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NU, FC Buffalo goalie gets unexpected chance in U.S. Open Cup

FC Buffalo and Niagara University goalkeeper Steve Casey woke up Thursday morning to a message on his phone.

"I got a call from my [assistant] coach, Mike Meyer, asking if I wanted to go to Michigan," Casey said.

Meyer told Casey he was invited to appear for National Premier Soccer League side AFC Ann Arbor in their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against the Professional Development League's Michigan Bucks at 7:30 p.m. May 10 at Ultimate Soccer Arenas.

While the move is officially deemed a transfer, Casey will be returned to FC Buffalo for the start of their season May 20, and his participation does not jeopardize his eligibility for Niagara.

Although he wasn't entirely certain of the circumstances in Ann Arbor that would force them to reach out, Casey jumped at the chance. "Something happened where one of their goalies got hurt and another one was out of town or something, so it's a pretty cool opportunity for me," he said by phone on Monday.

Meyer, an assistant at Lansing United and AFC Ann Arbor under head coach Eric Rudland, was the chief connector for the move. According to Niagara head coach Bill Boyle, Purple Eagles Zulfikar Karimi and Borna Juracic will spend the summer with the Mighty Oak, too.

Casey, who appeared in four matches for FC Buffalo last summer before starting 16 games for the Purple Eagles in the fall, arrived in Michigan at 10 p.m. Sunday and participated in Ann Arbor's training session at 8 a.m. Monday.

"The team has been very welcoming - I'm living with one of the defenders, so I'm getting to know them a lot," explained the 6'6 keeper, a Williamsville South High School alum. "After today and tomorrow's sessions I should be good to go - I got all their names down today, and we worked well together in practice so I'm excited to move forward."

While Casey has yet to be assured he's starting, the stakes will be high regardless, as AFC Ann Arbor, entering just their second season in the NPSL, face an in-state foe in the Bucks, who qualified for their 14th consecutive U.S. Open Cup.

The Mighty Oak went 6-3-3 in their inaugural NPSL season, qualifying for the playoffs out of the Great Lakes West Conference before falling in the regional semifinals to eventual league champions AFC Cleveland in penalty kicks. The Bucks, buoyed by Playoff Most Valuable Player Russell Cicerone, who just graduated from the University at Buffalo, conquered the PDL in 2016.

"It will definitely be exciting," Casey admitted. "I'm excited to play in that kind of atmosphere."

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