Flint City Bucks win national crown before 7,198 fans
Flint — Ayuk Tambe's thunderbolt of a penalty kick drove the nail in the wall to hang a "Home Sweet Home" sign for the Flint City Bucks, who made history by winning a USL League 2 championship in the first season in their new digs Saturday.
The Cameroon native's spot kick in the 110th minute proved to be the difference as the Bucks prevailed 1-0 over Reading United AC in extra time before 7,198 spectators at Atwood Stadium.
The PK ended a scoreless stalemate where each team enjoyed momentum swings but, in the end, capped a successful first season for the storied Bucks, who've won four national titles in their 24-year history but perhaps none generating the amount of community support as the latest crown.
The Bucks played at Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac where it won two of three its titles in 2014 and '16 before owner Dan Duggan announced the team's move to Flint in October. The club also won a national crown in 2006.
"If you separate all four of the teams, they are all so different," said Duggan, who hugged players with a Flint City Bucks flag drapped around shoulders and joined the River Rats supporters group in singing afterward. "People wrote us off on June 30 when we were almost out of the playoffs. So we had to win four games in a row before we even got into the playoffs.
"From the standpoint of the heart of the team, I've never seen a team like that.
"From the satisfaction from the people in the community, I think that was part of it. These guys loved it. They've been embedded in the community for 90 days. They said, 'Let's do this for Flint.' I think it kind of worked both ways, for us and for them. It was a perfect storm."
The match was brewing into stalemate that would likely be decided by a shootout until Tambe burst through on goal in the second extra-time session.
He was wrestled down from behind by Reading's Lamine Conte, which prompted the referee to seek his assistant's counsel to see if the Bucks player was brought down inside the penalty area before pointing to the spot.
Duggan went to Section 11 and whipped up the River Rats supporters group while the officials huddled. Conte received a straight red card.
"We looked back at the video: It's 10 yards out when it happened," Reading coach Alan McCann said. "It's a red card, yes, but it's not a penalty.
"The referee got the original decision right, but our defensive shape allowed it to happen, so I'm not throwing any excuses out.
"Credit to them (the Bucks). They ground out results all year, you have to hang your hat on that. They figured out a way to win every time they needed to, so that's a quality in of itself."
Tambe, who was named tournament MVP, blasted his spot kick into the right upper-half of the net.
"I knew that I have a pretty good penalty (shot)," said Tambe, who came on for Yuri Farkas in the 95th minute. "So if I remained focused and choose my spot and hit it with the right pace, the goalkeeper is not going to save it."
The Bucks dominated the first 45 minutes while Reading switched on for latter parts of the second half when it found pockets of space between midfield and the backline.
During the first extra time, Reading put Flint on its backheels. Gilbert Waso slammed a shot off the side netting in the 97th minute while Conte's free kick deflected off a five-man Bucks wall and skidded out of danger before the first OT session ended.
The Bucks withstood onslaught and regrouped for the second 15-minute session.
"It was pure hard work and grit and determination," said Bucks defender Rhys Myers, who was subbed out in the 105th minute. "It was a difficult game, but we've replied under pressure. We've been that wounded animal in the corner that came out strong and competed against anyone."
The Bucks controlled play in the first half as Spanish defensive midfielder David Achaerandio created havoc for the visiting side.
Achaerandio won 50-50 balls at midfield, repeatedly drove down the right flank and, in the 27th minute, sent a low left-footed drive across the goalmouth that no Bucks teammate could get a foot on.
Midfielder Brayden McNitt had one of a handful of Bucks' scoring chances in the first half, blasting a shot that Reading goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre dove to his left to save before the ball trickled out for a corner with six minutes left before intermission.
Defender Charlie Booth also drilled a shot from about 18 yards out that required a fingertip save from Lefebvre midway in the opening half.
"They were able to get into our half a little easier in the second half than they were in the first half, but were able to absorb it," said Bucks coach Demir Muftari, who's been at the helm for three of the team's four national titles. "We blocked a lot of shots.
"They crossed a lot of shots from dangerous areas, but we dealt with them really well, so the way we defended in a our final third was really excellent."