Flint City Bucks academy product Ali Qurbanali says he looks up to first-team Brazilian striker Yuri Farkas.
In Saturday’s 4-0 exhibition victory over Rebels FC, the 17-year-old Afghan refugee was looking out for his idol out on the field at historic Atwood Stadium on First Responders Night, assisting on two Farkas’ goals in an eye-raising debut.
“When I first signed with the academy, I dreamt of playing here,” said Qurbanali, whose family immigrated to the U.S. in 2016 by way of Pakistan. He is the second oldest of six siblings. His father died, leaving their mother Aqleema to raise the family on her own.
“It was a proud moment for me and my family. This is my first game that I brought my mom to since I first started playing soccer. Many more to come too.”
Qurbanali entered in the second half of a scoreless game and immediately made his presence felt, drawing a foul to set up the opening free-kick goal by Amadou Cisse in the 49th minute.
Cisse’s set piece was a thing of beauty as the Guinean bent the right-footed shot into the upper right-hand corner from 30 yards out to open Flint’s account, which turned out to be the winner as the Bucks (4-0) remain undefeated in the five-game home friendly series. The exhibition run concludes Saturday, Sept. 25, against Detroit Union FC with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Qurbanali was scythed down by the Rebels’ Noah Skryzcki, setting up the free kick. Skryzcki received a yellow card for the crunching tackle.
“I'm the smallest kid,” said Qurbanali, who is 5-foot-4. “If I go past them, they don't like that. So they just take me down.”
The goal was Cisse’s 12th in all competitions and fifth during the Bucks’ five-game friendly series.
A few minutes later, the pesky Kabul, Afghanistan native toe poked a ball past another Rebels defender, drawing a foul and a free kick. The 17-year-old astutely launched a lofting free kick towards the 6-yard box, forcing Rebels substitute keeper Max Loria to race off his line to collect.
Loria came on for starter Jordan Glaser, who appeared to be injured late in the first half coming out to deflect a cross.
Qurbanali continued to dart in between defenders and sprint in open space, drawing “oohs” and “aahs” from the Atwood spectators. His soccer instinct shone through on Farkas’ tallies (53’ and 73’), which were capped off in the Brazilian’s typical flourish.
He put Farkas in on net with a razor-sharp cross-field pass for the first strike.
Farkas took a feed from Qurbanali and dribbled through a pair of Rebels before launching a left-footed rocket into the net to give the Bucks a two-goal cushion.
“I watched the first half and how he wants to play, how he wants the ball sometimes in front of him,” Qurbanali said. “So, I just gave the ball right to his feet and he did the rest. He's an amazing player.”
Farkas has a goal in all three exhibition games he’s played. The former Madonna University star had a brace in Flint’s 3-2 win over Inter Detroit FC on Aug. 14.
“It was like a perfect pass and assist,” Farkas said. “I was waiting for the whole game for a ball like that and he gave it to me. I like the combination between us.”
The Brazilian powered in his second goal — this time using his right foot —20 minutes later with Cisse and Qurbanali registering assists.
Forward Vince Vultaggio, who saw several attempts go astray in the opening 45 minutes and finished with eight shots, was rewarded with a goal in the 89th minute. Jose Aguilar assisted.
“I joked with him because he came out and then I put him back in,” Bucks coach Andy Wagstaff said. “I told him, 'Yuri is on two goals and I kind of want to keep him out there …' He said, 'You're making me feel bad for going back in.' I said, 'I won't give you any guilt, but you have to score a goal.' He went in and scored.
“I like Vince a lot. He's been good for us. He's a classy young man and he scored an impressive goal.”
Despite a scoreless first half, the Bucks did their best to entertain, offering no less than two overhead attempts on goal (Vultaggio 2’ and Farkas 24’). Vultaggio’s drifted wide right while Farkas’ try went to the left.
Cisse undressed Rebels FC’s Nick Cody with a swivel and a quick faint down the right side before sending a perfect feed to Vultaggio, who blistered a shot wide of frame in the 13th minute.
Vultaggio, who scored twice as a member of the Rebels when the two teams last met July 24 in a 9-2 Bucks’ victory, also had a sumptuous chance from about 18 yards out eight minutes later. The U19 San Marino international drilled a low shot that Rebels FC goalkeeper Glaser hurriedly dropped to the turf and saved.
Kevin Tapchom’s attempt from 30 yards out caromed off the crossbar in 39th minute while Glaser spilled his low drive just outside the box four minutes later but no Bucks could pounce on the loose ball.
Meanwhile, the visitors didn’t have a sniff at goal as Bucks goalkeeper Jacob Nunner wasn’t required to make a save in the first 45 minutes. Nunner made one stop in the second half to earn the shutout.
“We got to the final third quite easily,” Wagstaff said. “When we got to the final third, there was no creativity, no inventiveness and the finishes were just aimed. It reminded me of the beginning of the USL2 season. We'd get to the final third and it was just like 'What's going on? Why can't we get that class and quality?'
“It's guys like (Qurbanali) who change that, who have got that little bit of something that just changes the dynamic of the game. He did a brilliant job.”
Flint — Amadou Cisse 49’, Yuri Farkas 53’ (Ali Qurbanali), Yuri Farkas 73’ (Amadou Cisse, Ali Qurbanali), Vince Vultaggio 89’ (Jose Aguilar)
Rebels — Noah Skryzcki 49’
Flint — Jake Nunner, GK; Elliott Bentley, Belal Khoulani, Yuri Farkas, Abdulaye Diallo, Foster Appiah, Kevin Tapchom, Amadou Cisse, Vince Vultaggio, Demba Gueye, Jose Aguilar
Rebels FC — Jordan Glaser, GK; Grant Karam, Trey Bolda, Ray Yokoyama, Nick Cody, Samuel Veechi, Dan Wiegand, Grant Harrison, Noah Skryzcki, Jeremy Morrison, Shay shustari
Bucks vs Detroit Union FC. Match time is 7:30 pm Saturday, September 25th at Kettering’s historic Atwood Stadium. Gates open at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $5 for kids 12-under, $10 for adults and $15 for VIP reserved. It’s Youth Soccer Night…all youth and High School soccer players will receive complimentary admission when wearing their team jerseys. Match tickets may be purchased in advance at www.ticketmaster.com, Flint Prints in the Ferris Wheel downtown or on match day at the stadium gates. Watch live on Mid Michigan’s CW46 or online via the Bucks website, Twitter page or YouTube channel if you are unable to attend.