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Bucks face NASL’s Indy Eleven in ‘cozy’ confines

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News

Michigan Bucks of soccer’s Premier Development League have a reputation of making opponents feel boxed in.

The reigning league champions intend putting the squeeze on another foe Wednesday, hosting the North American Soccer League’s Indy Eleven in a second-round U.S. Open Cup match at Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac.

The indoor facility has 1,650 seats but can hold up to 5,000 spectators.

“It’s a cozy venue; it can get loud,” said Dan Duggan, Bucks owner and CEO. “For the most part, our real advantage there is all related to fact nobody one else in North America plays in an indoor arena as their home arena.”

Indy Eleven was the NASL 2016 spring season champions and lost to the New York Cosmos in the league final. The NASL — along with the United Soccer League — is officially sanctioned as Division 2 by the United States Soccer Federation.

Unofficially, the Bucks are considered in the realm of Division 3 or 4.

In cup play, such distinctions can be thrown out the window as upsets are common. Michigan Bucks have a history of slaying Goliaths, beating Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire in 2012 at Ultimate Soccer Arenas.

“I’m well aware of the Michigan Bucks,” said Indy Eleven coach Tim Hankinson, who managed the Tampa Bay Mutiny when the then MLS team escaped with a 2-1 U.S. Open Cup victory over the Bucks in 1999 at Saginaw White Pine Middle School.

Indy (0-1-6) is mired in sixth place in the eight-team NASL standings, having drawn six of seven games. NASL teams had a first-round bye in the U.S. Open Cup.

“It’s been our inability to execute in the goal box,” Hankinson said of the string of ties, but adds the draws at least indicate the Indianapolis-based team is “difficult to defeat.”

Indy Eleven features a pair of former Bucks, midfielder Ben Speas (2009 and ’10) and forward David Goldsmith (2015 and ’16).

The Bucks defeated National Premier Soccer League side AFC Ann Arbor, 1-0, in the first round at Ultimate Soccer Arenas May 10. The team recorded its second shutout in its PDL opener Saturday with a 2-0 victory over K-W United at home.

Drew Shepherd (Ann Arbor/Western Michigan) was in goal for both matches.

The winner of Wednesday’s affair advances to the third round May 31. MLS teams enter the competition in the fourth round June 14.

The U.S. Open Cup final is Sept. 20.

U.S. Open Cup

Indy Eleven vs. Michigan Bucks

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Ultimate Soccer Arenas, Pontiac

Tickets: $10 at the door