Ray Makuch, director of Media, explained: “This club was built with the Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County communities in mind. The purpose of the club was and continues to be to engage and interact with our community using soccer as a platform. We want to ensure that people of all backgrounds are welcome in the world of soccer, and we want to use that as a gateway to adding those in our home county (and beyond) that need it most”.
On the Diaza end, Founder and CEO Diego Hurtado said about the partnership with AFCAA, “What drew us to work with Ann Arbor the most is the club's history. The positive reputation and respect that Ann Arbor enjoys as a soccer team and organization convinced us that we needed a team similar to them.” Hurtado would echo a similar point to Saeed, saying, “As our brand grows, we want to partner with teams that have a mission, are active in their communities, and have a clear vision for soccer fan engagement, and AFC Ann Arbor fits this description perfectly.”
Hurtado’s story is fascinating and one of drive and entrepreneurial spirit. After a standout professional career, starting in 2011 with Miami United and taking the Colombian to the New York Cosmos, Las Vegas Lights, and Milwaukee Torrent, among other stops, Hurtado decided to enter a new realm where he can not only create great apparel and be part of the sport but help players individually. “Through Diaza, we want to discuss [overlooked or underappreciated players], bring their stories to the people, to the professional connections we have, and why not assist them in transitioning from a semi-professional team to a professional one. We want the public to be aware of their stories and sacrifices.”
A shining example of this sort of player is one of Hurtado’s close friends, and an AFCAA legend, Dario Suarez. The current star attacker for FC Tulsa comes from a similar background from Hurtado, both arriving in the U.S. in Miami in hopes of achieving their goals and dreams. Hurtado even almost asked Suarez about joining AFCAA, as he recalls, “I almost asked him to bring me to the team because I saw the quality of the league, the atmosphere and how much the fans loved the team, and I wanted to be a part of something similar.” Hurtado ultimately earned another opportunity elsewhere, but the club looks forward to welcoming him in this capacity.
Returning to the topic of sharing stories, Hurtado highlights Suarez’s story, saying, “Consider this: it was never easy for Dario to relocate from Miami to Michigan, with no English and a cultural barrier, but he did it, and there are many other players like him.” He would add, “However, we need to talk about this more, to educate coaches, scouts, and professional soccer teams about the many talented players who deserve at least one shot; we want to assist and create that shot, whenever possible, and without interfering with the club's philosophy.”
Diaza is not just an apparel brand, but a soccer brand and we are excited to partner with an organization as committed to helping players as this club.
"Partnering with Diaza falls in line with our commitment to support Black and Brown-owned businesses,” said Club Chair Bilal Saeed. He would add, “In addition, Diaza fits our club’s needs perfectly. Their ability to customize all of their products gives AFC Ann Arbor the ability to better represent who we are with what we wear."
Ann Arbor project aims to continue to expand in both on and off-the-field initiatives. The club is focused on success on the field, as a business, and in the fight against racism. On the field, the women's side will be held by Boyzzz Khumalo, who is a legend in so many well-respected soccer circles. This is also true of Rod Asllani, the new head coach for the men's side. The rosters have also begun to be announced for both teams, and after two years away from the field, the club looks forward to getting into the mix in the USL W League and in USL League Two
Off-the-field, community outreach programs like CLR Academy, Community Kicks, and The Mighty Oak Project will continue to receive further investment.
CLR Academy just received a $5,000 donation from Puffer Reds, a local business in Ypsilanti, the city in which where Ann Arbor’s CLR Academy summer program was and will continue to be hosted in the summer. These programs, and additional ones that will be developed throughout the season, will be expanded upon and grown both in the near and distant future.
“Sport at all levels needs community engagement from an organizational level. Clubs and leagues need to be structured in a way to provide equitable ways for youths of all socio-economic backgrounds to access the sport.”, said Makuch, “Additionally, with our involvement in the Anti-Racist Soccer Club, of which our club chair Bilal Saeed is the founder, we want to lead by example and propel U.S. soccer into a progressive future where barriers of all forms are broken down and players, coaches, and community members can all feel truly welcome.”
And what about to work with Diaza? Makuch is plain clear in that subject: “Since the announcement of our relationship with Diaza went official, the support from our supporters has been immense. The commitment Diaza has to ensure quality in both design and material for all our apparel is really second to none. Having seen some of the apparel that is in the works, it is abundantly clear that AFC Ann Arbor has partnered with a top-class brand for this season's apparel. The emphasis on community that Diaza has was also a driving factor for pursuing this relationship, and the fact that we share so many similar beliefs as organizations made this partnership feel extremely natural.”