Ever since the possibility of the Fire taking on the Bucks came into play about two weeks ago, my mouth has sort of been watering for Tuesday night’s match-up.
For those that haven’t heard my story before, it was with the Bucks that I got my first gig in soccer as an intern in 2007. Standing as the highest level of outdoor soccer in the Detroit area, the Bucks actually made their name early on as the Mid-Michigan Bucks, playing mostly out of White Pine Stadium in Saginaw from 1996-2003.
While they’re a Premier Development League side (fourth division), it would be a mistake to take them lightly. Along with qualifying for the playoffs and looking to earn a North American championship (as they did in 2006), the Bucks, much like the Fire, put a high priority on the tournament. The 2012 season marks the ninth time in their 17-year history that the team has taken part in the competition.
In all, the team has hosted three of its six matches against MLS teams in the state of Michigan. But perhaps the game they’re known best for, was their 1-0 defeat of the New England Revolution on June 27, 2000 at Foxboro Stadium. The first time a PDL team would defeat an MLS side in the Open Cup, the fourth division team came just short of the quarterfinals that year after a 10-man Bucks side would draw 3-3 at the Miami Fusion before falling 6-5 in the shootout.
“Obviously we’re very excited about Tuesday,” said Michigan Bucks chairman Dan Duggan. “We’re disappointed that we haven’t been able to bring an MLS team here for the tournament the last six years but we’ve worked hard and this year things came together. To have the Chicago Fire come into Detroit is absolutely a great matchup that the fans will enjoy. Detroit and Chicago are two of the greatest sports towns in America and it has the makings of something special again here Tuesday night.”
While the Fire first team has never played the Bucks, the Pontiac-based side has long held a rivalry with the club’s PDL team since they first entered the league in 2001. Current Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich was the head coach of the PDL side that often thwarted the Bucks in the early part of the last decade, though the series has certainly evened out more recently.
Along with that connection, the Fire currently have two players on its roster that can count themselves amongst the Bucks alumni playing in Major League Soccer. Fire forward Kheli Dube tallied 25 goals in 41 appearances for the team from 2005-2007, while helping the Bucks to the 2006 North American title and back to the championship match the following season. In recognition for his on-field performance and the character he showed during his three seasons in Detroit, Dube was inducted into the Bucks Hall of Fame last year.
“He helped us out a lot, he’s a terrific young man,” Duggan said of Dube. “If you’re taking a prototype for what an MLS player should strive to be, he would be my guy -- just a consummate professional in every way.”
While a member of the Fire PDL team in 2010, converted defender Tony Walls spent the surrounding summers of 2009 and 2011 in Detroit, helping the team to the Great Lakes Division crown last season.
“Tony I think is one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen,” he continued. “We expected he would get drafted and play in MLS because of his athletic ability and he’s obviously a great soccer player. We’re very proud of both Kheli and Tony’s success.”
While the game is the Fire’s first ever in the Great Lakes state, it will also hold the distinction of being the team’s first-ever indoor game. How fitting that the venue, Ultimate Soccer Arenas stands just a mile south of the Pontiac Silverdome, the site of the first-ever indoor World Cup game. A much more intimate venue, Ultimate Soccer’s permanent seating can hold 1,600 people and with an expected sellout, temporary bleachers are being added for Tuesday’s match.