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AFC Ann Arbor to sit out 2021 USL 2 season, citing pandemic

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News

AFC Ann Arbor will not take part in the 2021 United States League 2 campaign because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the club announced Monday.

The decision was made out of necessity to prioritize the health and safety of everyone at the club, including players, staff, supporters and sponsors, the club said in a statement.

Forward Azaad Liadi, who played for AFC Ann Arbor in 2019,  will be suiting up for USL 1's South Georgia Tormenta this season.

The seven-year-old club, which began play in the former Great Lakes Premier League in 2015, won consecutive National Premier Soccer League Great Lakes Division titles in 2017 and ’18 with Eric Rudland at the helm.

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AFC Ann Arbor was set to debut in USL 2 last year before the season was canceled due to the pandemic. The club plays at Concordia University in Ann Arbor.

AFC Ann Arbor has been an incubator for premier talent, notably Kenyan defender Joseph Stanley Okumu whose Swedish club IF Elfsborg is in Round 32 of the Europa League.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have been precautious about our return to play and have followed the guidance and advice of our state's top medical expert, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun,” said Bilal Saeed, AFC Ann Arbor chairman in a written statement. “Her leadership has helped save countless lives and she continues to urge people to take precautions in contact sports.

“When we consider the circumstances in Washtenaw County, we felt it was in the best interest of the club to sit out league play for 2021."

Last month, a case of the B.1.1.7 variant was identified within the University of Michigan community and, as of last week, the number of confirmed cases grew to 39, Washtenaw County Health Department officials said.

Club officials note current Washtenaw County guidelines require athletes must wear a face covering at all times, “except in activities where face masks are not able to be worn safely.” Testing is required for contact sports in those instances where a mask is not able to be worn.

Under those guidelines and current state restrictions, “we cannot in good conscience bring players in for a league season,” the club statement said.

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“We understand AFC Ann Arbor’s decision to withdraw from participation in the 2021 League Two season,” USL vice president Joel Nash said. “Each club must make what they feel is in the best interest of the health and safety of players, fans and staff. We look forward to pursuing their continued participation in League Two going into the 2022 season.”  

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AFC Ann Arbor also has a team in the United Women’s Soccer’s Midwest Division. Club officials said they are working with UWS to determine if the women’s team will face similar circumstances.

Off the field, AFC Ann Arbor will continue to be involved in the community. Last summer, the club with U.S. gold medal winner Lindsay Tarpley through its "Community Kicks" program helped distribute more than 30,000 “Learn Soccer” lunch bags to offset demand for meal assistance.

loconnor@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @larryo1961