By Harold C. Ford
“Our Father who art in Atwood, Soccer be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, all matches won, on Earth as it is in Section Eleven. With Liberty and Justice for Flint and Demir Muftari.” … River Rats pregame prayer–by River Rat William Balcer
The Flint City Bucks soccer team bested Chicago Football Club United by a 2-1 score before 3,145 paid fans at Atwood Stadium June 27. It was the Bucks’ fourth victory this season over the first-place team from Chicago as Flint took three of four regular season matches and added another win June 1 in the Hank Steinbrecher Cup championship.
The game was preceded by a half-mile parade to Atwood Stadium from Soggy Bottom Bar at 613 M.L. King Ave. by about 100 Bucks supporters. Stopping traffic along University Avenue, chanting, drumming, and waving flags, marchers included members of the River Rats, a Bucks support club, and members of the LGBTQ+ community organized by the University of Michigan-Flint’s Center for Gender and Sexuality, UM-Flint’s Pride Student Organization, and the Gay, Straight Alliance at Kettering University. It was a gesture of fun-loving mutual support for Pride Month.
The Bucks’ win at Atwood, its second in seven days over Chicago, was paced by a “young squad” according to FCB’s website, and featured goals by midfielder Spencer Nolff (Grand Blanc, MI/Oakland University) and Louis Sala (West Bloomfield, MI/NIU).
Coach Demir Muftari’s Bucks side (team) demonstrated superior speed and quickness to the ball in the first half with, by this reporter’s count, six legitimate scoring opportunities to one by the Chicago side. Chicago struggled to get the ball past Flint’s last line of defense. Nolff’s goal, a header, came at the 21st minute from a splendid pass by Alec Philippe (Milwaukee, WI/Wright State University).
Sala’s goal came on a penalty kick in the 35th minute after Chicago’s goal keeper, Freddy Lorenzen, was issued a yellow card (penalty) for aggressive contact with Sala.
Near the very end of the first half, Chicago’s Johnny Robinson intercepted an errant Flint pass near midfield and scored unassisted. That seemed to spark the Chicago team as they controlled play in much of the second half with five scoring opportunities to one by FCB. Nonetheless, no more goals were scored in the second half and Flint escaped with the one-goal victory.
Officially, FCB had five shots on goal to Chicago’s two. FCB’s goalkeeper, Gustavo Vasconcelos (Brazil/Marshall) was credited with one save to the Chicago keeper’s three. Both teams were issued two yellow cards apiece.
The Bucks’ overall record is now 10 wins to 2 losses and 2 ties; their league record is 5-2-2. After the Chicago win, the team is lodged in a third-place tie with Cincinnati behind first-place Chicago in the five-team Great Lakes Division of the Central Conference of the United Soccer League Two.
At the end of the match, Bucks players demonstrated their appreciation for Flint fans by parading in front of the Atwood stands section by section and applauding their supporters.
Nowhere was the show of appreciation longer or stronger than in front of Section 11, nicknamed The Rat’s Nest, where the River Rats congregate during each home game. They were joined on this evening by members of the LGBTQ+ community that included students and staff from the U of M-Flint and Kettering University.
“We are excited to be working with the River Rats and Flint City Bucks to celebrate Pride…,” said Heather Johnson, director of the UM-Flint Center for Gender and Sexuality. “They (FCB and the River Rats) have been nothing but incredible to work with.”
“The Flint City Bucks soccer club is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Costa Papista, FCB team president.
Mike Allard of Flint, a River Rats leader, said,“The River Rats will stand beside any effort being made to promote better inclusion of the LGBTQ+ student body in our city.”
The Flint-Chicago match June 27 helped raise funds for LGBTQ+ projects at the Flint higher ed campuses with a 50/50 raffle during the match and an online pledge drive. Pledges can still be made at the following site: http://bit.ly/PRIDEMATCH.
“It’s been three years since (same-sex) marriage has been legalized,” William Balcer of Flint, another River Rats leader, said after the game. “If love wins, the ability as Flint citizens and American citizens to come and celebrate this opportunity and all of the people being treated equally, it’s invaluable.”
“That was 100 percent a grass roots effort,” Balcer said of the FCB-River Rats-LGBTQ+ partnership for the June 27 game. “We knew that [June, Pride Month] was coming up when the season began and we preemptively started planning a ‘Prideraiser.’ ” Balcer said. He said that the Prideraiser had netted $1000 as of game night.
“The fact that our local team is doing one (Prideraiser) signifies how inclusive they are and want to be,” Johnson said. “I’ve never been to a booster section that has had as many pride flags. The Flint City Bucks have a pride flag with their logo screen-printed on the pride flag. That’s incredible to me. I’ve never seen that in any sport.”
The next home game for the Flint City Bucks starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 6 vs. West Virginia Alliance FC at Atwood Stadium, 701 University Ave., Flint, MI 48503. The River Rats support club will assemble at Soggy Bottom Bar, 613 M.L. King Ave., Flint, MI 48502 and march a half-mile to the the stadium between 6:30 and 7 p.m.)
About the Flint City Bucks
The Flint City Bucks, formerly the Mid-Michigan Bucks and Michigan Bucks, is one of the most successful minor league soccer teams in the United States. During its 24-year history it has qualified for 11 U.S. Open Cups, won 11 divisional titles, and has three times been national champion.
Founded in 1995, the team began play as the Mid-Michigan Bucks in Saginaw, Mich. in 1996. Changing its name to Michigan Bucks, the team moved to Plymouth in 2004, then to Pontiac in 2008. The team transitioned to Flint City Bucks and began playing home games at Flint’s Atwood Stadium just in May of this year.
Current Bucks’ players who are “Top (50) Prospects” according to the league’s website include: #3 Giuseppe Barone, midfielder (Grandville, MI/Michigan State); and #40 Farouk Osman, (Tamale, Ghana/University of Michigan). Ayuk Tambe, forward (Blaine, MN/Tusculum College), currently leads the Bucks’ squad with four goals.
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM staff writer and photographer Patsy Isenberg contributed to this report. She can be reached at email@example.com.