PONTIAC, Mich. – The Michigan Bucks truly can call this their year as they continue to gain accolades and their players further display their talent around the country.
Bucks owner Dan Duggan was awarded Executive of the Year this past weekend at the USL Hall of Fame awards dinner in Florida. The award tops off a successful season in which the Bucks won the PDL National Championship in August, a game they hosted at Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac. It was the second national championship for the organization -- they won in 2006 in Laredo, Texas for the first time under the coaching of Dan Fitzgerald.
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"It is nice to be recognized," said Duggan, "Our staff is the reason why I received this award. Sherwin Connell, Gary Parsons, Coach Demir Muftari, the assistant coaches are the ones that help the team, keep it all in place and running smoothly including trainer John Ciecko and all of the behind the scenes interns. They are the ones that do all of the work and deserve the credit, I just set the tone and they make it all come together."
Duggan described this year's team makeup as special.
"We knew that this year's squad was special, even though they might not have been the most talented team we had," he said. "We knew as we saw them bond together and continue to stay healthy and play good and having a little luck on our side. This PDL league is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a long and hard fought battle to play those 90 days and make it. We struggled and even did not know up until the last games of the season if we would make it to the playoffs and move on but as the team got to that point and saw their efforts paid off and learning that we were going to host just excited them that much more and gave them the edge they needed to win it all."
They had a full squad of talented players, but there is one Bucks player who epitomizes what a PDL player can do and gain from the training and level of play within this league. The player is the Professional Development League (PDL) Player of the Year and PDL Scoring Title for 2014 Dzenan Catic. Catic was a standout forward for the Bucks this year. He led the league with 16 goals and 35 points over their 14 regular season games. His presence on the field gained attention before when he helped East Kentwood High School win three state titles. He was named the state of Michigan's "Mr. Soccer" and National Gatorade Player of the Year his senior year.
Michigan Bucks director of coaching Gary Parsons, who is also the former coach, had his sights set on Catic for some time. He had plans for him to become a Buck while watching and coaching him in the Michigan Wolves Academy. Catic made the PDL and Bucks proud when he helped his Davenport University team win the NAIA National Championship. He scored the tying goal on a penalty kick against Texas in the National Championship game, which they won, 2-1, in OT after a corner kick resulting in a header goal by Chase Burgess. The Player of the Year award again was given to Catic this year, this time in his college NAIA league.
"I'm glad for Dzenan's sake and for our sake that he was a part of our team this year and he has become an even better player at this level which helped him carry that momentum into his college season and excel at Davenport," said Duggan. "The PDL is such a spring board for players here and abroad to get noticed and I am sure he will have a lot to consider with offers coming soon."
Catic is one player out of many who Duggan and his Bucks staff have helped recruit, train and prepare for success in the PDL and beyond. One of their former players, who was on the squad for the first national championship, who has seen great success after the Bucks is Steve Clark. Clark is the current starting goalkeeper for the MLS' Columbus Crew. The MLS has this year alone at the 2015 MLS Combine seen 41 of the 55 college players invited to attend as previous or current PDL players.
"This is almost our 20th year now," said Duggan. "We can proudly say that the Michigan Bucks have seen 55 former players be drafted into the MLS and over 85 prior to this year move onto the pros which after this year, it will be close to 100 that will move onto the next level."
Parsons feels this award to Duggan is "recognition to an individual who has dedicated a tremendous amount of time and resources to help top amateur players pursue their dreams of becoming professionals."
"This award honors Dan for all he has done for amateur soccer in Michigan and throughout the country," said Parsons. "It could not have gone to a more deserving individual."
Duggan has helped to enable not only a great experience and place to play for players from Michigan and around the country, but also has given them a place to train and excel up the professional tier of soccer in the United States and beyond. He has given his own time and money for years since 1996 when they started the Mid-Michigan Bucks based in Saginaw.
In 2000, the Bucks went on to the PDL National Finals where they fell to Chicago. That same year they played the MLS' New England Revolution in the second round of the US Open Cup and won 1-0. That was the first time ever that a PDL team beat a professional MLS team. In November of 2005, owners Dan and Jim Duggan were inducted into the USL Soccer Hall of Fame. Both Jim and Dan have now each won the PDL Executive of the Year award twice with this organization.
The next level is something that Duggan has looked at often, not only with helping his own players reach their aspirations, but to try to reach his own to bring the next professional level of soccer here to Michigan. He is always thinking of helping Michigan soccer not only to help our talent here and from around the country to move on, but to try to have a professional home for them here as well.
"When I met with the USL Pro, we decided that if stadium plans and land approval could not be finalized by September 2014, that it would be best for everyone not to push it," said Duggan. "We are hoping to have drawings for a stadium complex done by January and take them to get approved, at which time we will announce the site and plans for the building. We are also waiting on final approval to secure the land in Detroit. Detroit City FC has proven that young people love having a team to call their own. They helped to show that people will come to Detroit to watch a game and to the extent that our talent in Michigan does extend. The teams in the MLS that succeed and do not struggle with attendance are those that have their stadiums in the heart of their downtown. Stadiums like Columbus, Colorado and Chicago record lesser attendance due to their location being outside of downtown."
Many involved in Michigan soccer have heard of others coming in and making promises or trying to bring professional soccer to Michigan, and have even wondered if Duggan can ever make this happen.
"I'm happy, however, that it has taken this long and now that we past the September window for the 2015 season, we are hopeful to bring a professional team to Downtown Detroit for the 2016 season," said Duggan. "This way we will also have all spring and summer to work on the stadium, scout and select the players, market and advertise and work with others in Detroit and Michigan that want to come together to make and see this happen. If this had happened five years ago, the stadium would have only been 5-8,000 seats and located in Pontiac. We are not looking for a bigger stadium to build in downtown Detroit."
Just as he is careful with decisions made within his successful PDL organization, Duggan is using the same approach with plans to bring the next level of pro soccer to Michigan.
"You get one chance to do it right and we need to make sure to get all of our ducks in a row," he said.
The Michigan Bucks will help celebrate the holidays in soccer style by hosting their 6th Annual Michigan Bucks Holiday Tournament December 29-30, 2014 at Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac. Youth teams ages U8-U18 for boys and girls from all over Michigan, Ohio and Canada will participate.
For more information, go to www.buckssoccer.com.