By EJ STOUT
A new team has taken root. Soccer has sprung in Ann Arbor.
More than 2,000 fans came out in support of AFC Ann Arbor’s inaugural soccer match on Friday night.
Despite a disappointing 2-1 loss to San Marino, the game represented a new step for a city known for its athletic fanfare.
“We knew Ann Arbor loved soccer. All of our inclinations came true,” player and co-owner Knox Cameron said.
“The general atmosphere was great. The biggest thing is continuing to see where we can improve, whether it’s on the field or off the field. Our main objective is to provide people with a positive experience,” Cameron said after the game.
“I think this is a fairly decent start. Obviously a win would have been better, but we still have a lot of smiling folks.”
Peter Houk and his wife Laura biked to the game with their two young children, Vanessa and Emmeline. Houk said that while their family doesn’t attend many other local sports, they have been anticipating the city’s soccer team for quite some time.
“We like that it’s our own Ann Arbor team – not the university’s, not Detroit’s,” Houk said. The family has already secured season tickets and plans to bike to as many games as possible.
A parachuting skydiver ceremoniously flew in the game ball, compliments of Skydive Tecumseh, which set the tone for an evening of excitement.
Young fans juggled soccer balls on the sidelines, and supporters of all ages were decked out in the team’s blue and green traditional soccer scarves.
“We’re all ambassadors of the game,” Cameron said.
Zack Reichert, a physician from Ann Arbor, brought his son Cole, 9, and daughter Brynn, 6, to the match. Both children are in the second season of their own soccer careers, but Reichert was hopeful for the impression a semi-pro team could make on them.
“It shows them it’s more interactive,” Reichert said, explaining that having a local team is “much more accessible for a younger group.”
The Saline Area Soccer Association was on hand with two youth club teams, one of which is coached by Ann Arbor’s own Cameron, and provided a 10-minute friendly game during halftime.
Crowd attractions included five food vendors, live music and a skills area sponsored by YMCA.
While families mainly congregated on the east stands of Hollway Field, a special section was designated on the opposite stands for the more lively fanbase.
Established a few months ago, the Main Street Hooligans group hopes to inspire the team to victory, according to founding members.
In true hooligan fashion, chants bellowed from the “rowdier” stands, and a drum provided by the Hooligans helped keep the beat.
“They understand the game,” Cameron said. “They understand that sometimes we need that lift, and they provide that.”
Green and blue streamers flew through the air as the home team’s only goal hit the back of the net in the 20th minute.
After a goal by San Marino less than three minutes earlier, a pass down the right sideline from Cameron to midfielder Kyle Breitmeyer led to the equalizer for Ann Arbor.
The teams went into halftime tied, but San Marino was able to take a 2-1 lead with a goal in the 56th minute.
Despite multiple strong chances in the final few minutes of the game, Ann Arbor was not able to apply enough pressure to find the net again.
Ann Arbor head coach David Hebestreit spoke after the game about his team’s performance.
“As a team, we have a long way to go,” Hebestreit said. “This was a test match for us. It’s a matter of time and building some confidence.”
“It’s our first competitive game,” Cameron said. “We move on. It’s a long season.”
Ann Arbor opens league play against Oakland United at their next home game on May 15.