It all started with a goal written down on a bar napkin in 1995.
That desire – to develop the top Under-23 team across North America – turned into a product one year later, as the Michigan Bucks kicked off their first season in the Premier Development League.
Dan Duggan – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Michigan Bucks – has been there from the beginning. He was there when the idea was jotted down at the Cold Creek Inn in Beulah, Michigan, and he has been with the club ever since, helping numerous college-aged talents on their path to the professional ranks while also winning title after title along the way.
“We are all about preparing the next generation of pros and helping them with an opportunity that didn’t exist 30 years ago,” Duggan told USLPDL.com.
“The best memories I can share with you always revolve around the success of the organization on and off the field. Outside of winning, we have attended every MLS SuperDraft and are the only team in the world that has had at least one player drafted each year. That is a special accomplishment that we get to relive and expand on each January. We also love watching our former players excel as high-level coaches in the college ranks, as well as those heading up large youth clubs around the world.”
Duggan does not want all the credit for what the Bucks have become – a three-time PDL champion and one of the most recognizable amateur clubs across North America. He admits that everyone – from the coaches to the players to the administration – has combined to create the successful club that the Bucks are today.
“Without trying to put them in any order of importance, my brother – Jim – started the team with me and ran the club for the first decade and was a driving force for helping to create the level of professionalism in our league and all the other spawned off the PDL’s success,” Duggan said. “Gary Parsons is the architect of the player side of the equation and has been an adviser to me on player personnel since day one. The Bucks don’t stay in business for three decades without Jim’s passion and foundation, and we certainly don’t become the most successful amateur team in North American soccer history without Gary’s expertise with player development and as Director of Coaching.”
With a 233-70-34 regular-season record from 1996-2016, the Bucks hold the records for most PDL regular-season wins, most PDL Regular Season Titles (5), most Central Conference Championships (7) and most Great Lakes Division titles (13). In addition, the club also has a 29-16-3 lifetime record in the PDL Playoffs, holding the records for most postseason wins, most PDL Finals appearances (5) and most PDL Championships (3).
The Bucks have also shined in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Including the first two rounds of the 2017 tournament, the Bucks have posted a 15-13 overall record in the competition and a 10-10 record against professional teams. They became the first amateur team in the nation to defeat a Major League Soccer club in 2000, when the Bucks topped the New England Revolution, 1-0. In 2012, the PDL side topped the Chicago Fire and are now the only amateur side to have beaten two MLS teams in U.S. Open Cup history.
"The day Bob Kraft came on to the team bus and congratulated the boys as we were leaving Foxborough Stadium after the biggest upset in U.S. Soccer history is something that gave us all a lifetime of respect for the Revs and Patriots organizations," Duggan said. "I have never been good at losing, so that taught us all a life lesson in sportsmanship to witness firsthand how a champion handles defeat."
Numerous Bucks players have received PDL accolades since 1996, while many others have moved on and impressed at the professional level. Nate Jafta was awarded PDL All-League Team honors three times (2006-08), Kenny Uzoigwe claimed All-League Team honors in 2007 and 2010, Stewart Givens received All-League Team honors in 2011 and Tom Catalano earned All-League Team honors and was the assists leader in 2012. Dzenan Catic claimed the PDL MVP, as well as the Golden Boot award, in 2014, while Adam Grinwis and Mitch Hildebrandt have each won the PDL Goalkeeper of the Year award.
Since 1999, a total of 63 Bucks alums have been selected in MLS SuperDrafts, including three players – 2016 PDL Defender of the Year Lalas Abubakar, Francis de Vries and Ethan Kutler – chosen in the 2017. Other talents, such as 2016 Creative Player of the Year Adam Najem, have signed Homegrown Player contracts with MLS teams or have inked deals abroad.
And the journey does not stop for Duggan and the Bucks. The club has embarked on its 2017 campaign and again boasts many talented players who are looking to make an impact in the PDL now and at the next level in the future.
“As always, for my 2017 team, I want to see them make a run in the U.S. Open Cup and have an opportunity to play against professional teams to help them for what lies ahead in their careers,” Duggan said. “We want to repeat both as PDL regular season champs and North American champs. Then, we want to celebrate with the players in their fall college season and help as many as we can to move on to the professional level later this year or after January’s MLS SuperDraft.”