Saturday, May 12th, 2012 – Detroit City FC 1, AFC Cleveland 1
First, a confession: I don’t remember every single moment of every single City game I’ve been to. Alcohol had nothing to do with this since I’m not much of a drinker, it’s just that three and four goal beat-downs of hapless opponents tend to blend together over time. Once you’ve seen Knox Cameron box-out and turn a 5’9” center back a dozen times, it loses a bit of its novelty.
That being said, one match that I do remember, almost photographically, is the very first one. I remember not wearing my scarf because I didn’t think anyone else would. Not sure what was going through my head, but I never made that mistake again. I remember standing at the fence near the restrooms watching Cleveland warming-up and thinking “Man that one guy [now known as Vanilla Ice] has a stupid haircut.” I remember being surprised at how many people were wearing City jerseys and t-shirts despite the fact that the team hadn’t actually, you know, played a game.
Maybe the most vivid memory I have is from when the players took the field for the first time. Here came Cleveland with no warm-ups and wearing uniforms that looked more appropriate for a cash-strapped high school team. And here came City, wearing gorgeous, brand new white jackets with the tags still attached and professional-looking, Nike-made jerseys. As someone who grew up watching such classic films as The Mighty Ducks and Little Giants, the thought crossed my mind that City were the rich, cocky team about to be upset by a plucky band of underdogs. All Cleveland needed was a wise-cracking chubby kid and our fate would be sealed.
But as the game unfolded, it became evident that City had substance to go with its style – Rogers and Bedell broke up attacks at the back, Spencer Thompson made hard tackles and barked at the ref in midfield, and Stefan St. Louis made dangerous-looking runs up top. When the striker bagged The First Goal early on, a nice backheel redirection off a low cross, my childhood sports movie-induced anxiety disappeared.
What stood out to me most, aside from the play on the field, was the crowd. At the sporting events I’d been to, mainly Tigers, Red Wings, and Michigan Football, the crowd was passive. We sat around waiting for something bad to happen and cheering out of relief when it didn’t. This group was different – they chanted and sang and set off smoke throughout the entire 90 minutes. Although the supporters’ section was in its infancy – some empty seats, flags but no tifos, no Sgt. Scary (at least in his current form) – they kept with the theme of the day: a good start.
Cleveland equalized later on in the first half, a good finish from a bouncing long ball, but City controlled possession and created more chances, especially toward the end. Cleveland’s manager, standing about 20 feet from where I was, clapped his hands and seemed quite happy to escape with the draw when the final whistle blew.
With the first match in the books, the building of Detroit City’s foundation was complete. The club’s identity (name, crest, colors, etc.) was a total success, the attendance (1047) was double what the owners had expected, and most importantly, a competitive team of promising young players mixed with a few veterans had been assembled.
The shirts that the City players wore were not signs of status or privilege but of ambition. If the goal as a player or a club is to be successful and eventually compete at a higher level, why not look the part from day one?