The 2014 PDL champion Michigan Bucks released their 2015 schedule Sunday afternoon.
The Bucks will open on May 16 against TFC Academy at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a championship ring presentation and 20th anniversary celebration before the game.
As the defending champs, the Bucks will have a target on their backs during a challenging schedule.
"We are excited to get the schedule out today and for the teams to start preparing for the season," said PDL Director Todd Eason.
The Bucks have a frontloaded schedule with more games coming in May and June and the US Open Cup.
"Last May, we were all struggling to put an identity together that could win, and by the end of June we knew we had something special," said coach Demir Muftari. "Unfortunately, we don't have that luxury this season. So the players coming in are going to have to battle to make a difference in the month of May."
Gary Parson, the Bucks Director of Coaching, has helped put the team together, scouting at combines and bringing back others to help keep their tradition as being a top team to beat in the PDL. "We have an unusual amount of early games in May that are all meaningful this season, so it makes recruiting even tougher this year," explained Parsons. "You would think that winning last year would make things a little easier, but that has been offset by the challenge of three competitions in May and the addition of two pro organizations in our division that we were not competing against last year."
"I really see this to be one of the most competitive season with the additions of new teams," Eason said.
The new teams consist of Burlingham Dragons FC, Calgary Foothills FC, Charlotte Eagles, Dayton Dutch Lions, FC Miami City Champions, Lehigh Valley United Sonic, New York, Palm Beach Suns F.C. and TFC Academy. The Bucks will face two of the new teams in Dayton and TFC.
"Most of our players don't report to camp until around (May 16)," Parsons said. "But that is the nature of this developmental league, and our commitment to using top college players."
"If we don't win, we aren't in the Open Cup or the National Amateur Championships," Muftari said. "That's why players and coaches come to the Bucks. We all want to win, and winning helps get our players exposure."
Three former Bucks were chosen in the 2015 MLS Superdraft this year. PDL and NAIA player of the year Dzenan Catic (Davenport University) was selected by the Philadelphia Union, captain Zach Steinberger (Butler University) by the Houston Dynamo and Adam Montague (Michigan State University) by the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Steinberger and Montague will face off in MLS preseason action Tuesday.
"We were very happy, but not surprised, that these players have made it to the next level," Eason said. "It is great to see these players have success in both college and PDL. We also hope the league will continue to produce pro-ready players that can compete for time on MLS rosters."
One positive for the Bucks is that six of their first eight games will be played at home, which will give the team more time to bond, rather than traveling. An annual bonding trip up north will give the team a little time to get to know each other off the field.
Another advantage is that the longtime rival Chicago Fire is now in the Heartland Division instead of the Great Lakes Division. The two teams will meet in a crossover matchup on June 20 at 6 p.m. at Western Michigan University. The game will highlight the Kalamazoo Invitational Soccer Showcase (KISS) weekend.
The Central Conference Final Four weekend will be July 24-25, with postseason play starting on July 21. The No. 3 seed will travel to the No. 2 seed with the winner joining the final four conference competition along with the division champion.
The Bucks will also host top programs in the area that will compete in the College Challenge, held at the Ultimate Soccer Arena on March 21. The event will showcase Michigan State vs. Notre Dame, Oakland University vs. Notre Dame, Michigan State vs. Butler University and Oakland University vs. Butler University.
Tickets for this event and for Michigan Bucks season tickets can be found online at www.buckssoccer.com on the tickets link.