The Flint City Bucks changed their name this year (from the Michigan Bucks), changed their home from Pontiac to Flint and reinstated their former League Two Coach of the Year all with one goal in mind. Winning more championships. On Saturday night before a passionate crowd of 7,198 fans, the Bucks accomplished their goal, defeating Reading United AC (Pennsylvania) 1-0 in an overtime thriller.
Ayuk Tambe (Cameroon/ Tusculum University) converted the game’s only tally. It was a penalty kick in the second overtime period just ten minutes from the match being decided by penalty kicks. The win brought the Bucks overall season record to 19-3-3 in all competitions and finished with an incredible home record of 10-1-1 at Kettering University’s historic Atwood Stadium.
On a perfectly sultry summer evening, in the venerable and historic confines of one of America’s most storied amateur stadiums, soccer fans witnessed another chapter in Kettering’s Atwood Stadium history. The Flint City Bucks delivered that chapter in dramatic fashion in the form of the first National Championship of any type won in the venue’s 90 years. With enthusiasm not seen since the stadium hosted popular U.S. Presidents, rock bands, and epic Thanksgiving Day football tilts, the brick ensconced stadium entertained a celebration of athletic excellence culminating in the hoisting of the USL League 2 National Championship Trophy. A storybook finish for a storied franchise, in a legendary stadium on a perfect summer night is the stuff dreams are made of. For the Bucks and their fans it was one they’ll never forget.
The match started out with both teams possessing, not wanting to make a mistake and patiently waiting for the right time to capitalize. The Bucks finally got into a good rhythm and had three excellent chances between the 25th and 40th minutes. Javier Steinwascher (Sterling Hts., MI/ UI Indy) had his first chance sail over the crossbar and both Charlie Booth (Concord, MA/ University of Rhode Island) and Brayden McNitt’s (Brighton, MI/ Wright State) opportunities were saved by Reading goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre.
In the second half the teams played more of the same, but both teams did create opportunities to open the scoring. While Bucks keeper Andrew Pannenberg (Charlotte, NC/ Wake Forest) did not have to make many saves on the evening, he was very active off his line in breaking up crosses and relied heavily on his defenders who blocked double digit shots from getting to goal.
Tanguy Guerineau (France/ Oral Roberts) had the best chance at the end of regulation time but his open look was over cooked and his hard shot sailed wide of goal and the fans would be treated to an extra 30 minutes of bonus soccer played by two spirited teams dominated by future pro players.
The first over time was more open then the first ninety minutes as both teams began to tire and each side had decent looks toward goal. Things changed in the 94th minute, when Bucks head coach subbed on Tambe for team leading scorer and penalty kick taker Yuri Farkas (Brazil/ Madonna).
In the 110th minute Hemi Nassar (Dearborn, MI/ Butler) slid an excellent through ball to Tambe and he was played in alone on goal bringing the crowd to their feet as the little man sped past two defenders with only Lefebvre to beat for the game winner. As he approached the penalty area, Reading defender Lamine Conte tackled Tambe from behind with a football tackle that would have made Detroit Lion’s head coach, Matt Patricia proud. For his efforts, Conte received a red card and the Bucks were awarded a penalty kick.
With Farkas out of the game, the players decided who would step up and take the most important kick of their life. Tambe exited the group meeting with the ball in his hands and converted the game winner into the top corner, past the outstretched hands of Lefebvre, who had guessed the right way.
The Bucks killed off the last ten minutes of over time and a few extra added minutes to preserve the 1-0 victory and give the team a record fourth USL League Two North American Championship. The Bucks won in Laredo, Texas in 2006 and then both home games in Pontiac in 2014 and 2016.
Demir Muftari coached the Bucks to both of the team’s last two titles and was named USL League Two Coach of the Year in 2016 and finished this year as runner up to Reading head coach, Alan McCann. The championship was Muftari’s final game behind the bench as he moves back upstairs to help team development and turns the reigns over the Associate Head Coach, Andy Wagstaff for next season.
Muftari was excited to finish his current job with another championship. “I guess it is pretty obvious that we all dream about going out on top, but that didn’t look like it was probable a month ago. We went down to Cincinnati on June 30 in a must win game with only 14 healthy bodies and lost 3-1 to give them control over the final playoff spot in the division. That meant we couldn’t afford to lose any of the last three games. We brought the core of the team in and got commitments from the healthy players and decided that these were the 18 players we were taking into battle. They weren’t the same 18 we started the season with and they weren’t necessarily the 18 we thought would have been lining up in a title game when we began building the squad a year ago. These young men were always a special group full of heart and determination and you saw that all season long with their late game heroics. I have never been more proud of a group then I am of this team.”
Late game heroics were the norm for the Bucks this year as they scored huge goals in the last five minutes of matches ten times this season, including two games where they scored as the game came to an end. In four playoff games this year, the Bucks scored in the last five minutes of regulation and overtime three times, including one of each in their first round upset of League Two regular season champion Des Moines Menace on their home field.
While the Bucks late game heroics dominated the moment, the incredible support for Flint City continued to swell as the summer went on. On May 4th, the Bucks played their first game at Atwood Stadium this season and defeated Detroit City FC 1-0 in front of nearly 5,000 fans. On August 3rd, they closed the season on the same field by the same score, but this time to secure the title in front of 7,198 faithful fans.
Bucks President, Costa Papista commented: “We never imagined this back on October 30, 2018 when Dan (Duggan) and I announced we were bringing the Bucks to Flint. Dan promised to assemble a championship caliber team as he always does, but we never envisioned this magnitude of success and support. After nearly 5,000 fans attended our pre-season friendly against Detroit City, we realized we may have underestimated the passion for soccer in Flint and Genesee County. The Boys in Red and Blue delivered the Hank Steinbrecher Cup, the Michigan Milk Cup (co-champions) and the League Two North American Title in our inaugural season. Incredible. Our mission to promote soccer in mid-Michigan has been taken to another level.”
Most of the Bucks players departed Flint on Sunday and were back with their college teams preparing for the upcoming fall season that starts next week. Meanwhile, the Bucks have already begun the search for more top talent to join the team in Flint next summer as they look to defend their fourth USL League Two title.