PONTIAC — The Michigan Bucks finished the regular season home schedule Saturday night with a huge 3-1 victory over the River City Rovers to keep the team just a point out of first place in the Premier Development League’s (PDL) Great Lakes Division.
The Bucks have won a record 10 division titles in the first 17 seasons and has qualified for the playoffs for an amazing 16th time in 18 seasons since the team started play as the Mid-Michigan Bucks in Saginaw back in 1996.
The three-time defending Great Lakes champs will need to defeat the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Chicago on Wednesday and get some help by way of a couple of FC London ties or losses if they are to regain the division lead. London plays at Toronto on Sunday, who also need a win to try and nail down the third and final playoff spot in the division. The division champ will get a bye to the Central Conference Final Four (venue to be determined) while the No. 3-seeded team will travel to play the No. 2- seeded team on Tuesday, July 23.
The Bucks started the game slow on Saturday, but quickly upped the tempo and pounded the ball at the River City Rovers for the game’s final 75 minutes. The Bucks had two glorious opportunities in the first half when Zach Steinberger neatly walked through two defenders and smashed a shot that Rovers keeper Taylor Hafling saved but allowed the rebound to fall to the feet of Matt Walker, who was kind enough to put the return shot right at the keeper. Three minutes later in the game’s 35th minute, Bucks forward Gerald Ben scored his seventh goal of the season on a nice low finish off a through ball from Tom Catalano.
That was how the first half would end, with the Bucks holding a narrow 1-0 lead despite out shooting the visitors by a 9-4 margin.
Steinberger would be honored at halftime by his team mates when selected as the winner of the Paul R. Scicluna Memorial Trophy awarded to the Bucks player who most exemplifies the organization both on and off the field. Steinberger used the added motivation to come out strong in the second half. It appeared he had a goal in the first minute of the second half when his sitter from close range popped over the crossbar.
Michigan continued to dominate the attacking portion of the game when Jeff Addai’s long-range bid for his first goal in a Bucks uniform clanked off the outside of the post and out of bounds in the 58th minute. A few minutes later, Bucks keeper Adam Grinwis would make his normal outstanding save of the game when he made a diving stop at the six yard line to keep the Bucks on top.
In the 74th minute, Steinberger would steal a ball at midfield and play it up the wing to Man of the Match Sebby Harris, who beat his defender and found a wide open Catalano forty yards away on a dead sprint to the top of the 18-yard box. The Bucks veteran coolly ripped a one-time volley that gave Hafling no chance to react and the Bucks had a bit of breathing room at 2-0.
Unfortunately as has been the case all season, the home side just couldn’t close down the opposition after scoring and gave up a goal just three minutes later. Following a late Bucks tackle at the top of the box, Rovers forward Dylan Terry put his free kick in the side netting leaving Grinwis no chance for the shutout and halve the score to 2-1.
Understanding what was at stake, the Bucks continued to press. A Bucks win kept the team alive for a possible division title.
Meanwhile, the Rovers needed three points to keep their playoff hopes alive. Those dreams would end in the 82nd minute when Matt Walker cruised down the right flank and found Harris trailing the play calling for a backpost delivery. Walker nailed the forward in stride for his team leading seventh assist when Harris left his feet near the penalty spot and finished his diving header in the back of the net for his first goal of the season and a 3-1 Bucks victory.
Bucks first year head coach Demir Muftari was pleased with the way his team rebounded from a very disappointing loss to London just three days prior.
“We did a lot of good things tonight that we needed to do to right the ship as we prepare for the upcoming playoffs,’ noted Muftari. “We knew we needed a spirited performance Saturday as well as one next Wednesday in Chicago. We have to take care of our business and get a bit of help to avoid playing on Tuesday, July 23, but if we have to play that game, we will be ready and do what needs to get done to advance. The team’s first goal each season is to make the playoffs, where we know anything can happen. am pleased with our effort this week.”
A London win on Sunday will mean the Bucks know for sure they will host the Tuesday playoff game. Anything less than that will mean the Bucks game against Chicago on Wednesday and the result of the London- KW United game on the last day of the regular season (Sunday, July 21) will determine the final playoff scenario. The Bucks will send out updated releases and post the updates on the team home page as the games play out so that fans know what to expect. At this point, the team is asking fans to keep the July 23rd date open with time, venue and opponent to be updated in the coming days. Information will be posted at www.buckssoccer.com.
STEINBERGER NAMED SCICLUNA AWARD WINNER
Second year Bucks player Zach Steinberger was selected Saturday night as the 2013 Paul R. Scicluna Memorial Trophy winner by his coaches and teammates. The highest honor the Bucks have to offer is awarded to the player that most exemplifies the Bucks organization both on and off the field. The award is named after long time Michigan soccer icon Paul Scicluna who was a friend, mentor and original investor in the Mid-Michigan Bucks with Dan and Jim Duggan back in 1996. Scicluna died in a tragic car accident in April, 1999, while returning to Michigan from Bowling Green University, where he was scouting college prospects.
Scicluna immigrated to the United States from Malta and started the Livonia Florist back in the 1970′s. While building a business, he used his passion for soccer to develop youth soccer at the Livonia YMCA, where Duggan began playing soccer in 1972. Scicluna’s small youth soccer club from the YMCA went on to become the Livonia Wolves (boys) and Michigan Hawks (girls) clubs and is still one of the most successful and most recognized youth programs in the country today. Paul’s three nephews (Dominic, Mario and Tino) were all accomplished youth players and all spent time with the Bucks back in the early days. Tino was the original recipient of the first Scicluna Award in 1999 and was inducted into the Bucks Hall of Fame in 2003. The three brothers have continued to carry on the family name in soccer with their nationally recognized youth club, Waza FC.
Steinberger is the Bucks leading scorer this season with ten goals and is one of the top scorers in the PDL as well. His work ethic, craftiness on the field and likeability made his an easy choice for this year’s honor.
“Paul would love Zach as a player and as a person. He is one of the most exciting players we have ever had on this team and he has a great sense of humor and enjoys being around his teammates — traits that Paul would find necessary in a successful soccer pro. We expect to see Zach back here next summer with the Bucks and then on to MLS the following season where he should have a long career,” said Bucks owner Dan Duggan.
Steinberger came to the Bucks compliments of his college coach at Butler, Paul Snape. Snape finished a 10-year career in the PDL with the Bucks as one of the top five scorers in league history and was also inducted into the Bucks Hall of Fame in 2003. Snape was also a Scicluna Award winner in 2001. Steinberger heads back to Indianapolis in early August to lead the Bulldogs as they open play as a member of the Big East Conference.