Sunday, July 10th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 1 Lansing United 3
Friday, July 15th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 1 Michigan Stars 2
Detroit City’s 2016 season consists of two divergent narratives. The first is one of smashing success – the saving of a historic stadium, continued building of massive inroads into the local community, significant growth in the club’s overall stature. The second one speaks of missed opportunities and a team that never quite came together.
Down to the very last minute of the very last match, they were still trying to figure it out – how to break down an opponent who packs the box, how to defend the counter-attack, how to just… make it work.
After the final, merciful whistle, long-time whipping boys Michigan Stars walked off the field with their biggest victory in club history, looking suitably pleased with themselves. Adding in the previous Sunday’s events at DeMartin Stadium, a.k.a. “The Field of Screams,” every single Michigan club in City’s conference got a good strong gut punch in over the course of the season (Ann Arbor didn’t get a win but they came from behind to earn a draw and put a damper on opening night at Keyworth). The sting is extra-painful since it can be argued that each and every one of those clubs owes its very existence to DCFC.
Yet, as I’ve pointed out many times over the duration of the blog’s existence, winning does not necessarily equate to a healthy club at this level. That may sound like I’m trying to make excuses and downplay the team’s on-field struggles, which is fair, but the point still stands. Despite an underwhelming league campaign, City grew by leaps and bounds as a club in 2016.
The Keyworth Stadium project was an unqualified success, made even more impressive in that the entire process – from securing the lease to the community investment, construction, and re-opening – only took around nine months. Once the east stand is finished, a new field is installed, and some small aesthetic touchups are made, City will have a home that should last it for the foreseeable future.
Increased media coverage and healthy attendance growth (regular season average of 5208 in ‘16 vs. 3528 in ’15) raised the club’s profile even further, and the culture of community outreach continued unabated. The Special Olympics soccer game at halftime of Friday’s match, in particular, was one of the most heartwarming and pride-inspiring moments ever orchestrated by DCFC and NGS.
That being said, the on-field play must improve next year. Going toe-to-toe with the MLS project, two down seasons in a row could hamper fanbase growth, one of the most important factors driving City’s development. A playoff appearance in 2017 is the bare necessity, and getting to the national final four is a completely reasonable expectation. Specific goals aside, the overall aim of next season should be to ensure that 2016 is remembered as a bump in the road rather than the start of a trend.