Excited atmosphere in inaugural match for AFC Ann Arbor

Amateur Football Club Ann Arbor hosted San Marino Football Club, a soccer team out of Troy Mich., in the team’s first match of its inaugural season in the Great Lakes Premier League, losing 2-1 on Friday evening at Holloway Field in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Over 2,000 fans from Ann Arbor and surrounding communities packed into the stands at Holloway Field to watch AFC Ann Arbor take on league foe San Marino FC in the first professional soccer match to be held at the stadium. At times the crowd seemed to be overwhelming to some of the players who aren’t familiar with soccer at the professional level.

“The loss may have been about learning to play in this type of atmosphere for some of these guys,” David Hebestreit said. “So we had a sense of disconnect.”

AFC Ann Arbor was missing 12 players, because of NCAA eligibility rules, which forced Hebestreit to start more inexperienced players in his line-up.

The game started out strong for AFC Ann Arbor as the team pushed the ball forward and got some quality attempts on goal. Midfielder Alex Morrisset had AFC Ann Arbor’s first chance on goal, but the headed shot was put wide.

In the 17 minute a communication breakdown by the AFC Ann Arbor backline resulted in the first goal of the match, scored by San Marino FC’s forward Mario Morana, giving San Marino FC a 1-0 lead.

But it was AFC Ann Arbor forward Kyle Breitmeyer that handled a great weighted pass from soccer veteran and journeyman Knox Cameron to level the score at one in the 20th minute.

Knox Cameron is a veteran soccer player who has played a season for the Columbus Crew, a Major League Soccer team. Cameron scored four goals in 30 appearances for the Crew.

“He’s been at this level, and even higher levels,” Hebestreit said about Cameron. “It is very comfortable knowing that in a tough situation like tonight he isn’t turning on his teammates.”

But it was AFC Ann Arbor goalkeeper Thomas Tomasso who stole the show, and won the “Man of the Match Award” for Friday’s contest. Tomasso made an unprecedented 11 saves against San Marino FC, including many saves that kept the game close.

“Our goalie was absolutely outstanding tonight,” said Hebestreit. “We’re talking not tic-tac saves, but saves that really mattered.”

Tomasso made an inspirational one-on-one save in the second half to keep the game tied at one, giving AFC Ann Arbor a chance to win. But all of Tomasso’s saves couldn’t win the game for his team.

After a handful of great opportunities for AFC Ann Arbor, which included two over-the-top balls from Cameron to Breitmeyer that gave the team multiple chances to take the lead but they couldn’t seize the chances, San Marino FC took a 2-1 lead. Mackenzie Bechard scored the goal in the 57th minute.

After San Marino FC took the lead, AFC Ann Arbor began to pressure the defense. There were multiple chances for both Cameron and Breitmeyer, which included a shot that hit the cross-bar, but AFC Ann Arbor couldn’t earn a tying goal.

On the other side of the pitch, Tomasso kept coming up with save after save, including a save that denied San Marino FC forward Sam Seppo at point-blank range.

A great chance for AFC Ann Arbor came in the 90th minute when forward Matt Lang got past the San Marino FC backline and made a move to make a shot, but the ball went right into San Marino FC’s goalkeeper.

Ann Arbor FC’s inaugural match ended in a 2-1 loss, but coach Hebestreit dismissed any concerns heading into the bulk of the season.

“As a team we have a long way to go, and we’ll get there and I’m not concerned about that, there is nothing in me that is worried about this season,” he said. “When you play in an atmosphere like this, you have to know that teams are gunning for you.”

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Follow Robert Sherman on Twitter: @r__sherman

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