|Full name||Michigan Bucks|
|Stadium||Ultimate Soccer Arenas
|Head Coach||Demir Muftari |
|League||USL Premier Development League|
|2013||2nd, Great Lakes
Playoffs: Conference Semifinals
|Website||Club home page|
Michigan Bucks is an American soccer team based in Pontiac, Michigan, United States. Founded in 1995, the team plays in the USL Premier Development League (PDL), the fourth tier of the American Soccer Pyramid, in the Great Lakes Division of the Central Conference.
The team plays its home games at the soccer-specific Ultimate Soccer Arenas, where they have played since 2008, and are one of the few teams to play regularly on a full-size indoor soccer field. The team's colors are white, dark green and black.
Throughout their existence, the Bucks have been one of the most successful minor league soccer teams in the United States, qualifying for seven US Open Cups, winning six divisional championships, and a national title. In 2000 the Bucks became the first PDL team to defeat an MLS team in the US Open Cup when they beat the New England Revolution at Foxboro Stadium. They won their first PDL Championship in 2006, defeating the Laredo Heat 2–1.
On April 8, 2006 the Bucks became an official minor league affiliate of Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew, and announced a partnership which allows Bucks players to go on training stints with the Crew, as well as having the MLS side annually come to the Detroit area to play a friendly with their sister team.
Until the 2003 season, they were known as the Mid Michigan Bucks.
The Bucks organization entered the competitive soccer landscape in 1996, competing in the USISL Premier League. Almost immediately, the Mid-Michigan Bucks were a competitive outfit. They finished third in the Central Northern division in their debut year, making it all the way to the final Premier Six tournament, and despite being beaten by the San Francisco Bay Seals and eventual national champions Central Coast Roadrunners, they nevertheless set themselves up to be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
The Bucks won their first divisional title in 1997, eight points clear of second place Detroit Dynamite with 12 wins on the season, and made it all the way to the national semi finals, beating Grand Rapids Explosion, Kalamazoo Kingdom and Des Moines Menace before eventually falling 2–0 to the Central Coast Roadrunners in the final four. The Bucks also made their debut in the US Open Cup this year, enjoying an exciting 3–2 victory over USISL D3 Pro League side Wilmington Hammerheads, before losing to the A-League's Rochester Ragin' Rhinos in the second round. At the end of the season, Steve Burns was named PDSL Coach of the Year.
The Bucks finished second to perennial rivals Detroit Dynamite in 1998 off the back of an 11–5–1 record, and again made the regional finals, losing 3–2 to finalists Jackson Chargers after victories over Indiana Invaders and the Dynamite in the divisional playoffs. The Bucks were growing into formidable opponents, and cemented this reputation by winning the Great Lakes division of the newly renamed PDL in 1999, reaching the third round of the US Open Cup (eventually losing to MLS powerhouse Tampa Bay Mutiny after knocking off the Austin Lone Stars and Minnesota Thunder in earlier rounds), although the playoffs were a slight disappointment by the Bucks' high standards, losing 2–1 to Sioux City Breeze in the Conference Semi-Finals.
The Bucks took their second PDL Great Lakes title in a row – their third overall – in 2000, annihilating their divisional opponents, and finishing an astonishing 27 points clear of second-place Dayton Gems. The Bucks got a bye to the national playoff semi finals, and secured their first ever championship game berth with a 5–2 win over Yakima Reds. Unfortunately, the Bucks were beaten in the final by the Chicago Sockers, and had to be content with being the second best PDL team in the nation; still, three divisional titles and five consecutive trips to the playoffs was a remarkable achievement for the club. If that were not enough, the Bucks also made it to the third round of the US Open Cup in 2000 – after a comfortable 3–0 win over Maryland-based amateur side Jerry D's, the Bucks sensationally knocked out Major League Soccer giants New England Revolution 1–0, with Chad Schomaker scoring the winning goal in the 90th minute, before losing their next game on penalty kicks to Miami Fusion after a 3–3 tie in regulation time. Unsurprisingly, head coach Joe Malachino was named PDL coach of the year, the second Bucks coach to receive the honor.
The Bucks missed the playoffs for the first time in 2001, beaten into third place in the Great Lakes Division by Chicago Fire Reserves and West Michigan Edge, but did manage to progress to the second round of the US Open Cup for the third year in a row, knocking out amateur side Chaldean Arsenal before New England Revolution got their revenge for the previous year, hammering them 7–1. The Bucks were beaten into second place again in 2002, pipped by the Chicago Fire Reserves for a second time, although they did progress to the Conference Final, where they lost on penalties to eventual national runners-up Boulder Rapids Reserve. Two years without a single trophy was unprecedented in Michigan, and things needed to change.
In 2003 there was a coaching change, as former San Jose Clash star Dario Brose was replaced by Don Gemmell. Gemmell's influence was felt immediately. The Bucks began the year with a 5-game unbeaten streak that included an impressive 3–1 win on the road against Indiana Invaders, and continued on through the month of June with 5 wins in 6 games, highlighted by a 5–0 demolition of West Michigan Edge that featured a hat trick from Simon Omekanda. The Bucks secured their fourth divisional title off the back of two more comprehensive victories – 5–0 over Kalamazoo Kingdom and 4–0 over Fort Wayne Fever – but fell in the conference final game to their perennuial rivals, Chicago Fire Reserves. The Bucks continued on with their US Open Cup exploits, beating USL Pro Select League Long Island Rough Riders, before losing 4–0 to the New York/New Jersey Metrostars in Round 3.
In 2004, the Mid Michigan Bucks became the Michigan Bucks, coinciding with their permanent move from Saginaw to metro-Detroit and a new logo. The season began as 2003 had ended – with the Bucks on top. They opened the season with two 5-goal victories over Indiana Invaders and West Michigan Edge, and went on to lose only three regular season games all year. The Bucks were deadly in front of goal: in addition to their 10-goal haul in the first two games, they put six past Indiana Invaders on Independence Day, and then scored 15 goals in three games, sweeping aside Fort Wayne Fever, Cleveland Internationals and West Michigan Edge with ease. Unfortunately, the Bucks' trip to the playoffs ended with an ignominious 3–2 defeat to Boulder Rapids Reserve in the first game. Knox Cameron was the Bucks' most prolific striker, scoring 15 goals for the season (including 2 hat tricks), while Joseph Kabwe, Simon Omekanda, Kevin Taylor and Mychal Turpin all notched impressive goal scoring figures.
Bucks stalwart Paul Snape, who had played for the team for many years, was appointed head coach in 2005, but the first few games of his tenure were rocky: three consecutive wins were followed by an unprecedented 4-game winless streak, the nadir of which was a 4–1 loss on the road at Chicago Fire Premier. However, this was merely a blip on the radar, as Michigan finally turned things round: from mid June to the end of the season, the Bucks were simply majestic. They rattled off ten consecutive wins, blowing their opponents off the field. They beat the hapless Fort Wayne Fever 7–0, and annihilited poor Toledo Slayers in their three games, outscoring them 17–0, with Kheli Dube scoring four goals in one game, and with the final game being abandoned at half-time with the Bucks leading 6–0. Dube and Ryan McMahen were unstoppable in front of goal, netting 18 times between them on the way to the playoffs, while Kevin Taylor was named PDL Defender of the Year. Yet again, however, the Bucks stuttered in the playoffs, this time losing the Conference final to eventual national champions Des Moines Menace.
2006 was a landmark year for the Bucks. Dan Fitzgerald replaced Paul Snape as head coach, but the new man at the helm didn't destabilize the team. Four wins in their opening four games took the Bucks back to the US Open Cup after a 2-year break, and once again they upset higher-league opponents, beating Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2–0 in Round 1, and overcoming Cincinnati Kings in Round 2, before eventually going down 4–1 to Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew in the third round. The Bucks did suffer a slight stutter in form, losing three of four games including a surprising 0–3 turnaround away at the Indiana Invaders, but regrouped for the final push to the playoffs and enjoyed a 4-game unbeaten run at the end of the season (including a 6–1 hammering of West Michigan Edge in the final regular season match). After so many years of oh-so-close, everything finally came right for the Bucks in the playoffs. They wiped out Colorado Rapids U23's 4–1 in the semi finals, enjoyed sweet revenge over Chicago Fire Premier to take the Conference title 4–0, with Nate Jafta scoring a hat trick, and finally reached their first ever PDL Championship game by overcoming Western Conference champions Orange County Blue Star with two goals from Kenny Uzoigwe. On a hot, windy night in southern Texas, in front of 7,000 partisan fans, and live on Fox Soccer Channel, the Bucks beat Laredo Heat 2–1 with goals from Kenny Uzoigwe and Tyiselani Shipalane to take their first ever national championship, after 11 years of excellent play.
As reigning PDL champions, the Bucks started 2007 with high expectations, and to their credit they did not disappoint – if anything, they actually improved on their 2006 form. They began the season with an unprecedented 11-game unbeaten run, dropping points in only three ried games, and seemingly scoring at will: they beat West Michigan Edge 4–0 on opening day, but four past Chicago Fire Premier, thumped Cleveland Internationals 5–0 in early June, outplayed PDL new boys Toronto Lynx 4–0 at home in the very next game, and blew the Indiana Invaders off the field 5–1 before the season was two months old. Their majestic form took the Bucks to the US Open Cup once more, but for once they failed to off their higher-division opponents, losing 4–2 to Richmond Kickers in first round. After a slight blip when they lost 2–1 to Cleveland Internationals after receiving two red cards, normal service was resumed with a 7–1 hammering of West Michigan Edge in the next game (which featured a Kenny Uzoigwe hat trick), and the Bucks strolled to their sixth divisional title. After dominating the St. Louis Lions in the playoff semi-final, the Bucks retained their Conference title with a comprehensive 3–0 win over Chicago Fire Premier, returning to the national stage for a second consecutive year. A penalty shootout victory over Brooklyn Knights after a 1–1 tie in the semi finals sent the Bucks to the Championship game for the second consecutive year – where, once again, their opponents were Southern Conference champions Laredo Heat. Over 6,500 fans in Laredo, Texas watched the game finish 0–0 after extra time; the resulting penalty shootout was full of drama when, with the scores balanced at 3–3, striker Kenny Uziogwe suffered horrific leg cramps and was unable to take his spot kick, and had to be substituted during the shootout. His replacement, Ian Daniel, had his kick saved by Laredo goalkeeper Ryan Cooper; teenager Felix Garcia then scored the winner for the Texans. Nevertheless, two consecutive trips to the championship game was a massive achievement for the Bucks, and cemented their place as one of the leading amateur clubs in the nation.
Prior to the 2008 season the Bucks moved into the brand new $17-million Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, Michigan, making them one of the few teams to play regularly on a full-size indoor soccer field. Prior to this, the Bucks were without a regular home field for several years, and played games at numerous different venues in Michigan.
The Bucks continued their dominance of the Great Lakes division in 2008 with an almost flawless season. They lost just one regular season game all year, 1–0 at home to Toronto Lynx, but were unstoppable elsewhere, invariably crushing their opponents with a combination of free scoring and solid defence. Among the highlights were a 5–0 battering of Fort Wayne Fever in mid-May, a 4–2 win over divisional rivals Cleveland Internationals in early June, a 3–1 road victory over newcomers Kalamazoo Outrage, and a 3–0 win over Toronto Lynx – avenging their earlier defeat – on the final day of the season. Their solid early-season form also gave them a berth in the US Open Cup for the third straight year, but fell in the first round by the odd goal in three against USL2 side Cleveland City Stars. The Bucks had the divisional title wrapped up long before the final weekend, eventually finishing 8 points clear of Cleveland in the standings; as such, they entered the playoffs as hot favorites to progress, especially as they were hosting the Central Conference tournament at home in Pontiac. However, they were shockingly dumped out at the first hurdle by Kalamazoo Outrage, who scored an 86th minute equalizer to force extra time, and ran out 3–1 winners. The ever-prolific Kenny Uzoigwe was the Bucks' top scorer, with 10 goals, while his partner-in-crime Nate Jafta contributed 9 assists.
The Bucks reached the fourth round of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after defeating the MLS Chicago Fire in the third round in extra time. They lost to the USL Professional Division's Dayton Dutch Lions in the fourth round in another extra time thriller.
Note: Flags indicate national team as has been defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.