The Flint City Bucks of USL League 2 have made quite a lot of history in the Hank Steinbrecher Cup, winning the competition three times in a row in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Bucks Chairman Dan Duggan understands the importance of the event more than anyone.
“It's an honor to host it,” Duggan said. “This will be our fifth tournament, our fifth time playing and we've traveled the first four times. And as the three time-defending champions, we were really excited to host it prior to COVID. But obviously we got set back the last couple of years. So the people in Flint have been really excited about it. We had a really good buildup in 2019 when we won. We were really hoping to host it in 2020, but it is what it is. We're looking forward to it. I'm hoping the weather's going to be good and that we have a good crowd.”
Duggan knows how to build championship teams and is familiar with success on and off the field. Simply put, he has helped build a winning mentality within the Bucks organization.
“It's a mindset with our team when we recruit players to come to play for the Bucks in the summer, it's to win national championships, whether it’s in the USL, an opportunity to go play in the Open Cup, whatever it is. We don't just want to get through a regular season and have a good time. So when the guys came in this year, we said there's several goals, but the first opportunity you're going to have to win a national championship is only two games, and it happens in the first three weeks you're here. So let's focus on it and let's be ready to get out there.”
The Steinbrecher Cup allows top amateur teams from different leagues to face off against each other for a real prize: to be named the US Soccer National Amateur Champion, a true champion of champions.
“There’s going to be three other incredibly good teams,” Duggan said. “The other side is none of us really know each other so there's not a lot of scouting going on. You’ve got to put your best guys forward, and the teams that historically have taken this tournament seriously have done well. And I suspect all four of the teams, especially those traveling as far as they are, are going to take it very seriously.”
Midfielder Harvey Slade should be a player to watch for in the competition. Slade is a defensive midfielder that played four years at Division I program Wright State.
“He’s a very accomplished player,” Duggan noted. “I suspect that he'll be playing pro next year. You'll know him when you see him. He is a field general out there. He really runs the team, and
his maturity is fantastic because most of our kids are younger, first or second year college.”
Slade, a recent All-Ohio honoree, appeared in 14 matches (all starts) and played over 1,100 minutes for the Raiders in 2021.
Fans should also keep an eye out for Bucks goalkeeper Isaac Walker, who started 43 games for Western Michigan from 2019-2021. He tallied 16 shutouts and 135 saves in 3,932 minutes played for the Broncos.
“In goal, we have Isaac Walker, who just transferred from Western Michigan down to Kentucky,” Duggan added. “He played with us last year, and is a very, very solid goalkeeper. So far in our three league matches, he's only given up one goal. So I think we'll be pretty tight at the back.”
The Bucks should be formidable offensively thanks to a talented group of attackers led by mdifielder Emeka Eneli and forwards Daniel Hernandez and Amadou Cisse. Hernandez leads the team in assists, while Cisse is tied for the team lead in goals. Cisse has been the Bucks’ leading scorer the past two seasons.
“Amadou Cisse is a name that you should know,” Duggan concluded. “Anybody that's watching our level or our team will know his name.”
A three-time champion with a talented squad and home-field advantage makes for a very strong opponent, and they will face off against the Houston Regals on Friday night.
Photo Credit: Flint City Bucks