When most people think of former MLS players owning a soccer club, they think of David Beckham and his Miami MLS project. While Beckham’s group has yet to build a stadium or play a match, former Columbus Crew striker Knox Cameron has helped create a club that has been a success from day one.
Cameron is a big name when it comes to soccer in Michigan. He had an illustrious career at the University of Michigan, played for the likes of Detroit City FC, and is now one of the co-owners behind AFC Ann Arbor.
Cameron’s success at Michigan led him to be selected in the fourth round (44th overall) of the2005 MLS SuperDraft. He would score four goals in 30 matches for the Crew from 2005-2006. For Cameron, playing in MLS was a very special experience, something he wouldn’t forget.
“Playing in Major League Soccer was a dream come true. It was a very rewarding experience to play against some of the best players in the country and competing at such a high level. I had a lot of fun moments in Columbus, but a couple do stand out above the rest. As you may know, I grew up in New York City and as a rookie, I had the opportunity to start against the then MetroStars in front of a lot of friends and family at the Meadowlands. It was very special to have a lot of the people who were influential in getting me to that point there to watch me play.
Another great moment was scoring a goal against the Fire on my birthday.”
Cameron was highly regarded by Crew supporters and he clearly enjoyed his time in Columbus.
He was welcomed with open arms in a city that embraced the beautiful game from the very beginning of MLS.
“Playing in Columbus was an incredible experience. Outside of the Blue Jackets, there isn’t another professional team in town, so you do feel very special. The fans are great and they embraced me during my time there, even though I attended the University of Michigan.
Columbus is also a great city with a lot of things to do. I met a lot of special people during my time there.”
After leaving the Crew, Cameron looked at a life outside of soccer, but it didn’t take long from him to return in a big way.
“When I stepped away from the game after being released by the Crew, I took my career completely away from soccer to a corporate career and had no intentions of returning. As time passed, the love for the game returned and I was anxious to give back in some capacity.
Contributing to the growth of soccer in the U.S. and a city that is near and dear to my heart has been very rewarding.”
Cameron’s journey back into the game saw him become a fan favorite with Detroit City, where he scored eight goals in two seasons. Playing for DCFC was a special time for the Kingston, Jamaica native.
“Playing for Detroit was very exciting. I recall scoring in my first-ever game for the club in a 1-0 victory. It was a great feeling. I have great respect for the ownership group in Detroit and I have the deepest level of admiration for their supporters’ group. I was always treated well and I am forever grateful. Playing Detroit will be very fun and makes for an intriguing matchup. We hope to establish some level of rivalry not just with Detroit but all of the Michigan teams within the NPSL. However, from a personal standpoint, the Detroit matchup will probably mean the most.”
Ann Arbor is just one piece of the soccer hotbed that is growing in Michigan. The NPSL calls the region one of its biggest strongholds with six teams in the Wolverine State, almost comprising an entire conference on its own.
“The state of Michigan has always produced top players and top clubs at the youth level,” Cameron added. “There are a lot of knowledgeable soccer people in the State and helped to cultivate this culture. There are a lot of NPSL teams in Michigan and this is due to a great demand for soccer. When I joined the University of Michigan, the team was going into its second year as a varsity program. My hope was to help build the program there and do my small part to help to spread the game across the state. I wanted to be part of the growth then and I am excited to be a part of the effort some years later. Fans should be excited about the Ann Arbor, Lansing, Detroit, and Grand Rapids matchups throughout the season.”
AFC Ann Arbor already has the support of their community thanks to sponsors like the Bank of Ann Arbor, Audi of Ann Arbor, Wickfield Properties, Absopure, Mission Management, Arbor Brewing Company, Big George’s, and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan.
With a legion of supporters, a well-known coaching staff, and loads of talented players, the team is poised to get a strong start on their 2016 campaign. Cameron admitted that moving to the NPSL was an easy decision.
“First, the league spans across the country and provides high level of play throughout. This gives our young players the opportunity to showcase themselves and also allows us owners to introduce our city and brand to the entire country. Next, playing at a national level brings a higher level of play which will be more attractive to our fans and beneficial for a lot of the young players who attend our games. Ultimately I think it is a win-win for all parties.”
According to Cameron, becoming involved with AFC Ann Arbor was an equally easy decision.
“There were a couple factors that led to my involvement with the club. First, I am very passionate about both the growth of the game as well as the city of Ann Arbor. The new venture aligned well with this passion. Furthermore, I was approached by one of the partners and close friend about the opportunity to invest. He and I had always discussed investment ideas and AFC Ann Arbor proved to be a perfect opportunity.”
Cameron and others have high expectations for their inaugural NPSL season, one that will be very exciting and full of rivalries and exciting matchups.
“The expectation is to compete for a championship. It’s important to set goals of this nature because you must hold yourself and others to a certain standard in order to make this a reality. I think we have great leadership and a great pipeline to some of the most talented young players out there, so that is a good combination. I also expect us to grow as a club and integrate ourselves further into the Michigan sports scene. The city of Ann Arbor is also a special place and we have tremendous support from our fans and sponsors.”