, he shared a lot of information with me on players," Rudland said. "We carried on a dialogue throughout the course of the last two months.

"I think things ended on decent terms, and I think it is great situation for Dave and I to continue our professional relationship as well."

Rudland's track record speaks for itself. Having a successful career at the collegiate level with the likes of Madonna University, Albion College and Spring Arbor University; the coach spent the last two seasons with fellow NPSL club, Lansing United.

Rudland led Lansing United to a Midwest region championship and posting a 17-13-7 record with the club. Rudland also spent time in England as an assistant coach with CrewAlexandra FC over in England. 

"It became clear that the ownership group in Ann Arbor were potentially looking to make a shift," Rudland said about the move to AFCAA. "I became aware that they were looking to make a change so we mutually reached out to each other. 

"At the end of the day it was a move that made sense for me, professionally and personally and a good fit overall."

After announcing Rudland as its new Sporting Director and Head Coach, it was assumed that the AFCAA brass would start releasing information on its second-year roster, but as of this writing there has been no roster reveal. 

But rather, a full roster will be announced on April 17 by the club. 

"The roster is good and we're set. We've been pretty much locked and loaded for a while and the recruitment has gone well," the Mighty Oak coach said. "The scouting landscape in Michigan had improved drastically over the last few years. 

"There is definitely a different dynamic this season and it's challenged us to grab the best homegrown talent but also outside of the state and outside of the nation to bring this club to the next level."

And AFC Ann Arbor will be literally going to the next level of the U.S. soccer pyramid in 2016. AFCAA has left the fifth-tier amateur division and has jumped up into the fourth-tier NPSL, which will presumably cause some issues for Rudland his squad. 

"We don't have to look at it like we have to prepare our players to play in the NPSL, we actually don't have a ton of time to prepare guys so our philosophy is to go out and get guys that are ready to play at this level," Rudland said. "We have some guys that are with us for a development role that we may need down the road. 

"But we're very much in the mindset of bringing guys in that are ready to go and can go out and show well for the club."

As a club that has now been under the control of two coaches but has only played one season, it is the concern that the club may not be capable of holding consistency when it comes to leadership and direction.

But Rudland has put to bed that concern, and has declared himself a Mighty Oak man for his immediate future. 

"This is my hometown and I'm really excited about the direction of the club, the ownership group and the clubs resources are fantastic," he said. "You look at the progress the club has made since its first year, I think they did extremely well. 

"I'm not knocking on doors or sending out resumes to go somewhere else. 

"I'm happy with where I am, the direction and I want to be around long enough to make a positive impact and send the football side of the organization in the right path."

As far as a goal for the clubs inaugural NPSL season, Rudland is shooting for a top of the table finish regardless of its inexperience as a semi-professional organization and the pressure that fans put on teams.

"My primary objective is to bring in guys who can compete at the level and be competitive in this league," he said to FTLOF. "Hopefully we can bring some pride and excitement to the community and whether relations between the Northern Guard and the Main St. Hooligans [AFCAA's supporter group] does that, it's the fun of football.

"You're going to have a lot of these local rivalries with six clubs in Michigan and we'll see that gradual growth of tension between those clubs 
"For us it's about the process and looking forward to playing each match on the schedule in the best possible way.

AFC Ann Arbor kicks off its season on April 23 with a showcase match against Northwood, and will play its first NPSL match against the Dayton Dynamo on May 7. Rudland won't meet with his former club, Lansing United, until June 10. 

The Mighty Oak goes up against conference favorite Detroit City FC on May 20 at the newly renovated Keyworth Stadium. 

Despite the key match-ups that highlight AFCAA's upcoming season, Rudland held true to his long-term plans for the club, simply stating:

"We're here to win championships."

*Photo courtesy of AFC Ann Arbor

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