By Harold C. Ford
The 2019 on-field success of the Flint City Bucks during their first season in The Vehicle City—including a national championship in the United Soccer League Two (USL2)—has continued into the off-season. Top honors for the club’s executives and the ascension of three former players into Major League Soccer (MLS) accentuated the Bucks’ impressive inaugural season in Flint.
The Bucks’ Dan Duggan and Costa Papista were named Co-ExecuUnives of the Year by USL2. “The award is presented to the top executive(s) of a League Two club,” according to a January 2020 news release by the league, “who go above and beyond in their commitment to improving their team both on and off the field over the course of a League Two season.”
Duggan and Papista serve the club as chairman and president respectively. This is the third win for Duggan who claimed the award in 2006 and 2014. “Duggan has ensured that the Bucks on-field product had all that it needed to achieve success,” declared USL2 in their news release.
Papista has an impressive history of developing successful sports franchises in mid-Michigan. He was a major player in the creation of the Saginaw Spirit and Flint Firebirds hockey organizations. “During the Bucks’ inaugural year in Flint, Papista effectively connected the organization with fans, business leaders, media and the soccer community,” according to USL2.
The Bucks were the last team standing in the 72-team USL2 at the end of the 2019 season. Sixteen teams entered the playoffs in July and, in the end, the team from Flint captured the championship with a 1-0 victory over Reading United AC before 7,198 appreciative fans at Kettering University’s Atwood Stadium on August 3.
The Bucks ended their 2019 campaign with an overall record of 19-3-3 (wins-losses-ties) and a home record of 10-1-1. The win netted the 15th national championship for a Flint-based team, the first in the sport of soccer.
Founded in 1995, the team began play as the Mid-Michigan Bucks in Saginaw, Mich. in 1996. The team changed its name to Michigan Bucks, moved to Plymouth, Mich. in 2004, then to Pontiac, Mich. in 2008. They began play as the Flint City Bucks in May 2019.
During its 24-year history the team has qualified for 11 U.S. Open Cups, won 11 divisional titles, and has now captured four national championships, more than any other team in the history of USL2.
Three ex-Bucks make the big league
In mid-January 2020, three former Bucks were drafted into MLS teams, the highest level of soccer competition in North America:
- Defender Nyal Higgins (Ajax, Ontario/Syracuse) spent parts of two seasons with the Bucks in 2017 and 2018. Higgins was drafted in the first round with the 19th overall pick by Toronto FC (Football Club).
- Defender Patrick Nielson (Denmark/MSU) spent parts of two seasons with the Bucks in 2018 and 2019. He was selected with the 23rd pick in the first round by Atlanta United FC.
- Center back Michael Wetunggu (Rochester Hills, Mich./MSU) played two seasons for the Bucks in 2017 and 2019. He was drafted with the 20th pick of the second round by Real Salt Lake.
“The Bucks have sent a total of 87 former players to MLS since 1999,” according to a news release posted at the club’s website. “More than 200 Bucks players have signed professional contracts in over a dozen countries around the world after they completed their USL2 seasons in Michigan.”
New season starts in May
The Bucks will begin their 2020 home game schedule at Atwood Stadium with a 7 p.m. match May 9 against Carpathia FC, a team based in Sterling Heights, Mich.
Banner photo: Flint City Bucks fans parading to Atwood Stadium in July, 2019. Photo by Patsy Isenberg
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at email@example.com.