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DETROIT ARSENAL CHAMPIONSHIP NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN

Detroit Arsenal winning the 2005 NPSL National Championship is a special moment in league history, but more importantly, it is a major life event for two people currently involved with the NPSL almost 13 years later.

AFC Ann Arbor assistant coach Jeff Shuk and FC Baltimore Director of Soccer Operations Alex Lubyansky were there firsthand and the pair had a lot to do with the Michigan side lifting the league’s most coveted trophy.

Shuk was involved in both the playing and coaching side for Arsenal.

“I was older than most of the team.  I had finished my short professional career and had started taking my coaching licenses before joining Arsenal.  So as the time went on I started helping on the coaching side of the organization and as well as playing.  By the end of this era, I was only playing in emergencies and coaching was my main role with the team.  With three coaches, Waad, Raad, and myself, we were able to fill all the needs of the team and organization.  There is a lot more work to run a team successfully at that level than just practices.  Between the three of us, we had everything covered on and off the field.”

The 1-0 win over the Sonoma County Sol in the national championship match was certainly something that wouldn’t be easily forgotten and for good reason.

“That final is still a match we talk about to this day,” Shuk commented. “I think we registered our first and only shot on goal in the 118 minute, and our goalkeeper’s performance that night was nothing short of a 120-minute highlight reel.  The memories off the field are what made this team.  A group of men who not only shared a passion for the game but also a truly enjoyed hanging out and playing together.  This is a direct result of our staff’s ability to not just pick the best players, instead they picked the players that were best for the team.”

The goalkeeper behind the highlight reel described by Shuk was none other than the aforementioned Lubyansky.

“It was truly thrilling,” Lubyansky added. “At the time, it was the biggest game of my life. I was honored to be named MVP.  We were honestly an incredibly strong team. While there may have been some close scorelines, we felt supremely confident we could win the national title and we proved ourselves as deserving.”

Shuk spoke highly of the experience, a game that could be discussed with family and friends for many years to come..

“That game was the first of the season that we played in front of a sold-out stadium so some of our players were a little overwhelmed at the start. To be honest Sol was the far superior side and dominated the entire match.  We stole a goal late in the second overtime and held on throughout 120 minutes and seven minutes of stoppage in overtime.  Our commitment to staying organized and defending was unbreakable that night.  A few of us have watched the match again in recent years and we still shake our heads wondering how we managed that upset.”

According to Shuk, winning the game wasn’t easy considering the circumstances.

“That final was amazing. We came in without our captain as he was getting married that weekend and we had issues with guys getting time off work to travel to California.  Our starting goalkeeper had dislocated his shoulder before the playoffs so we were crossing our fingers that ‘Luby’ could continue his incredible run of form in the goal.  This also had me penciled in as the backup keeper that match.”

Arsenal would have a very successful first season in 2005, going undefeated in the regular season with a record of eight wins, zeros losses, and two draws.  A league-leading 42 goals for and only five against showed Detroit’s dominance over the opposition.  The squad that year was loaded with talent, including the likes of defenders Kevin Hall and Alex Leon, midfielders Nate Craft and Tati, and forwards Ablaye Camara and Rodrigo Gonzalez.

Winning the championship was just one part of a special season.

“I loved the feeling of traveling around the country and playing high level soccer in the summertime,” Lubyansky continued. “It was incredibly fun. I got to see places I otherwise would not have.  I fondly remember Madison, Wisconsin the Mall of America, Alcatraz. Our owners took great care of us.”

Shuk described the championship season as a “blur.”

“None of knew what we were in for.  It was an unknown, so we were playing and training day-by-day, not sure where any of it was leading to. In fact, it was such a blur the championship trophy was left at Detroit Airport. I had to go pick it up after a phone call from the airlines, and it is still in my garage to this day.”

In their second and final season in 2006, Arsenal finished second in the Midwest Conference with a record of 7-2-1.

While the Detroit soccer torch has been passed on to the wildly successful Detroit City FC, both Lubyansky and Shuk remain very involved in the NPSL.

According to Lubyansky, it’s quite obvious the league has grown and developed a great deal since 2005.  “The league has grown tremendously.  Not only are there many more teams, but the fan bases are incredible.”

Shuk agreed.

“The overall level is miles better.  The top teams then, Arsenal and Bavarians, would still be competing for championships, but the rest would struggle.  The support from fans now is also amazing.  Social media has a lot to do with that and the organizations that have mastered that should be applauded.  I look at DCFC and tip my cap to them and their supporters for getting upwards of 8,000 fans to a match.  On several occasions, there were games we played in front of fewer than 50 people in that first season.  Now you head to Detroit or Grand Rapids and there are several thousand fans for every away game.  How could a player not embrace that environment?  I could go on and on about the now and then, but any well-run and successful league grows, adapts, and improves and the NPSL is that.”

Lubyansky returned to the NPSL with a plan for a completely new team, in a different city and state.

“FC Baltimore came to my brother and I as an idea after seeing the massive fan support of Detroit City FC. My fond recollection of playing in the league made applying for expansion an easy choice.”

Shuk, on the other hand, got involved with an established team with a legion of fans.

“I was very fortunate to get back involved in the league.  A good friend of mine, Eric Rudland, is the Director of Soccer Operations and Head Coach at AFC Ann Arbor.  He approached me when the goalkeeping coaching position at the team was vacant.  We sat down and chatted about the team and expectations and agreed this would be a perfect fit.  Currently, my role is to train our goalkeepers and work specifically with our backline and any defending players in functional training sessions. The experience at AFC Ann Arbor has been incredible.  From the ownership group, the staff, the players, and interns this organization is run professionally.  Everyone here understands and embraces their role and this leads to the success on the field.”

This pair of Detroit Arsenal alums remain involved in growing the sport of soccer in Michigan. Lubyansky is the  head coach of the men’s club soccer team at the University of Michigan in addition to leading Michigan Lightning as Technical Director.  Shuk currently serves in a variety of important roles, including Goalkeeping Director for Michigan Rush Soccer Club, Assistant Coach at Madonna University, USSF Coaching Education Instructor, USC Coaching Education Instructor, and ODP Region II Coach.

While the duo’s past is incredibly impressive, the future is even more bright.  Lubyansky and Shuk now have the opportunity to make a big difference in American soccer as a whole.

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