Tuesday, May 2, 2017

AFC Ann Arbor avenges last year defeat to Oakland County FC, looks forward to US Open Cup and season


vs. Oakland County FC
In what has become a yearly tradition between the two Michigan clubs, AFC Ann Arbor and Oakland County FC faced off in a preseason meeting that was anything but friendly, seeing The Mighty Oak come out on top 1-0 on Sunday in a physical battle.

The NPSL and Premier League of America clubs have played each other four times since 205, with AFCAA holding a slight advantage with two wins, one draw and a loss. The only loss came last year before a highly successful league campaign for the Ann Arbor club.

Oakland County FC had a less than stellar finish in the PLA, failing to qualify for the playoffs before losing out to Minneapolis City SC in the qualifying rounds for this year's U.S. Open Cup.

AFC Ann Arbor held the possession throughout the entire game, consistently putting Oakland County FC on their heels to defend against the high velocity offensive prowess that AFCAA boasts.

Last season's AFCAA Player of the Year, Dario Suarez, came close to opening the scoring in the second minute, getting in on goal after intercepting a pass, but his shot flew wide of the post.

The only goal of the match came in the 14th minute from Kyle Breitmeyer, AFCAA's offensive standout from its inaugural year, who returns to the club in 2017 after a season in the PLA.

In the 25th minute, AFCAA goalkeeper Adrian Motta picked up a knock after punching the ball clear of a threat, opening up the opportunity for another returning face from the clubs inaugural season and fan favorite, T.J. Tomasso, to enter the match.

Four minutes later, soccer journeyman and former professional, Knox Cameron, entered the match for the final time in his career, having announced his retirement and receiving a plaque before the match to honor his accomplishments.

Cameron's retirement match ended shortly thanks to a pulled hamstring in the 55th minute, and the veteran was forced to come off to a standing ovation.


Click here for full match gallery
 Oakland County FC's best scoring chance of the match fell for them in the 78th minute, when Tomasso came way off of his line to grab a loose ball, but was beat to it but an OCFC defender. Veteran Kevin Taylor was there to clean the ball off the line and keep the AFCAA lead in tact.

The Mighty Oak held on for the narrow win.

2017 U.S. Open Cup and beyond
In terms of the U.S. Open Cup, AFC Ann Arbor is currently gearing up to participate in the 2017 version of the competition for the first-time, against the Michigan Bucks, a high-powered Premier Developmental League (PDL) team that The Mighty Oak have never played.

"The short term goal is to continue to evaluate the players as we bring them in, but what is the priority: league versus Open Cup? They both are. We have to look how the roster changes and how to keep guys fresh while remaining competitive," AFCAA coach Eric Rudland said. "We don't want to look at the Open Cup as our priority and then we lose matches in the league.

"We want to have success in both."

Breitmeyer, Sunday's standout forward against OCFC, is ineligible to play for AFCAA in the USOC due to being in OCFC's squad in their qualifying match earlier in the competition. Goalkeeper Tomasso is also affected by this rule.

But an advantage that The Mighty Oak brings with it is a strong cohesive chemistry that dates back to a year ago when the team took the NPSL Great Lakes West by storm, returning a majority of its key group from last season.

"We've been blown away with the amount of returners we have from last year and I think that speaks volumes about the club and the experience the guys had last year," Rudland said. "It's an easier acclimation process and I feel like those guys feel like they have something to prove. We don't want guys that just had fun last year and want to hangout in Ann Arbor.

"We want to push forward and accomplish more than we did last year."

In terms of what Rudland wants for the 2017 iteration of his team, the answer is simple.

"We want to improve upon what we accomplished in the last season. We want to build a sound defensive structure, try to press and really paint the principles to help us get to that next level."

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