Thursday, May 11, 2017

AFC Ann Arbor fights hard but falls to Michigan Bucks, 1-0, in first U.S. Open Cup match

AFC Ann Arbor competed in its first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match in club history on Wednesday, fight hard but eventually being defeated, 1-0, to the Michigan Bucks, in the professional development clubs 14th consecutive appearance in the competition.

"The game plan that we put together really went true to form. We wanted to get into the locker room at halftime at nil-nil and it was just unfortunate that we had a bad giveaway that led to a goal," Head coach Eric Rudland said. "We knew around the 60th minute we wanted to bring on Yuri, and when we did that the game just changed.

"First half [the Bucks] held a lot of the possession but didn't have that many chances; second half it was pretty even in possession, but chance-for-chance we had more than they did."

The Bucks lost in the first round last year to Detroit City FC.

AFC Ann Arbor were without a handful of key players for the competition, including forward Kyle Breitmeyer, midfielders Hector Morales and Leigh Rumbold and goalkeepers.

Head coach Eric Rudland brought in proven NPSL players for the first round tie in former Detroit City FC forward Alec Lasinski and FC Buffalo goalkeeper Steve Casey, to try and make up for the absences.

The Mighty Oak struggled in the first half against the Bucks, with clear possession and offensive chances being earned in favor of the 2016 PDL Champions. It was clear from the onset of the half that the AFCAA primary tactic was on the counter attack, of which the Bucks defenders handled well.

The Bucks put on the pressure through the midfield in the first ten minutes, continually forcing AFCAA players to sit back and defend, seeing virtually no possession of the ball.

In the 13th minute, Bucks forward Andre Landell took advantage of a defensive lapse, intercepting the ball and dancing around Casey to open the scoring on the night.

The leaders continued to pile on the pressure after the goal, but The Mighty Oak defenders, ironically, seemed more comfortable at the back after Landell's goal.

As time wore on in the match, AFCAA seemed more confident in the small amount of possession they had with the ball, choosing to either fly down the flank looking for Dario Suarez, or play a ball over the top to Lasinski, hoping to beat the Bucks defenders in a foot race.

This strategy never panned out for Rudland.

AFCAA 'Man of the Match', defender Jimmy Fiscus, stopped what looked to be the second goal for the Bucks in the 32nd minute, sliding in and blocking an uncontested shot from a Bucks forward that had dribbled right into the box.

Neither team earned another chance in the first half.

The Bucks defenders and midfield were both strong and fast, handling Lasinski and Suarez every step of the way.

You could tell that players from both sides were physically exhausted from the continuous pace of play, even at the end of the opening 45 minutes.

A tactical change at the half from Rudland saw Lasinski slide into an advanced number ten role, and the substitution introducing Yuri Furkus to play up top with Suarez, which allowed for a second dimension to be played in the attacking third.

"We wanted to expose them a little more in the wide channels and bring in Yuri to play with Alec [Lasinski], so those changes went as planned," Rudland said. "If you could pick any guys to have in scoring position, Dario [Suarez] and Yuri are your guys.

"But sometimes it just doesn't go your way."

Farkas being in the game not only gave a shot of adrenaline and confidence in the offensive zone, but also allowed more possession and brought three giant chances for The Mighty Oak.

The first came one minute after Farkas' introduction into the match. The forward held up the ball, dishing it to Suarez for an uncontested and powerful shot that was saved by Drew Shepherd in the 56th minute.

Two minutes later, a solo effort from Farkas himself forced a save out of Shepherd again.

The 68th minute saw an uncharacteristic miss from AFCAA's star man, Suarez. The Cuban was one on one with Shepherd, and even caught the goalkeeper out of position, but sent his effort way over the bar, squandering his clubs best chance on the night.

The final 20 minutes of the match continued on with the 1-0 scoreline in favor of the Bucks, and finished the same, seeing the Michigan Bucks advancing to the second round to host NASL's Indy Eleven.

"This is a great opportunity for our guys and really it's all about paying tribute to the guys who played last year that allowed us to play in Open Cup," Rudland said. "Now we can just focus on league play and move forward. We're really happy with the progress we've made up until this point, though.

"Now, we move our attention to our home opener and the rest of league play."

AFC Ann Arbor continues the NPSL season with its home opener against Kalamazoo FC on May 14.

You can find the full photo gallery from the match here.

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