Bucks Cruise to 9th National Title in Steinbrecher Cup
Shepherd records back-to-back shutouts in Tournament of Champions
Cleveland, OH (June 4, 2017)- The Michigan Bucks recorded back to back shutouts over the weekend and took home their record ninth national championship when they dominated AFC Cleveland (NPSL) in the championship match of the Hank Steinbrecher Cup. The tournament (sponsored by US Soccer) features the four amateur champions from 2016 and the Bucks represented the PDL, while Christos FC (USASA) and Chicago FC United (PDL, defending champs) rounded out the four combatants that played two games on Friday and Saturday evenings to determine US Soccer’s national amateur champion for 2017.
The Bucks opened the semi final match against Chicago FC United (formerly Chicago Fire U23) in a typical Bucks- Chicago rivalry game filled with loads of future MLS talent. The teams battled through a scoreless first half; with both goalkeepers making outstanding saves to keep the game tied. The Bucks had the better opportunities and fired seven shots at FC United keeper Sawyer Jackman.
The Bucks came out fast in the second half and created a couple of early opportunities and would finally open the scoring when Captain Tom Owens crossed a ball in from the right flank that striker Andre Landell redirected past Jackman in the 55th minute to give the Bucks a 1-0 lead. Chicago did pick up the pace in the Bucks zone shortly after going down a goal, but Man of the Match Drew Shepherd made his only two huge saves of the game to frustrate Chicago.
Jacob Bevan took a ball from Nick Walker in stoppage time and Bevan went in alone and beat Sawyer to give the Bucks a 2-0 win and a berth in Saturday evening’s championship match. The host team AFC Cleveland got a stoppage time goal themselves which turned out to be the game winner when they defeated Christos FC (Maryland) 2-1 in the night cap to set up the first ever meeting between the Bucks and AFC Cleveland.
The Bucks came into the championship match with an entirely new look, having lost three defenders to injury in Friday night's match. Assistant coach Paul Thomas relied on his deep bench and named three Bucks starters in the final who would all be making their first appearance in the starting eleven. Bevan, Gael Kisombe and Danilo Markowitz all were called to duty in the final and all performed well on the big stage.
The Bucks dominated the game from opening kick off to the final whistle and used their deep possession skills to make Cleveland chase the young team. The Bucks got on the board early when Owens sent a long ball into the box for Bevan, that was crossed up between the Cleveland goal keeper and center back and what seemed like a routine ball ended up in the back of the net, putting the visitors on top in the tenth minute.
Michigan continued to knock the ball around looking for more first half opportunities and had several chances but couldn’t get the second goal until the 37th minute. Forward Francis Atuahene flew down the left flank and crossed the ball to the penalty spot for Bevan to finish but he never got the chance. A Cleveland defender bulldozed the young Bucks striker and the ref had no choice but to give the Bucks the penalty kick. Once again, Owens stepped up and calmly converted his second PK of the season and put the Bucks up 2-0 before the half time whistle.
Shepherd had a relatively easy night in goal compared to the previous night’s match against Chicago, but was sharp when he was called on. He was only credited with one save on the evening, but he did come out to corral several crosses and break up a couple of dangerous situations. The Bucks put the game away in the 76th minute, when Man of the Match Nick Walker stole the ball at midfield and played Bevan down the right wing. Bevan easily beat his man and sent a cross to a wide-open Andre Landell, waiting patiently at the back post for an easy tap in goal. The ball never got to Landell because a sliding Cleveland defender put the ball into his own goal to give the Bucks a 3-0 win and their first USASA national title.
The national championship brings the Bucks total to nine national titles in the club’s 22nd season. The Bucks have won five PDL Regular Season championships and three PDL North American championships to go along with the Hank Steinbrecher Cup.
Coach Thomas was pleased with the performance of all of his players and the effort it took to bring home the Cup with a short-handed roster. “We were a bit concerned on Saturday morning when three starting defenders said they were not available to play due to injury. Playing in as many games as we have in the first three weeks has made it difficult to keep everyone fit, but that is why we have a group of 40 players that are all trying to be a part of this club. I had total confidence in the new young players who suited up on Saturday and they didn’t disappoint. Playing on back-to-back nights is always difficult but to be able to win that game with only 15 healthy bodies is a true testament to the commitment of all our players. Now we get to go on the road and do it again next weekend,” said Thomas.
With the Steinbrecher Cup and the Open Cup out of the way, the Bucks now turn their attention exclusively to defending their current PDL titles. The team was off Sunday and Monday and will train Tuesday and Wednesday before they travel to Cincinnati on Thursday for their first match of the year against the Dutch Lions. The team then heads to Charleston, West Virginia to play the Chaos on Saturday. The Bucks defeated the Chaos 6-2 at the Canton Cup at the end of May.
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