ANN ARBOR - Now, fans will be cheering "Come on you Mighty Oak" at men's and women's games.
AFC Ann Arbor will be announcing Thursday the addition of a women's team to the soccer club.
Team chairman and general manager Bilal Saeed told A4 that a women's team was more than a year in the making.
"This past year, we started reaching out, and the United Women's Soccer Organization is a perfect fit for us," said Saeed. "There's a bunch of Michigan teams in there, so (there will be) good opportunities for rivalries between the teams."
The club has appointed Kristine Adams as the general manager of the women's team.
"She’s been with the team for four years as a volunteer," said Saeed. "You'll find her at the front gate a lot at the welcome table. She loves meeting fans, she loves interacting with the young kids. When I presented her with the opportunity, she was thrilled, and she’ll be joining our ownership group and our board as our first female board member.
"A culture shift is important for us to be more representative of the soccer community in Ann Arbor. Having worked together for so long and having worked with the men's team, (Kristine) knows exactly what we need."
The club will start looking for a women's head coach immediately. The new coach, along with Saeed and sporting director and men's head coach Eric Rudland, will begin holding tryouts and building a team in late April.
"We're going to use different college players from the area, as well as former collegiate players," said Saeed. "We'll start sourcing the teams the same way we do for the guys, and hopefully we can find a coach that has a quality network that he or she can tap into."
Unlike the men's team that recruits players from around the world, Saeed says it's likely the women's team will be entirely American.
"The interesting differences between the men's and women's games is there's definitely less opportunities for women to push on past the United Women's Soccer League once they play for us. You’ve got the National Women's Soccer League here in the States, but a lot of women we see playing the game professionally have to go overseas to pursue other opportunities. So, more than anything, we might be developing players and sending them off to go find professional contracts overseas themselves."
This is in contrast to what they've seen on the men's team. Just after this past season, AFC Ann Arbor's star center back, Joseph Stanley Okumu, who played on his home country Kenya's national team, signed with Salt Lake's Real Monarchs in the United Soccer League.
This, Saeed says, is the main difference between the two teams.
"Other than that, how we run the team, our resources -- it’s going to be very equal, and it goes back to why we wanted to do this. It just feels like it’s an important thing for the community."
The Ann Arbor community has always been a driving force for the club. From the official fan club "The Main Street Hooligans" to meet-and-greet events with local youth, Saeed tells us that what separates the club from others in the league is their focus on a family-friendly experience.
"What we’ve been able to do in the community is what keeps me going," he said. "I'm driven and fueled by the young kids in our community that are falling even more in love with the game. Being able to provide role models, specifically for the young female players in our community -- it’s really special."
The 2019 men's and women's seasons run May through July.
Before the end of the year, AFC Ann Arbor will be announcing its new home venue. Season tickets will go on sale before Christmas.
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