Cicerone’s two goals and assist earn him MVP
Pontiac, MI (August 7, 2016)- The Michigan Bucks earned their unprecedented third Premier Development League (PDL) North American Championship in thrilling fashion Saturday night with a late goal to give the home side a 3-2 win over Calgary Foothills FC in front of a packed house at Ultimate Soccer Arenas. Bucks leading scorer Russell Cicerone scored two goals and added a brilliant assist to account for the Bucks scoring, including the game winner on a penalty kick in the 88th minute. The Bucks finished their outstanding season as the PDL Regular Season Champions with a record of 16-2 in the PDL season. The Bucks dynasty of late has earned the club five PDL titles in the past five years (Regular Season titles in 2012, 2015, 2016 and PDL North American titles in 2014 and 2016).
The game played out as nearly every Bucks game has all season long, with the talented side from Michigan taking the game to the opponents. Cicerone, along with PDL Creative Player of the Year Adam Najem constantly pressed the young team from Canada and pounded the ball at the opposition with help from forwards Andre Landell and Ben Fitzpatrick. Calgary’s dangerous counter attack created the first near chance in the seventeenth minute when Drew Shepherd came out and made an outstanding save on striker Dominic Russo. Shepherd played his finest game in two year’s in a Bucks uniform, as he made several spectacular saves to keep the Bucks championship hopes alive.
Cicerone took a pass from Jon Rubio Ramon down the left flank and jockeyed with two Foothills defenders before pulling up twelve yards from goal and placed a perfect right footed shot into the side netting past Calgary goal keeper Dylon Powley for the first goal of the game in the 23rd minute. Once the first goal went in, the Bucks pressed furiously to try and get a second to really apply the pressure to the Canadian visitors before halftime. In the 38th minute Calgary forward Nico Pasquatti found the ball at his feet twenty yards from goal and beat two Bucks defenders before sliding a low shot just past Shepherd to knot the score at 1-1 at the halftime break.
The second half was a carbon copy of the first half with the Bucks playing their possession oriented game and Calgary holding firm defensively while looking for counter attack opportunities. In the 60th minute, PDL All League striker Dominic Russo took a pass at the eighteen yard box, pushed the ball to his left foot and finished a beautiful strike past Shepherd to put the Bucks behind on the scoreboard for the first time in over a month. With the score 2-1, Bucks coach Demir Muftari went to his back pocket and pulled out the trump cards and substituted David Goldsmith and Marco Charalambous into the game. The Butler University duo has spelled trouble for every team this playoff season and Calgary was about to be their next victim.
In the 74th minute Cicerone tore down the left flank like he had all night long and sent in a perfect cross that Goldie headed over Powley into the top corner and the Bucks tied the score to the delight of the raucous full house crowd at Ultimate Soccer Arenas. The game tying goal gave the Bucks instant energy and they continued to press to try and get the game winner before the full time whistle.
In the 88th minute the Bucks earned a throw in deep in Calgary territory when Najem was shielding the reception of the throw in inside the eighteen yard box when Foothills defender Jonathon Wheeldon wrapped his arm around the Akron midfielder and pulled him down leading to a Michigan Bucks penalty kick. Cicerone stepped up and coolly knocked the spot kick into the back of the net for a 3-2 Bucks lead.
The Bucks killed off the last two minutes and four additional minutes of added time while Calgary desperately tried to find the equalizer. Shepherd made an outstanding save in the final seconds to assure the Bucks their PDL record third North American Championship.
PDL Coach of the Year Demir Muftari didn’t have much to say after the game while sporting a huge smile. “The boys did the talking tonight. We beat one of the best PDL teams we have ever faced tonight so that makes this one so special. We knew this team had the tools to win it all but you never know what is going to happen in soccer. This is the first time we have been scored upon at home this season and the first time we have been behind in a game since June so it was a struggle but the character of this team prevailed. We beat a very good team tonight in what I think may have been the best PDL final that has ever been played. It was a track meet.”
Bucks Chairman/ CEO Dan Duggan couldn’t have been more pleased with his team and coaching staff. “Demir did a masterful job all season long. Losing our captain Tom Owens to his college coaching position was a huge loss but the boys stepped it up a notch when they needed to. There are so many sub plots to this season that really added up to get to where we are today, but perhaps the best example of how this team is unified is exemplified by the roles of players like David Goldsmith and Marco Charalambous. Both of these players would start for any other PDL club and both will most likely have long professional careers after they graduate from Butler. Yet they both accepted a role coming off the bench and made an incredible impact in all four of our playoff games. In twenty one years of PDL, I have never seen a more selfless group of individuals that came together for the team. This one is definitely for all of our players that contributed throughout the past three months. This truly is a special group of individuals.”
All of the Bucks players departed Sunday, most of them checking in with their college teams that begin training on Tuesday. With more than a half dozen of this year’s Bucks players expected to sign professional contracts this winter, Director of Coaching Gary Parsons has his work cut out for him this fall and winter. “I gave Gary a week off to enjoy the celebration and then we are right back at it. We will hit the recruiting trail on August 15 to try to somehow find a way to put together a squad for next year that is as good as this year’s team. Gary did such a great job assembling this year’s team that he once again raised the bar and expectations for next year are higher than ever,” concluded Duggan.
To follow the Bucks in their college season and their journey to MLS and beyond, please visit the web site at www.buckssoccer.com or follow us on Instagram and Twitter @MichiganBucks, as well as on Facebook.