The Michigan Bucks continue to add to their storied legacy going where no other amateur soccer team in history has ventured. The Bucks are the first team in US Adult Soccer Association (USASA) history to win back to back Hank Steinbrecher Cup national championships on Saturday night with a 2-0 win over fellow Premier Development League (PDL) champion Charlotte Eagles.
The title is the tenth national championship the Bucks have won in their 23 years in the PDL and their sixth national title in the past five years.
The annual Steinbrecher Cup brings together the champions of the three major amateur soccer divisions in the US along with the previous year's winner.
The Eagles (representing the PDL), Elm City Express (NPSL), the Lansdowne Bhoys (US amateur open division champs) and the Bucks faced off in back-to-back matches on Friday and Saturday to compete for the title.
In Friday’s opening match, Lansdowne came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the Eagles to force overtime. The team based in Yonkers, New York, ran out of gas in extra time while Charlotte flexed their muscles scoring four unanswered goals for the 6-2 final and a berth in Saturday’s title game.
The Bucks came out Friday and dominated the Express with their patented possession style offense. The defending champs kicked the game into another gear with the offensive play of Giuseppe Barone (Grand Rapids, MI/ Michigan State), David Goldsmith (England) and Mitch Guitar (Royal Oak, MI/ Wisconsin), keeping the NPSL champs on their heels until the Bucks could finally break through with the game’s first goal.
In the 15th minute, leading scorer Goldsmith stole an errant pass thirty yards from goal, took a touch and ripped a left footed rocket into the corner of the goal for a 1-0 lead. The Bucks continued to press which frustrated the Express, boiling over when one of the Elm City players spit in the face of Barone and was promptly red carded right before the half.
In the second half, the Bucks continued to dominate possession and conserved energy while making the other side chase while they looked for the second goal. That came in the 79th minute when Goldsmith, the Man of the Match, slotted a perfect through ball from midfield to Amadou Cisse (Guinea/Madonna), who beat the Express goal keeper low to his left as the Bucks advanced to the finals.
The win marked the second year in a row in which the Bucks traveled to the Steinbrecher Cup and eliminated the NPSL champions on their home turf (Cleveland 2017). That set up an all-PDL final and a heavyweight match between the current PDL champs and 2016 PDL champs.
Saturday night, the Bucks made a couple of changes to their starting lineup, replacing forward Austin Ricci (Ontario, Canada/Oakland) and Guitar to save them for the second half. The strategy paid off perfectly with the exception of an early injury to defender James Vaughn (England), who was replaced by Guitar in the 18th minute. Up until that point, the game was fairly even, but the addition of Guitar quickly tilted the field in the Bucks' favor of possession and first half chances. The teams went into the locker room tied at halftime, with the Bucks feeling good about the momentum swing, as they had the Eagles on their heels while defending an attacking offense.
Lenny Wilson (Scotland/ Hartwick College) made his first start for the Bucks in goal in place of Jimmy Hague (Walled Lake, MI/Michigan State) and made the most of his weekend opportunity. He made several saves on Friday to register the clean sheet and was quick off his line again on Saturday. While he didn’t have to face a ton of direct shots on goal over the weekend, he did have to be sharp on several occasions and was quick to respond in both matches.
The Bucks possession was again the story of the second half of the title match as they continued to press looking for the game’s first goal. Another first time starter, Tam Dimairo (New Zealand), made his bid for Man of the Match, as the right back defended well and was an absolute terror to the Eagles coming forward down the right flank into the offensive zone.
In the 62nd minute, the Bucks would finally get on the scoreboard when Goldsmith collected a loose ball twenty yards from goal, pushed it past the last defender and blasted a right footer to the top corner of the goal on the near side, leaving the Eagles keeper with no chance. The Bucks continued to press knowing the second goal would close the deal on their back to back title defense and that came thanks to Ricci.
In the 79th minute, Ricci took a long pass over the top from Guitar, who put the speedy forward in a one-on-one situation with the closing keeper. As Ricci looked up and saw the on-rushing goalie closing fast, he neatly chipped the ball over the keeper into the top of the goal and side stepped the player to begin his celebration as he put the Bucks up 2-0 for the second night in a row.
Assistant coach Will Thornton was pleased with the title and more excited about the effort for a variety of first time starters.
“Over the course of the two nights, we started six players who made their first start for the Bucks this season and every one of them produced for us," Thornton said. "This is a great tournament to give the players who have been training for the past three weeks that might not have seen the field as much as they would like.
"Many saw lots of action and we learned a whole lot about what we have going forward as a team as we get back to PDL action next weekend. I was very proud of the effort on back to back nights against two championship clubs."
The back to back wins in the Steinbrecher Cup automatically earn the Bucks the right to play in the tournament in 2019. With the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and Steinbrecher Cup games completed, the Bucks focus now is solely on defending their Great Lakes division title and qualifying for the PDL playoffs. The Bucks head home to repack and head out again Friday when they visit the Cincinnati Dutch Lions and then West Virginia where they have an afternoon match on Sunday against the Chaos.
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