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Bucks To Host PDL Championship After 3-0 Win Over Sockers FC

By Michigan Bucks, 07/31/16, 2:15PM EDT

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Fifth trip to the final is set against Calgary Foothills FC Saturday

Pontiac, MI (July 31, 2016)-   The Michigan Bucks defeated the Midland-Odessa Sockers FC 3-0 Saturday night at Ultimate Soccer Arenas to advance to their record fifth Premier Development League (PDL) championship match.  The Bucks finished the regular season as champions and the top seed in the tournament and will host the title game for the second time in three years next Saturday, August 6 (7:30 PM kick off).  Michigan hosted the 2014 PDL North American Championships, where they earned their second star by defeating the Kitsap Pumas, 1-0.   Tickets for the huge event are only $6 all ages at the door.  Children five and under are always free to Bucks games.

The Central Conference champion Bucks took the game to the Southern Conference champs from Texas from the opening whistle and it was all one way traffic for the first twenty minutes of the match.   The Bucks played their usual controlled, attacking style of entertaining soccer while the defense was solid from the start.  PDL All Central Conference selections Russell Cicerone (Bloomfield, MI/ Buffalo) and Adam Najem (Clifton, NJ/ Akron) showed why they are two of Major League Soccer’s top prospects for next January’s MLS Super Draft by displaying a constant give and go combination that had Sockers keeper Russell Klabough under fire from the third minute   With the Bucks dominant offensive talent running both the flanks and the middle third of the field, it was Man of the Match Andre Landell (England/ Tiffin), the third leading scorer on the Bucks team this season, that did the most damage to the Sockers hopes of getting to their first PDL championship match,

In the nineteenth minute, right back Brad Ruhaak (Akron, OH/ Akron) whipped in a beautiful cross from just outside the eighteen yard box that Landell headed home with a clinical finish to put the home side up 1-0.  Ruhaak, along with defensive midfielder Brad Dunwell (Grand Rapids, MI/ Wake Forest) have been two of the unsung heroes on this year’s Bucks team that don’t get much mention because of their position on the field, but have been two of the most dominant defenders in the PDL this season.

Both of the Bucks center backs, Lalas Abubaker (Ghana/ Dayton) and Francis De Vries (New Zealand/ St. Francis) are two of the top defenders on this year’s MLS watch list and both are listed on the PDL Top Prospect lists and showed why as they broke up nearly every attempt the Sockers had trying to penetrate the Bucks eighteen yard box.  The Sockers best chance came in the 38th minute when it a corner kick was headed toward the top corner but Bucks keeper Drew Shepherd (Ann Arbor, MI/ Western Michigan) parried the dangerous chance over the top of the cross bar to keep his ninth shutout of the season in tact.   Shepherd ran his season record to 11-1 and has only conceded three goals all season long.  He has now recorded six consecutive shutouts leading into the title match next Saturday.

At the halftime break, Bucks head coach brought in possession oriented Marco Charalambous (Cyprus/ Butler) to try and make the Sockers chase for possession while the home side protected a one goal lead.  As usual, the Bucks were not content with only scoring one goal and wanted to give the defense some breathing room.  Workhorse Cicerone once again connected on a brilliant give and go with Najem forty yards from goal and the speedy winger did the rest by splitting two defenders and driving to the near post as he entered the box from the left side.  Cicerone smashed a low drive from a sharp angle that Klabough was able to get a hand on, but Landell was there first for the rebound and pounded home his second goal of the night in the 61st minute. 

From there it was an uphill battle for the visitors as the Bucks defense continued to limit most of their chances from outside the eighteen, giving Shepherd plenty of time to react.  They did have two excellent chances after the 70th minute, but Shepherd made to great saves to protect his clean sheet.

The Bucks did finish the scoring in the 66th minute when Charalambous’ corner kick was flicked into the goal mouth by Abubaker and was met by De Vries who finished his first goal of the season from three yards out to make the final 3-0.

Muftari was all smiles after the game and excited about the opportunity to both play and host his second championship match in three years.  “This team deserves everything it has earned so far and they totally understand what is at stake right now.   People can talk all they want about the talent we have on this team and compare them to the best ever PDL teams, but all that talk goes out the window and all our success is forgotten if we don’t finish the job next Saturday.  We don’t know anything about Calgary and have never played the organization so we will work this week to get up to speed.  But the most important thing we need to do is remained focused and remember who we are.   We have proven to be the best offensive team in the PDL this season and the best defensive team in the same season.   If we stay true to that next weekend, we have a great chance at getting the result we want.”

Calgary Foothills FC defeated Ocean City Saturday 3-0 in the other PDL Semi Final to punch their ticket to the final.  Foothills were the Northwest Division champion as well as Western Conference champion and are in the playoffs for the first time in the club’s second PDL season.

Tickets for Saturday’s match are only $6 and available at the gate.   Teams, clubs or groups wanting to get further discounted tickets by bringing a group of 20 or more, please contact Kelly Haapala at 248-521-2179.  To follow the Bucks, please visit the web site at www.buckssoccer.com or follow us on Instagram and Twitter @MichiganBucks, as well as on Facebook