The Mouse

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Photo by Jon DeBoer
Photo by Jon DeBoer

One evening in the summer
Beneath the lights and smoke
A Battle of the Titans
Le Rouge and Mighty Oak

From Arbor over yonder
Unto the City gate
What brought the two together
Was nothing less than fate

The Red they started quickly
Striking once and then once more
Immortality was within their grasp
A place in City lore

But then The Tree responded
‘Our roots are deep and strong
Before this day is over
Our name shall be in song’

A blow and then another
The lead had been erased
A chilling silence filled the air
And worry marked each face

The warriors surged now back and forth
Deep on into the night
Then just inside the old south wall
One sought to end the fight

The Mouse was what they called him
For in stature he was small
But in this deadly game of foot
He was greatest of them all

The ball fell slowly to his Right
He took his chance with skill
His strike found home; He wheeled off
To celebrate the kill

The long-awaited day had come
The Tree had been chopped down
For forty days and forty nights
Joy swept through the old town

The hero’s name was Mondi
For ever tell his tale
That your children’s children speak it still
When they are old and frail

Heart and Soul

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Photo by Nick Miko

Saturday, August 5th, 2017 – Detroit City FC 0 Midland-Odessa 0 (4-2 Midland on penalties AET)

Photo by Nick Miko

In the lead-up to this match my nerves were perfectly normal and I felt strangely calm. In my mind the Midwest title that had been won the week before was the #1 goal for the season and capturing it meant the year was an unqualified success. Finally getting over that hump, especially in such dramatic fashion, was so satisfying that anything after the fact would feel like mere icing on the cake.

That’s what I told myself, and I think I believed it for about 15 minutes. Once the match got going and we found ourselves once again in the heat of the moment, though, that whole line of thought melted away. I don’t remember when it happened or what precipitated it – maybe one of Fernando Pina’s incredible saves, maybe one of the referee’s dumbfoundingly puzzling decisions, maybe a chance of our own – but I distinctly remember thinking, “Damn, I really want this.”

Once that feeling bubbled up, it only kept growing. With every close call for either team and every awful call, this felt like life and death by the time the hour mark rolled around. The last 10 minutes plus extra time and the penalty shootout, while enthralling, were also agonizing.

Now, the day after, the mind races with all the what-ifs and what could’ve beens. That’s the way this thing works. One day you decide to check out a match, then, like a heavy-duty narcotic, one hit hooks you forever. Pretty soon you’re waking up in a cold sweat thinking about that one chance that hit the bar or the one that was cleared off the line.

Taking it in from a thousand foot view, these were two very good teams who played dead even and were only separated by the slimmest of margins. That may not soothe the raw, stinging sensation that heartbreaking losses tend to cause, but I feel it’s worthwhile to put things in perspective. One year ago Detroit City finished its season with a 4-4-4 record, missing the playoffs and setting up a long, dark, dreary offseason. Today we’re fresh off of the most successful season in club history, capped by (with all due respect to the Rust Belt Derby) the first piece of silverware.

Perhaps just as important, the early days when we used to worry about DCFC’s year-to-year viability as a club are far in the rearview. Additionally, throughout all the speculation and hand-wringing about the Gilbert-Gores MLS venture, City and its supporters have simply kept grinding on. With each passing year, the club wins more and more hearts, more firmly entrenches itself as a staple of the community, and inspires more dedication and loyalty.

Whether the jump to a professional league happens in time for 2018 or the NPSL purgatory continues, there’s no reason to believe those trends won’t continue.

The roots grow deeper every year.

Photo by Robert Sherman

The Undead

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Photo by Robert Sherman

Saturday, July 29th, 2017 – Detroit City FC 3 AFC Ann Arbor 2
2017 NPSL Midwest Champions

Photo by Robert Sherman

As someone who’s admittedly prone to hyperbole and assigning great significance to seemingly small events, even I couldn’t have foreseen the drama that’s played out over the past three weeks. My last post ended like this…

…the final two weeks will be laden with drama. A thrilling season now reaches its climax.

…but that hardly does it justice. Sort of like calling Beethoven’s 9th “a catchy track.”

In hindsight, though, maybe we should’ve seen something like this coming. There were signs all along the way. The wolfpack motif that’s emerged this season is an apt one – this City team started out as a group of individuals and evolved into a cohesive unit that moves as one and displays that proverbial killer instinct – but the true story of Detroit City 2017 is how they just refused to die.

Like a group of incredibly resilient zombies, they just kept coming… and coming… and coming.

Despite baseball bats to the head…

5/12 vs. Milwaukee – Down 3-2, Max Todd equalized in the 96th minute.
6/2 vs. Grand Rapids – Went down 1-0, came back to win 3-1.
6/4 at FC Indiana – Gave up 1-0 lead, scored twice more to win 3-1.
6/23 vs. Kalamazoo – Gave up 1-0 lead, Elijah Rice scored the winner in the 67th minute.

…and chainsaws hacking at their limbs…

6/25 at Milwaukee – Went down 1-0, equalized, Shawn Lawson scored the winner in the 84th minute.
7/9 at Lansing – Went down 1-0, came back to win 2-1 and clinch a playoff berth.
7/14 vs. Lansing – Went down 3-0, came back to draw 3-3 – Owain Hoskins equalized in the 87th minute.

…and shotgun blasts to the chest…

7/22 vs. Dakota – Went down 1-0, stormed back for a 5-1 rout.
7/28 vs. Duluth – Gave up 1-0 lead and went down 2-1, scored four unanswered to win 5-2.
7/29 vs Ann Arbor – Gave up 2-0 lead, Tyrone Mondi scored the winner in stoppage time.

…they survived them all. And not only have they survived, they’ve seemed to thrive under pressure. It’s as if surrendering leads and falling behind is all part of the plan to lull the opponent into a false sense of security and set up the inevitable comeback.

Perhaps more impressive than any single match this season is the turnaround from 2016. Much more so than individual talent, the biggest difference from last year to now has to be the massive increase in mental toughness and resilience of the team as a whole. For fostering this growth while at the same time integrating so many new players and managing the multitude of injuries and departures, Ben Pirmann and his staff deserve all the credit in the world.

They’ve also built a team that has “that look.” If you’re a fan of any sport you know what I mean. That look a team has when their movements are in synch, passes/plays are crisp and well-executed, adversity is dealt with calmly, and good things just happen for them. It’s the look that champions have.

Storytelling 101

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Photo by Dion Degennaro

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 – Detroit City FC 2 FC Indiana 0
Friday, June 29th, 2017 – Detroit City FC 3 Michigan Stars 1

Photo by Dion Degennaro

The most compelling stories are those in which the characters grow and develop, ending up as different people than when you first encountered them. In years past, Detroit City’s play was fairly constant from the beginning of the season to the end. For example, in 2013 they started off hot and stayed that way until an abrupt playoff exit, and in 2016 they were never really able to shake off a sluggish start, finishing with a 1-1-2 record in the month of July.

That 2016 season began with six matches over the course of twelve days, two of them 120 minute + penalty affairs in the U.S. Open Cup. By winning just one of their four league matches in that stretch, City wound up in a hole from which they were unable to dig themselves out.

Fast-forwarding to the present, four matches in eight days is a similarly brutal gauntlet, no matter who the competition is. In anaylzing this part of the schedule at the beginning of the season, 8 or 9 points seemed like a good outcome, but taking all 12 is a fantastic result. Ben Pirmann’s roster management and rotation was flawless, especially taking into account the injuries and departures of key players such as Louis Dargent, Aaron Franco, and Spencer Glass.

2017 has been a tumultuous season, but clearly one of improvement. Early on City looked confused and unsure of themselves and at the end of May they were looking up at nearly everyone:

Beginning with the Glentoran friendly, though, the team seemed to come together and good things started happening. They now look hungry, determined, and unflappable. Goals conceded are no longer confidence-shattering disasters but opportunities to re-focus and respond with renewed intensity. The emergence of the lethal Lawson/Rice/Mondi/Saydee attack may get the most attention, but it’s the scrappy ball-winning in midfield and the dogged defense that have really turned the season around. By fighting and clawing their way to an undefeated June, City has pulled itself from 13 points back from 1st place to just 2.

Dynamic characters can be memorable, but they don’t become truly legendary in a vacuum; they must first overcome an antagonist. And who better to play that role than the only club to have beaten City this year, AFC Ann Arbor? Friday will be the biggest league match since Lansing came to Cass in 2015, hopefully with a similar result. Fittingly, a home-and-home with United looms to complete the arc.

We often criticize the NPSL schedule makers for weird start times or cramming too many fixtures into too small a window (Exhibit A: This past week), but here they’ve done a great job. Wittingly or not, the final two weeks will be laden with drama. A thrilling season now reaches its climax.

Continue reading “Storytelling 101”