Wednesday, April 12, 2017

AFC Ann Arbor & Grand Rapids FC learn first ever US Open Cup opponents

Courtesy of AFC Ann Arbor

In only its third year in existence, AFC Ann Arbor has learned their first ever opponent in U.S. Soccer's premier national tournament, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, drawing PDL club Michigan Bucks in the 2017 incarnation of the tournament.

Michigan Bucks fell to fellow NPSL Great Lakes club Detroit City FC in penalties last year.

The Mighty Oak qualified through its stellar play throughout the 2016 NPSL season, that saw them finish second in the Great Lakes West Conference* despite holding the top spot through a majority of the season and reaching the regional semifinal in its inaugural season.

The task of defeating the Michigan Bucks may be a tall one for second year head coach Eric Rudland, as the Bucks have a history of success in the Open Cup. In 2000, the Bucks defeated Major League Soccer club New England Revolution by one goal.

The PDL club has qualified for the Open Cup consistently since 1997.

"For us as a club, this is a big step competitively," Rudland told FTLOF. "Only the top men's teams in the nation qualify for the U.S. Open Cup, so for us to be considered in that echelon of U.S. Soccer is very important."

For comparison, it took Detroit City FC three years in the Open Cup to earn its first win in the tournament.

Courtesy of Grand Rapids FC

A second Great Lakes West club, Grand Rapids FC qualified for the Open Cup in its third year of existence, and will play newly formed PDL club Chicago FC United.

GRFC qualified for the tournament through finishing in first in the Great Lakes West* conference, as well as winning a playoff game, eventually falling to AFC Cleveland in penalties.

AFC Cleveland went on to bring home the 2016 NPSL Championship.

"We couldn't be more excited to participate in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup. The history of this competition is unmatched in the United States and to be a part of it is fantastic," GRFC owner Matt Roberts told FTLOF. "The opportunities that the lower league teams have if they advance are a great way to showcase some small soccer cities that don't get the attention they probably deserve."

FTLOF will begin its 2017 coverage with a friendly between AFC Ann Arbor and Oakland County FC on April 30 at Saline High School; followed byDetroit City FC and former Great Lakes West club, Dayton Dynamo, on May 6 at Keyworth Stadium.

Competitive coverage will begin four days later on May 10, with coverage of AFC Ann Arbor vs. Michigan Bucks at Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac, Mich.

*The Midwest Conference was split into three divisions for 2017. Both AFC Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids FC play in the Great Lakes Conference this season.

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