The Michigan Bucks just opened training camp this past weekend for their 23rd season in the United Soccer League’s (USL) Premier Development League (PDL) and are preparing for a huge match on Wednesday night. The Bucks come into the 2018 season with an incredible overall record of 290 wins, 101 losses and 41 ties. The records involve only U.S. Soccer sanctioned matches that were recorded in the PDL regular season, PDL postseason, US Open Cup and the Hank Steinbrecher USASA National Championship Tournament. Wednesday, the Bucks will extend their record of appearances for an amateur team in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup to 15 when they visit Detroit City FC at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck, Michigan.
The Bucks have the opportunity to become the first team in PDL history to reach the 300 win mark and hope to start this year’s campaign off strong in the US Open Cup, before the beginning of the PDL season in Lansing, Michigan, on Saturday, May 12, and finishing their first 30 days of the season when defending the Steinbrecher Cup National Championship in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 1. Depending on the team’s success in the US Open Cup, the Bucks could potentially play eleven sanctioned matches between May 9 and June 10. The team is currently assembling a deep roster that resembles the United Nations, mixed with lots of Michigan based talent to get the job done.
First year head coach Paul Thomas has constructed a group of Bucks veterans to go along with some of the country's top college talent who are making their first appearance in a Bucks uniform this season. Returning to lead the Bucks is striker David Goldsmith (England), who played three outstanding seasons with the Bucks, leading the team to three national championships in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before heading to the professional ranks and spending last season with Indy XI of the NASL. Goldsmith returns to the Bucks to earn another spot in the pro ranks later on this season. Also returning to the Bucks is forward Afonso Pinheiro Neto (Brazil), who played his freshman season with the Bucks before moving to FC Tucson in the PDL the past few seasons. Neto was drafted by DC United of Major League Soccer this past January and is also looking to earn his way into a professional contract. Former three year starting defender Brad Ruhaak (Akron, OH) returns home as well, looking for more championships after playing last season for North Carolina FC in the NASL as well.
Some of the top talent from the west side of Michigan returns to the Bucks in three potential MLS prospects in Brad Dunwell (Wake Forest), Giuseppe Barone (Michigan State) and Jared Timmer (Butler). Dunwell returns for his fourth season, having won titles in his previous three years (PDL Regular Season title, PDL North American title, Steinbrecher Cup national championship). All three players were outstanding youth players born and raised in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area and once again will make Pontiac their home this summer.
The original Bucks team in 1996 was led by University of Michigan club coach Steve Burns, who later went on to be head coach of the Wolverines as they made soccer a varsity sport. Over the years, the Bucks have had several U-M players who have gone on to play professional soccer, many in MLS. This year, the Bucks have the cream of the crop from the Maize and Blue as they return captain Ivo Cerda (Chile) and Daniel Mukuna (England). Joining them this season with the Bucks are the team’s most exciting attackers in Farouk Osman and Mohammed Zakyi (both from Ghana), who will do their best to follow in the footsteps of Francis Atuahene; another former Buck, former Wolverine and former Right to Dream academy star. US U-18 and U-20 defender Marcelo Borges (Kearney, NJ) will also split part of his summer between school in Ann Arbor and playing with the Bucks.
Goal keeper Jimmy Hague (Walled Lake, MI/ MSU) has big shoes to fill in goal for the Bucks, as the last four Bucks starting keepers are all playing in MLS today. According to several MLS scouts, Hague has all of the attributes that Steve Clark (DC United), Mitch Hildebrandt (Atl United), Adam Grinwis (Orlando City SC) and Drew Shepherd(Toronto FC II) possess and hopefully will follow in their footsteps in next January’s MLS SuperDraft.
Thomas and his staff have also signed Austin Ricci (Richmond Hills, ONT/ Oakland) and Mitch Guitar (Royal Oak, MI/ Wisconsin) for their second season. Jake Rufe and Connor McNulty (Western Michigan) keep the Broncos represented on this year’s Bucks roster as well. The team is in the process of signing additional players over the next several weeks that hail from Scotland, Denmark, New Zealand, Croatia, Austria and Japan, bringing the team’s total of represented countries so far this year to eleven different nations.
The Bucks lead the PDL with five top prospects in the first version of the PDL Top 50 Pro Prospects that was released last week. Included in the first edition, voted on by the extensive group of professional scouts around the US and Canada, were Dunwell, Barone, Hague, Guitar and Timmer. The Bucks look to add to that list with stellar play of several other key ingredients from this year’s talented roster.
The winner of the Bucks/ DCFC first round US Open Cup game travels to Cincinnati to take on FC Cincinnati (USL), one of last year’s US Open Cup semi finalists and great soccer success stories. The Bucks also take on Lansing United in their first PDL match at the East Lansing Soccer Complex (kick off 7 PM). The Bucks' first home game will be on Sunday, May 20th with a special matinee kick off of 4PM in the first of three matches at Royal Oak High School this season.
To keep up with all the latest news on the Bucks, follow us on Twitter @MichiganBucks, Facebook @MichiganBucksSoccer and Instagram @MichiganBucksPDL. Individual game tickets, Bucks season passes and Family Passes are available at special discounted prices by visiting the team’s web site at buckssoccer.com.
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