Bucks Upset Bid Falls Short As Cup Run Ends, 2-1
Two first half mistakes equal missed opportunity
Pontiac, MI (May 31, 2017)- The Michigan Bucks welcomed yet another professional team to their home of Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, MI on Tuesday night with the hopes of yet another upset in the 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup tournament. Although the young Bucks played step for step with St. Louis FC (D2 pro, two levels above the Bucks amateur PDL status), it came down to two costly first half errors that ended their tournament. St. Louis capitalized twice in the game's first fifteen minutes and the Bucks were forced to chase the last seventy five minutes. The Bucks now quickly shift focus to this weekend’s Hank Steinbrecher Cup, which pits the nation’s top four amateur teams from 2016 in a Friday/ Saturday match up in Cleveland, OH to try and soften the disappointment of what many Bucks players saw as a missed opportunity on Tuesday night.
The Bucks started the game with high energy and quickly gained momentum by taking the action to St. Louis for the first ten minutes. The professional side showed their experience as they battled and counter attacked and held off the Bucks early push until they could get out on the break themselves. That happened in the 13th minute when midfielder Mats Bjurman played a ball into Sebastian Dalgaard, who beat his man down the right side of the penalty area, neatly cut the ball back to his left foot and slotted a perfect low shot to a wide open far post, leaving Bucks goal keeper Drew Shepherd no chance.
The first goal didn’t seem to phase the Bucks, but the second one was devastating. While continuing to press the strong Michigan back line, defender Nick Walker headed a last second ball in the direction of Shepherd in the goal. Dalgaard sniffed the play out and beat Shepherd to the weak back pass and before all the fans were in the seats, the pros had a 2-0 lead. While the two early goals may have shaken some keepers, Shepherd continued to stay focused and made two huge saves in the first half, including one right before the break that kept the Bucks alive and only down two goals.
Following an emotional halftime break to honor Oakland University associate athletic trainer Tom Ford and his stellar career recently cut short due to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), the Bucks channeled some of T Ford’s positive energy and came out of the tunnel flying. In what might be the fastest goal in second half in US Open Cup history, it was the Ann Arbor connection that combined for what many are calling the goal of the tournament so far this year.
After St. Louis took the kick off and sent the ball into the Bucks penalty box, Shepherd put the ball down and launched a 75 yard kick that went right to Bucks electric striker Francis Atuahene. The MLS prospect took the long pass on the bounce, turned and volleyed a right footed shot that looped over the head of St. Louis goal keeper Devala Gorrick and dipped under the bar to half the lead and the Bucks were down 2-1 with an entire half to play.
The goal gave the fans and the home side new life and the team battled the entire second half and took the game to St. Louis. Captain Tom Owens played another outstanding game for the Bucks and nearly had a couple of goals himself, one in each half. Andre Landell worked hard up top with Atuahene and the attackers kept St. Louis on their heels for most of the second half.
The experienced visitors weathered the Bucks storm as the team began to tire and mounted several counter attacks of their own. Anytime they got close to goal, center backs Mo Kaba and Nick Walker were there to clean up the through balls and Shepherd made a couple more great plays of his own. It felt as if the Bucks could just find a way to get the equalizer; they would have St. Louis right where they wanted them. But the second goal never came and St. Louis left town winning the game, and more importantly the right to host the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer in St. Louis on June 14th in the fourth round.
Buck head coach Demir Muftari was quite proud of the effort his team put forward and very happy with the maturity that he is seeing from the team that has still only been together for three weeks. “I can’t say enough about the fight and character of our team. Yes, we made a couple of early mistakes and we paid dearly for them, but never once was there any doubt from anyone on our bench that we were going to get this game tied up. It is a real shame because we feel we squandered a real opportunity when we knew a win would have us hosting another team from Major League Soccer. These three games we have played in the tournament so far have really been a great experience and will serve us well as we head to Cleveland this weekend and then on to defend our two current PDL titles,” said the reigning PDL Coach of the Year. “Our players can see the quality in a team like St. Louis and the huge difference between a D2 pro experience and a PDL experience. We made the mistakes and they made us pay. That is what pro teams do. But at the end of the day, I think most fans would have a hard time distinguishing which team has a $5,000,000 per year budget or whatever the pro budgets are these days, and which team has a $100,000 a year budget. That is no disrespect to their organization. That is the best compliment I can pay my players after a difficult loss. For the most part, we played like pros today. We have to quickly put the disappointment behind us and prepare for a difficult challenge with two games back to back on Friday and Saturday with another trophy on the line.”
Director of Coaching Gary Parsons echoed many of Muftari’s comments as well. “Congrats to St. Louis- they played smart and played hard and won a game that you are supposed to win by grinding it out on the road. We need to learn to do that as well. I am really happy with the progress that this team has made in a short period of time in defeating one pro team (Indy Eleven) and taking this one right to the brink. This Bucks team now believes it can play with anyone, anywhere- but now we have to clean up the mistakes. Tom Owens was superb on Tuesday and there were several MLS scouts in the building all buzzing about Francis. That young man has a very bright future.”
The Bucks drew FC United (PDL) in the semi final round of the Steinbrecher Cup and will be the home team in Cleveland when the two sides face off Friday at 6:30 PM. The second match of the night will have the host team AFC Cleveland (NPSL) welcoming Christos FC (USASA). The winners will battle for the national title on Saturday at 7:30 ET, right after the conclusion of the third place game. FC United (formerly known as Chicago Fire PDL) and the Bucks have a long standing battle as division rivals in the Great Lakes Division over the past sixteen years. The Bucks and FC United will also play a home and home series in their PDL schedule as well so the teams will once again be very familiar with the opposition before the Central Conference playoffs in late July.
Both games on Friday and Saturday are scheduled to be streamed live courtesy of AFC Cleveland. To be directed to the link, please follow the Bucks on Twitter @MichiganBucks.
BUCKS AND OAKLAND UNIVERSITY CELEBRATE THE CAREER OF TOM FORD
The Bucks put on a special warm welcome to Tom Ford and his family at halftime of the Open Cup match to celebrate his outstanding 30 years of service to Oakland University. Joining Bucks CEO Dan Duggan was the entire Ford Family and Tom’s friends and fellowOakland coaches for the past three decades, Gary Parsons and Greg Kampe. The Bucks are donating the proceeds of last night’s game as well as selling "Help T Ford Kick ALS!!!" T shirts and bracelets all season long. All of the proceeds of the sale of shirts and bracelets will also go to the Ford family to help with medical expenses. Perhaps the most emotional part of the evening were the hundreds of current and former Oakland student athletes that Tom served over the years that escorted him into the stadium and stood behind him while he addressed the enthusiastic crowd, many of which attended just to support T Ford. After thanking all those who have supported he and his family for so many years, Tom ended his words with a smile and an enthusiastic, “let’s do this again next year!” which drew the largest cheer of the night at Ultimate Soccer Arenas. The Bucks will continue to help raise awareness for ALS and will be promoting more “Help T Ford Kick ALS!!!” fund raisers throughout the rest of 2017.