Huge crowds, team unity and tacos: Flint City Bucks find ‘something special’ in Flint

FLINT, Michigan—This is a team that didn’t even qualify for the playoffs until winning their final regular season game. This is a team whose members come from four different countries and six different states. This is a team that has dealt with roster turnover due to injuries and players leaving for college or professional camps. This is a team that is getting used to a new city and a new home field. 

And, the Flint City Bucks have been undoubtedly great in their inaugural season here. 

Stability has come from finding a home in Flint. The players live together. They prepare meals and train together. They go on team outings together. They’ve been able to maintain those consistent routines and find a level of comfort even as the lineup has changed throughout the season.

“We are a family here,” player Griffin DeBolt said. “We’ve been through a lot this year, and the fact that we’ve been able to gel is something special.”

And now, as they prepare to host a national championship match on their home field, they’ve been able to get ready for the game following those same routines. Even while fielding questions from the media earlier this week, DeBolt, Charlie Booth, and David Achaerandio informally discussed another important matter — what they were making for dinner that night. (They had tacos.)  

The Flint City Bucks, with an 18-3-3 record, host the national championship match against Reading United AC (Pennsylvania) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3, at Atwood Stadium.  Tickets are available in advance at Ticketmaster.com and Flint Prints, 615 S. Saginaw St. in downtown Flint. They also are for sale at the gate Saturday. 

“Right after the game, we started thinking about the final,” Achaerandio said. “Not having to travel is good — we can sleep good, we can recover, we can eat good at our place and follow our regular routine and practice the mistakes we made in our last game and keep working to be even better this game.”

The Bucks advanced to the national title match by beating FC Golden State 1-0 on July 27 with a penalty kick scored by Yuri Farkas. That win, like many of the team’s wins this season, came on a second half goal and was bolstered by the team’s stout defense and speed wearing down an opposing team.

“Our fitness is great, but from a defensive standpoint, we give (opponents) a hard time all game and we’re able to keep the ball, so that helps us wear them down for sure,” Booth said. “As a group, it’s everyone’s job to defend — not just the back four. Everyone’s gotta get back and behind the ball. We’re on the same page about that, and it really helps the defense that we all have that mindset.”

The team’s speed and defensive relentlessness, combined with a large and vocal crowd of supporters, will prove to be a tough combination for their opponents. Against FC Golden State, 4,633 people filled the stands at Atwood, one of the largest crowds for an event at the stadium since Kettering University finished renovations and reopened it in 2015. Three Flint Institute of Music Fourth of July concerts have drawn nearly 6,000 people to the stadium and a few high school football games have drawn approximately 5,000 fans.

“I think we can beat that, to be honest,” Booth said. “Hopefully we can get more than 6,000 out there, that would be great.”

The fans have had an energizing effect on the team all season, but the huge turnout for the semifinal win over Golden State FC was especially inspiring.

“That’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of,” DeBolt said. “Knowing every single person in that stadium was behind us, that’s an incredible feeling and definitely motivational.”

It also impacts opposing teams, who aren’t used to playing in front of that many fans.

“To come here and be in an environment like that, it’s definitely a lot (for an opponent),” DeBolt said. “I’d definitely be intimidated a little bit, so it’s a huge factor that helps play to our advantage.”

USL League Two officials also attended the game. They were impressed by the crowd and the entire community during their stay.

“The league has been extremely impressed with Flint and how the community has embraced soccer,” said Flint City Bucks team president Costa Papista. “They toured the community and saw people everywhere wearing Bucks jerseys and gear around town. They could really see the support.”

The players have also noticed the support, even on non-game days.

“Everybody’s talking about the team and enjoying our games, and we are enjoying it here too so it’s just a nice atmosphere,” Achaerandio said.

The success this season has been a highlight, but the team is also excited about what it means for the future of soccer in Flint.

“We’ve set a really good foundation for the next generation of Bucks players here in Flint,” DeBolt said. “Something really special could happen here over the next few years with everything that has been started this season.”

But, before looking ahead, the team has one more priority.

“We’re going out there to win a championship for the city,” DeBolt said.

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.

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