Photo courtesy of Michigan Bucks / PDL Coach of the Year Demir Muftari (left) with 2016 Defender of the Year Lalas Abubakar (right)
The Michigan Bucks have won many titles in the Premier Development League over the years, including a league-high three PDL Championships. Demir Muftari, who is embarking on his fifth season with the Great Lakes Division club, has guided the Bucks to two of those titles and is eager to add more silverware to that already-stuffed trophy cabinet.
After leading the Bucks to the PDL regular season title with a 12-2-0 record in 2016, Muftari was named PDL Coach of the Year. He then led the team to its third PDL title, outscoring opponents 11-2 throughout the PDL Playoffs.
“It’s the culture from the entire club – from top to bottom,” Muftari told USLPDL.com. “I think the messages that get sent to the players from the owner to the GM from myself and the group are consistent. The players are there because they want to develop and become pros, and we want to help them get there.
“Our message to them is: You need to commit. You need to buy in and trust the process, and you need to sacrifice things in your own individual game for the team to get better because the better the team does, the more recognition you’re going to get. Don’t walk in the door thinking, ‘we’re here to suit you.’ You need to walk in the door thinking, ‘what am I going to do to make the Bucks better?’”
Photo courtesy of Michigan Bucks / Demir Muftari with Bucks Chairman/CEO Dan Duggan
That mindset has been in place with the Bucks for years. It is a mindset that began when current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Duggan created the Bucks alongside his brother, Jim, and it was adopted by former Bucks Head Coach Gary Parsons – who led the team to multiple titles, including the PDL Championship in 2006.
When Muftari joined the club a few years ago, he quickly got the message.
“I started as the assistant for Gary Parsons,” Muftari said. “He asked me to join on back in 2012, and I thought what a good opportunity for me to work with a coach like Gary with a ton of experience and knowledge and for me to work with a different level. Just like I was as a player, I’m trying to constantly get better, constantly improve in what I do, and in all honesty, it’s a first-class organization. I’ve known Dan Duggan and Gary a really long time, so when the opportunity came up, I was excited for it.”
Muftari admits he alone is not responsible for the team’s overall success, citing the work assistant coach Paul Thomas has done since 2014.
“He’s a guy I trust – someone I’ve gotten to know over the years,” Muftari said. “He’s someone who buys in and is willing to do whatever he needs to do to help the team, but he’s a guy I work really well with – our philosophies and personalities match well, so it makes for a good, cohesive coaching unit.”
A key part of the organization’s success also stems from the relationships Muftari and the Bucks staff have with college coaches across the country.
“Very often we get to talk to the college coaches, and we’re grateful that they appreciate the Bucks and say, ‘we want our guys to get pushed. We want to send them to you,’” Muftari said.
“One of the things I think the college coaches appreciate is that the guys get put out of their comfort zone at times, so maybe a guy has a certain role with his college team, but he wants to be a pro, so stretching them – meaning playing a different role. I think the coaches appreciate that – that the guys get a different perspective and have to test themselves. We have good communication with the schools, being honest about where we see their players and what we feel is best for their players, and they – in return – do a good job saying, ‘These are the things we would like to see our guys improve on.’ I think there certainly is a good compromise there, with the end product being we’re all trying to do the same thing by helping a good player become a little bit better.”
The Bucks have had numerous players move on to play professionally since beginning PDL play in 1996, with a total of 63 Bucks alums have been selected in Major League Soccer SuperDrafts since 1999.
After scouting at many college campuses across the nation last fall, Muftari and the Bucks have assembled another roster loaded with talent and ready to compete.
“We won the championship in 2014 and in 2016, and in literally one week, we were talking about the schedule of the fall – what college games we were going to and who we were going to watch,” Muftari said. “So, we didn’t spend too long patting ourselves on the back. It was: Let’s get back to work.”