The Michigan Bucks, a pillar of consistency in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, triumphed over the upstart AFC Ann Arbor 1-0 in a very tightly contested match, that had all the fans fully invested.
“That was a tough game,” said Bucks head coach Gary Parsons. “AFC, they’re a top club in the NPSL, so we had to come to play tonight.”
With the win, the Bucks win its 14th tournament win, which adds to the club’s Modern Era (1995-present) record for an amateur team. They will move on to host the NASL’s Indy Eleven in Round 2.
Play started in the fourth minute with AFC’s Tendai Jirira making a dangerous throw down the left line to Alec Lasinski, but Bucks center back Mo Kaba screened Lasinski off the ball.
The game turned in the 13th minute, when the Mighty Oak failed to clear a ball from the back, and it fell to the midfield. It was poked forward to Andre Landell, who rounded the keeper, and slipped the ball into the back of the net to make it 1-0 for the Bucks.
NPSL Midwestern Golden Boot winner Dario Suarez was fouled from outside the box in the 21st minute, and his ensuing free kick swerved just over the left crossbar.
From that point forward for the rest of the half, it was the Bucks setting up shop in Ann Arbor’s half, and preventing them from playing their high flying style people were accustomed to seeing.
“We started out with a more defensive approach,” said AFC Ann Arbor head coach Eric Rudland. “The second half we ended up inserting Yuri (Farkas) into the match to try and liven things up.”
Farkas’ substitution into the match did change things for Ann Arbor, as they became a lot more aggressive, getting the ball down the side, and working it through the seems.
The Bucks got lucky with a very hard foul on Suarez committed by Daniel de Oliviera in the 63rd minute. The Brazilian midfielder attempted to challenge the ball, and as the former Cuban international pulled away from him, de Oliviera threw his body into Suarez. The referee deliberated for a minute, but decided that a yellow was punishment enough.
Six minutes later, the Mighty Oak almost grabbed a goal back. As mentioned, Farkas’ inclusion to this match allowed for other players to press more. On one particular play, Suarez made a direct run down the left seam, and received the ball. He cut into the box, with a one on one situation with Bucks goalie Drew Shepherd but his finesse chip shot sailed just over the bar.
The Bucks tried to add another goal via Francis Atuahene. The Ghanaian forward unleashed a barrage from about 30 yards out. It beat the keeper but came off the crossbar.
Shouts for a penalty rang out in the 90th, as Nick Walker aggressively shouldered down Lasinski in the Bucks penalty area, but the head official waived play to continue.
With the win, the Bucks move to 14-11 (0-2 PKs) in US Open Cup play. Michigan’s next Open Cup game is at home against Indy Eleven. But Coach Parsons isn’t thinking about that.
“We have a game between now and next Wednesday against a very good team (K-W United), so we’re focused on that first. But Indy is a very good team, so we’re going to have to change how we played today. Maybe a little more conservative.”