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A Pyrrhic Man of the Match for a Michigan Bucks Defender

Last year’s US Open Cup match between the host Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League and Detroit City FC of the National Premier Soccer League featured a dominating performance by the PDL side that won 3-0. Wide play and crisp passing were the order of the day as City was chased the entire match.

Wednesday’s match began much in the same vein. The Bucks passed almost at will, created far more scoring chances through Russell Cicerone and Adam Najem, and, most strikingly, suffocated the Le Rouge attack with stout defending from their center back Lalas Abubakar. Detroit City fought back to influence the match in the second half with timely substitutions, most notably Jeff Adkins and Ali Al-Gashamy in attack. The dramatic outcome of City’s 4-3 PK win belied who really controlled the match from start to finish.

Former Ghana U20 defender Lalas Abubakar was without question the best player on the pitch this night. The dreadlocked young man was everywhere he needed to be. Intercepting wayward DCFC passes, strong headers in clearing the ball as well as putting it on net, timely dispossession of opponents that had Detroit City’s attacking possession bordering on Bigfoot levels of existence. He alone had more scoring chances, from corner kicks delivered by Najem, any of Detroit’s forwards over the 120 minutes of play. As cliché as it sounds, both teams earned a draw, but Cup games are a crap shoot. As a result of a tense penalty kick shootout, the Michigan Bucks and their indefatigable back line crapped out.
It was clear in the first ten minutes of play that Abubakar was ready to play. He intercepted at least ten would be passes into dangerous areas of the Bucks defensive third while also moving the ball wide the fullbacks. Wide play was the bread and butter for their round one Cup win last year, and the spacious Oakland University pitch provided the same space to work. It wasn’t until the aforementioned substitutions of Al-Gashamy and Adkins that any Detroit city pressure was applied. The execution was nominal and only in the wide areas, well away from the redoutbale defender.

Coming away from the match, it was clear that Lalas Abubakar was a man among boys. His timing, technique, physicality, and decision making were a linchpin to stifling any ideas Detroit City had going forward. The only visible mistake he made during the match was taunting an “injured” opponent towards the end of the match, which was loudly reprimanded by the referee’s assistant. In the nil-nil draw after extra time, a far cry from the drubbing the Michigan Bucks handed out last season, all of the credit must go to Abubakar’s tenacity and skill for being the man of the match, even in a loss.
Russell Cicerone and his pink boots may have given City faithful indigestion when he went forward, completing a sombrero move even after 86 minutes of play. The five Bucks corner kicks in the final two minutes of regular time may have given City faithful heart palpitations. But Lalas Abubakar’s execution the entire match is really what stopped the Detroit City players in their tracks.

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