Guest Post: My First Two Matches

Second in a series of guest posts by Tony Preston. Read Part I here.

“Are you joining a cult?”  That is what my wife said to me as we were walking out of the bar before the Muskegon match and people were setting off smoke bombs in the parking lot before the march to the match and before the police asked them to stop.  I assured her that it was not a cult and not to worry.  We listened to Sarge’s pre-game pep talk and marched to the match and stood with the Northern Guard and sang and chanted along and had a great time.  We also went to the US Open Cup match against the Bucks and had another great time.

I’ll admit one of my biggest concerns when I was buying season tickets was the fact that my wife wanted me to get one for her too.  My concern was that my wife knows very little about soccer and she was concerned about standing for a full 90 minutes, and I wanted the full experience and to be all in and stand with the Northern Guard.  She told me not to worry and if she didn’t like it I could just find some of my friends to go with me and they could use her season ticket.  My wife is also extremely shy, and as a result does not like being in large groups of people she does not know especially if they are in her personal space.  This is why for our first match we stood by the edge of the group and when it is time for Tetris she walks away from the group.  What ended up happening was my perfect outcome, where she loves the singing and chanting and says that it makes the match seem to fly by even when it ends in PKs three hours after kickoff.  Now she says I need to convince some of my friends to come to the matches with us but they are on their own for tickets because she plans on being there as well.

If anyone is reading this and considering going to your first Detroit City FC match, do it. You will not regret it.  If you are considering standing with the Northern Guard – whether you have been to a few matches and sat across the field from them or are going to your first match and want the full experience – but are worried you will not be accepted, don’t worry about it. My wife and I have had no issues, and from what I’ve seen everyone is more than welcome.  If you are worried about knowing the songs and chants there are multiple place you can find them online, and they are pretty easy to pick up, and they are catchy so you might start singing them in your head while sitting at work. Just know there will be profanity and there will be smoke.  I can’t wait to see everyone at Keyworth and if you see me and my wife at a game feel free to say hi.

[Editor’s Note: We’re going to get your wife to Tetris with us. Mrs. Preston, come join the dark side…]

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Guest Post: My Journey to Detroit City F.C.

First in a series of guest posts by Tony Preston

After reading about DCFC and getting to know more about the fans I wanted to find a way to get involved.  In my search for information on DCFC I found this blog and a little while later an idea formed.  To get involved I could write a few pieces about my experience as someone who is new to attending the games and just now becoming a true fan of the team.  I approached Andrew and he liked the idea so here is my first piece.  Enjoy!

I am a new season ticket holder to for Detroit City F.C.  I am also a sports nut.  Soccer has always been my sport of choice, probably because it is the sport that I grew up playing.  I also believe in picking a team and sticking with it and not just being a bandwagon fan.  For me my teams are my hometown teams, the Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons and the Lions.  I watch a ton of sports even when one of “my teams” is not playing. I will sometimes root for one team usually because I despise a player or coach on the opposing team or sometimes just hope it is an entertaining game.  When one of “my teams” is on though, I am all in, which often results in me screaming at the TV.

Now that you have that background, here is why I am a new season ticket holder for DCFC.  I remember hearing that the team was starting up and thinking “I’m glad Detroit is finally getting a soccer team.”  At that time, I also thought Detroit getting an MLS team was long overdue and a fantastic idea.  Now I’m hoping they skip over Detroit again, but that’s a story for another time.  Back to DCFC, I followed the team for the last few years mainly through Facebook and just looking at the results every few weeks online.  I wanted to actually go to a game, but my work schedule at the time did not allow it.

A few weeks ago I decided that since my work schedule now allowed for me to go to games I was going to make sure I made it out to at least a couple this summer.  After looking over the schedule, talking with friends who had nothing but good things to say about DCFC, and my nature of being all in for “my teams” I decided to buy season tickets instead.

At the same time, due to my all in nature I was scouring the internet for anything I could find to learn more about DCFC, and also learned a little about the Northern Guard.  After reading about the Northern Guard I was not sure if I should just sit on the side for regular fans or stand with the supporters, mainly because I did not want to feel out of place.   I did not realize how involved the Northern Guard was until I posted a picture of my season tickets on my social media accounts.  A couple days after posting the picture I noticed that Duke had retweeted the picture on Twitter and others from NGS had liked the picture.  Soon, from just a few interactions on Twitter, I could see how tight knit of a group it was and how much they loved DCFC.  Everyone was also very welcoming and made me want to be a part of it.  Now I am anxious for the season to start so that I can go watch the game I love and stand with the Northern Guard to root for DCFC.  Also any advice for a new fan is greatly appreciated.

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A Bohemian Footprint: Supporting American Soccer Nationwide

[This is one of my favorite articles about the state of soccer in modern America. I reference it frequently, but those links are now dead because the site on which it was originally published (XI Quarterly) no longer exists. I decided to salvage it from the depths of the internet and repost it here because (A) I want to continue citing and linking to it, and (B) I think it raises excellent points and develops those thoughts better than I could. Chief among them: The U.S. is too big for just one soccer league. For the game to truly take hold, its flourishing must be encouraged at all levels.]

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A Bohemian Footprint: Supporting American Soccer Nationwide

By Tom Dunmore

(Originally Published 3/12/13 by XI Quarterly)

The other day, Alexi Lalas threw out a tweet (“If you live in the U.S., can you call yourself a “soccer fan” even if you don’t support @MLS?“), ESPN’s Roger Bennett wrote-up a piece addressing the question, and the internet exploded.

Or something like that, anyway. Since then, a discussion has raged on whether there is an obligation for American soccer fans to support MLS’ growth as it attempts to become one of the top ten leagues in the world by 2022, in the words of Commissioner Don Garber.

Bennett summed up the viewpoints:

Both the deluge of responses and their emotional depth may be attributed to the fact that this debate occurred at a transitional time in modern supporter culture. Traditionally, fandom was all about rooting for the local team but this simple reality has been obliterated in football’s hyper-commercial modern era. As the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United battle to become global brands, that sense of place has been consciously uprooted, something I glimpsed last year while meeting with Liverpool’s marketing strategists. They talked about plans to erase the stigma surrounding so-called “plastic fans” by enabling supporters in Jakarta to feel as close to the club as Liverpudlians, developing “subscriber content” in every language that could be paid for in any currency.

Just how widely Americans follow teams around the world via television is well-illustrated in the below infographic by Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing:

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These viewers are generating serious dollars as soccer becomes a valued television property on American television – the apogee of this is the World Cup, with FIFA’s package of broadcast rights sold for $1 billion to FOX and Telemundo for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups (in 1982, Univision paid $1 million for World Cup rights).

NBC is shelling out $250 million to broadcast the English Premier League on television over three years starting in the 2013-14 season, while in contrast, it’s paying a reported $10 million annually to feature Major League Soccer games through 2014.

Or as Don Garber bluntly put it recently: “Respect for Major League Soccer is greater abroad than it is among the soccer community in the United States.”

I’m not going to address here what Major League Soccer can do to grow its appeal and get to the kind of ratings that’ll earn it the television deals leading it to raise the budgets needed to attract the kind of talent that’ll ensure “Eurosnobs” in New York City will eat their words and start watching one of their two local MLS teams packed with the world’s top talent they’ll have to choose from by 2022 (that’s if everything goes to plan for Don Garber, of course).

Consider the question of how that can be achieved by MLS – a chicken-and-egg conundrum if ever there was one – the Macro level for this debate (I’m also only addressing men’s pro soccer here, and I’ll also concede that things get messy talking about the future of “American soccer” when MLS spans Canada as well – apologies to friends north of the border).

What I want to talk about today is the Micro level. This question is also prompted by Bennett’s article, where he quotes broadcaster Phil Schoen, who asks: “MLS only has 19 teams. Is that sufficient to carry a nation? You have to ask, does it give people in Detroit enough of a reason to care?”

The answer, currently, is no. And even if MLS expands, it’ll likely top out somewhere between 22 and 30 teams over the next decade or two. That’s still not going to give people in Tulsa or Jacksonville a local reason to care about the top American soccer league. What they need is something else.

Numbering A Soccer Nation

The United States and Canada comprise a land mass that is vaster than any other league tries to cover (if you’re wondering, the combined land mass of the US and Canada is 2,530,031 sq km bigger than Russia’s). Population-wise, it’s only third behind China and India as, well, hardly anyone (relatively) lives in Canada – but still, there are 348,396,819 people in the United States and Canada, and there are 19 Major League Soccer teams.

That’s one team per 18,336,675 inhabitants.

The population of London, meanwhile, is 8,174,100. There are six Premier League clubs in London, which is one team for every 1,362,350 inhabitants.

Of course, there are more than six professional clubs in London: if we count all the teams down to League Two, the lowest fully professional tier in English soccer (its fourth tier), we find another eight teams, reducing our per-inhabitant number to one pro club per 583,864 people.

If the US and Canada had one MLS team per 583,864 people, there would be 597 teams in Major League Soccer (balance schedule THAT!).

It seems quite unlikely MLS will ever expand to 597 teams, even by 3022. Even though soccer is growing rapidly in the US and Canada – it’s the number two sport for Americans in the critical coming 12-24 age bracket (according to Luker Trends), and the exploding Hispanic population is of course soccer-friendly – it will always have to compete with the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL for pro sports eyeballs and dollars in a way that teams in London don’t, beyond the smaller minorities avid about cricket, rugby and lawn bowls.

So let’s say we sheer that number down to 1/5 to accommodate soccer as lower-tier among the Big Five sports come 2022, perhaps on the level of the NHL, which soccer isn’t too far behind even now by some measures. That would mean there would be 119 MLS teams, or one for every 2,927,704 Americans. By contrast, across England as a whole, there’s one team in its fully professional leagues for every 576,228 inhabitants.

Where is this going? Good question, as all these numbers are a bit of a silly way to get to my point: American pro soccer needs more than MLS to achieve the footprint required to cover a nation (or two) this large, even if soccer only becomes one fifth as popular in the US and Canada as it is in England (to talk in extraordinarily rough terms).

What it needs is something not mentioned in Roger Bennett’s piece on supporting American soccer: viable, lasting pro teams in large cities that are not part of MLS, and may never be.

Currently, the next level below MLS is the second incarnation of the North American Soccer League (NASL), which has eight teams in the 2013 season (with 12 expected for 2014), and the third level is USL Pro, with 13 teams this year.

The question to address is: how can these leagues thrive in terms of growing both their average attendances and footprints nationwide, and what could thriving realistically look like over the next decade?

The World’s Game, American Teams

Currently, the US and Canada have 40 pro soccer teams in the men’s game in MLS, NASL and USL Pro, or one for every 8,709,920 inhabitants. I think there will be an aggressive phase of expansion including but also below MLS that will give us perhaps double the number of pro teams that we have now within a decade – with attendances notably higher in the top, second and third tiers than we have at present. We need more local professional soccer to tap into a soccer fanbase following the global game worldwide, but it’s above and beyond what MLS will ever want to do in terms of expansion to turn them from armchair followers to active supporters.

There is certainly room for pro soccer to grow.

As of 2011, there were over 100 metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada with populations exceeding 500,000, which we might say is a decent ballpark figure to consider being able to support a team with an average attendance at least on par with a League Two team in England, the lowest fully professional level – which in the 2011-12 season was 4,434. Many of these areas of half a million people could potentially support third tier pro teams in the US with crowds in the 3,000-6,000 region, just above semi-pro level.

There are over 70 metropolitan areas in the US and Canada with populations over 750,000 and 50 areas with over one million inhabitants each. These would be the target cities for second tier teams with English League One levels of support – the average attendance in 2012-13 there was 8,754. Most those teams were supported by catchment areas around 100,000, so we’re trying to do the same thing on this side of the Atlantic with ten times the population.

MLS, as the top tier, draws from the upper end of those metropolitan areas with two million or more inhabitants. It already has teams in eight of the top ten metropolitan areas of the US and Canada, missing only Atlanta and Miami at present. Both of those are very strong candidates to join MLS within the next decade. These conurbations have the potential to provide both the numbers of fans MLS teams need (15,000-25,000 average attendances) but more importantly for commercial reasons, the sponsor and regional television appeal necessary for MLS to some day compete with the best leagues in the world in financial revenue. They also often have large Hispanic populations, the most lucrative market for soccer on television in North America, a demographic MLS badly needs to increase its appeal to.

There are 33 metropolitan areas in the US and Canada with populations over two million each. These are where MLS will expand to  by 2022, cities that can generate the commercial cash to fund Messi’s arrival in Miami in 2017. MLS will choose areas that are prospering, which means we’ll see more teams arrive in the South rather than the Midwest. That will also help balance out the league’s geographical footprint (it’s also of course possible a handful of megalopolises can feasibly support both an MLS team and a lower tier team distanced away appropriately). But that footprint still leaves large numbers of significant cities without pro soccer: the second and third tiers need to expand into the rest of the country.

A Bohemian Footprint

Even if MLS expands to 25 or 30 teams, that still leaves around 80 metropolitan areas with populations over 500,000 for pro soccer teams outside MLS to potentially be established in, and every passing year brings each more fans of the global game, as we’ve seen by the growth of the sport at all levels in the 2000s.

Importantly, a growing number of these fans are in the 18-35 age demographic that can allow a pro soccer team to thrive by generating passionate support not seen in other “minor league” sports while also providing an appealing fanbase to sponsors (this is the demographic that spends money like it’s not retiring tomorrow). Those adult fans who grew up playing soccer and now follow the pro game worldwide are key not just for the raw numbers, but for the supporter groups that form from them and can give the game an organic, thrilling atmosphere all ages of fans find uniquely appealing to soccer among US pro sports.

It is in some of these cities where MLS is absent that pro soccer teams can draw 5,000-10,000 fans a game and be sustainable in building outposts of local fandom across the nation. They will watch the game in new soccer specific stadiums like the NASL San Antonio Scorpions’ 8,000 capacity Toyota Field or USL Pro’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3,500 capacity Highmark Stadium, both opening this year. Like the recent flowering of MLS’ soccer-specific-stadia, new appropriately sized facilities means lower level pro soccer won’t be second best in wrongly sized or confusingly marked venues.

There is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that now MLS has established itself as a permanent presence and one that demands a local market of millions and financial backing in the hundreds of millions, that smaller pro teams elsewhere can tap into the appetite soccer fans – yes, those people who watch the Premier League and encourage NBC to stake $250 million to broadcast soccer games at 9 am on a Saturday – have to support a local team in person even if it’s not in MLS (and even without promotion/relegation…which I’m not getting into here, sorry.)

A key for expanding the footprint of soccer lies not only with MLS both expanding and growing its appeal on television (the Macro level) and in up to a dozen new large cities, but on lower leagues finding the investors, identities and lasting community presences in two dozen cities that are big enough to support a pro team themselves.

Some of these teams may one day aspire to join MLS: cities that are currently in the lower leagues but have markets of MLS size might well do so, such as Orlando (USL Pro) and San Antonio (NASL), both in the top 30 metropolitan populations, and both with strong shows of support for their pro teams recently (they led their leagues with, respectively, 6,606 and 9,176 average attendances in 2012).

Other cities that are in the top 30 are unlikely to head to MLS anytime soon. Detroit, for example, isn’t a city on the make, despite its metropolitan area still numbering in the millions. Yet to go back to Phil Schoen’s question, Detroit can care about American soccer, even if it doesn’t have MLS.

Detroit has an amateur NPSL team – fourth tier – that started up last season, one that has gone to considerable lengths to tie itself to the city’s soccer community and civic identity. By doing so, it has generated a passionate fanbase that shows people do care about local soccer in Detroit. As MLive wrote last year about the success of Detroit City FC’s inaugural season:

The fans of “Le Rouge,” Detroit City’s nickname, start the game off with a march to the stadium, flags unfurled, scarves held high, drums banging and singing in full voice, and this doesn’t stop when they get to the stadium. In fact, it never stops throughout the game. There are no box seats, no waiters bringing food to the privileged few. That’s not what the supporters of DCFC are about.

There may not be an investor group willing to spend $100 million+ to expand to MLS and build a 20,000 capacity stadium in Detroit and frankly, MLS might not want to be in Detroit at this point. But could an investor group put in $10 million, build a 10,000 capacity stadium and break even in the NASL by tapping into that kind of passion? If smart choices were made, yes.

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Photo courtesy Jon DeBoer/Detroit City FC

I am seeing this same momentum first-hand in another Midwestern city that may or may not be right for MLS: Indianapolis. Long off the radar of American soccer (it didn’t have an NASL team the first time around, and has only rarely been mentioned in MLS expansion circles), Indianapolis is the 35th biggest metropolitan area in the United States: still comprising almost two million people, but what would be the second smallest MLS market by metropolitan population.

Yet in seven weeks since Indy Pro Soccer announced it would join the NASL in 2014, a staff of one – Peter Wilt – has taken what is now closing in on 3,000 season ticket deposits for a team with no name, no crest, no players and not even a sales hotline number.

I’ve been assisting Peter with the team’s marketing efforts, and the ease with which the Indy team without an identity has tapped into the demand for pro soccer has been almost absurd. Of course, that ease has also depended on real effort connecting to Indiana’s diverse soccer bases, from the young generation of EPL followers to the large youth soccer community and to ethnic groups (“market to millennials, sell to everyone” are Peter’s words). Peter and the owner, Ersal Ozdemir, have put in a ton of work on the ground in Indy to ensure the team is embedded in the city’s growing soccer culture, building on the word of mouth generated by a supporters group that existed before Indy Pro Soccer, the Brickyard Battalion.

Indy Pro Soccer is successfully appealing to those people who watch soccer on TV in the growing numbers illustrated by the chart above, and who are at the heart of the debate kicked off by Alexi Lalas. Below is a graph of the teams Indy Pro Soccer fans listed as currently supporting in a question that was part of the club’s Name the Team survey:

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As you can see, most of those signing up to support pro soccer in Indy are the type who pack Indy’s Chatham Tap for Premier League or other Euro league games,  or who have been travelling the three hours either east or west to watch MLS in Chicago or Columbus.

Those fans will support American soccer if an attractive local option is presented, in smaller numbers than if it was MLS, but – at least by the evidence of Indianapolis, a not particularly outlandish place – enough to make a pro soccer team a viable business proposition.

A Sustainable Second Tier

Can this be replicated in other places? There are over 30 metropolitan areas in the US and Canada with over 1,000,000 inhabitants without an MLS team to support. Many of these could embrace pro soccer at a level approaching that seen this year in Indianapolis and last year in San Antonio (who averaged over 9,000 fans in their first season), potentially attracting an average attendance of 5,000-10,000. With strong sponsorship sales as often the only pro soccer team in their city, staffs in the 10-20 range, grassroots and cost-effective digital marketing efforts and ongoing reasonable player budgets, that type of attendance can help a club break even in a two or three years for an investor.

Could ten of those cities support a second-tier team by 2022, creating a solid 20 team nationwide league with greater popularity that would help double pro soccer’s footprint today?

I think so. Population size alone isn’t the only indicator of likely success, of course, but it’s a starting point. A savvy investor would do a lot more groundwork on any given city than the simplistic schema presented here, looking deeper at demographic details like population ages and incomes, transit, stadia options, the youth soccer base and the level of local competition from other sports – Indianapolis, for example, has a (successful and popular) minor league baseball team, rather than MLB, as a summer competitor, though it does of course have serious support for auto racing as well.

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Image courtesy Indy Pro Soccer

There are many cities like Indianapolis and San Antonio that a second tier team could be sustainable in, without necessarily being a fit for MLS, while smaller crowds in smaller cities could also work sustainably at the third tier. Oddly enough, that’s perversely shown by the stubborn survival of the stepchild of American pro soccer in places MLS has yet to land. Milwaukee and Baltimore have since the 1980s both been supporting professional soccer teams: just ones that happen to be playing indoors. The fact is the appeal of indoor is waning fast: if the debate now is about getting the Manchester United fan to support MLS, getting him to support MISL is far-further-fetched (I say that sadly, as a former staffer in the MISL and a fan of the fast-paced game on its own terms).

EPL or La Liga fans in Milwaukee or Syracuse or Wichita who grew up playing soccer are likely waiting for an outdoor professional soccer team to emerge that they see as a serious proposition to support. You won’t get all of them. But you can get enough of them if you give them a chance to build on their own organic passion for the game.

Those fans want a team to support without a silly name and logo, playing roughly the same game they have played and see on television every weekend, a club connected to their community that they are proud to wave a scarf and bang a drum and build a tifo display for. By doing that, their collective presence – often coalescing in supporters groups – helps make it an exciting proposition for kids and families to fill the rest of the stands.

There are thousands of these soccer fans in American and Canadian cities and some of them – like the Brickyard Battalion did in Indianapolis or the Crocketteers did in San Antonio – got off their couches and helped bring pro soccer to their cities without waiting for MLS to wave a magic wand. In Baltimore, they’re already embracing the pretty damn cool PDL Bohemians, just as Detroit’s fans are embracing their NPSL team. If amateur soccer can generate that interest, pro soccer would drive it to another level – if each league, under the oversight of US Soccer, remains focused on being stable and sustainable, tapping carefully into the right places to grow the game over the next decade.

Regardless of the details of any given place, what’s important to note here is that local passion doesn’t have to develop only in support of MLS, which will likely never grow a reach large enough to cover two nations with over 100 cities boasting populations exceeding 500,000 each. It is in a couple of dozen of those cities outside the largest MLS-centered metropolises that the footprint of American soccer can perhaps double at the Micro level in the next decade, and how we get people in Detroit or Milwaukee or Indianapolis to “care about American soccer.”

You can follow Tom Dunmore on Twitter @tomdunmore.

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Fire and Heat

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Guest Post by Stephanie Jaczkowski (@PolskaKrolowa)

As a native Detroiter and attendee of the inaugural City game, you could say my expectation of match day experience is skewed. From Day 1, DCFC has seen abnormal levels of passion from supporters, not only on game day but through the entirety of the year. I know that City is unique, but that knowledge certainly doesn’t prepare one for the oddity of a match in utter silence.

The official City picture of the Rouge Rovers at the game against Indiana Fire in Westfield, Indiana only shows about 1/3 of the people who made the trip. Half of the NGS people who made the trip showed up at halftime (lost in the cornfields). The other people were parents and fans who didn’t chant.

Here’s the thing, even though there were only six of us, we were louder than ALL of the Fire fans put together. Aside from an occasional “Let’s go Fire” coming from a soccer mom, the game was played in silence. It was a bizarre flashback to last year’s friendly against the Windsor Stars when NGS went silent in the second half…you could hear the guys talking to each other, something that never happens at Cass Tech.

The lack of Fire fans is surprising. They’re currently leading the conference (although they have played one more game than City). The team is dynamite on the field and will probably be the toughest competition that DCFC sees all season, but a good team alone does not supporters attract.

On the field, the Fire looked good. Their first goal was underwhelming, the result of serious traffic in front of the net and some ping-ponging around. It was crazy enough that it took the announcers a good five minutes to finally assign the goal to a player. Their second goal was a beautiful soccer play, coming out of a City corner kick.

Overall, City had more shots on goal, but the loss of Zach Meyers early on in the game (23’) really took the edge off of the offense – the difference was noticeable. Meyers was still limping after the game, so hopefully he will be healthy enough to be on the field Friday night to take on Erie.

Core Power Man of the Match Cyrus Saydee had a goal and assist on the afternoon, but he deserved much more than that! Cyrus had many chances and was incredibly entertaining to watch. He dribbled around more than one Fire defender, often leaving them spinning their wheels, a bit dazed and confused. He made people look silly all over the field.

The second part of the first half was an offensive struggle, devolving quickly into broken defensive plays for both teams and multiple shots on goal. Three goals were scored in the last 11 minutes of the half. City definitely has some defensive kinks to work out after Friday’s breakdown in Cincy and letting two goals through between the 34th and 36th minute against Indiana. There are strong players in the back, but some better coverage is going to be needed the next time they travel to Indiana on June 20th. The Fire are a must-beat team in the conference. City’ll have a tough time getting out of the division without beating them in at least one regular season match.

Overall, it was the highest quality soccer match I’ve seen on both sides. Perhaps that is evidenced by the limited number of cards given out (possibly the least of all City games I’ve attended) and the lack of diving. Both teams stayed on their feet for the most part and there were four yellows awarded total (3 to Indiana and 1 to City).

Quick Thoughts

Indiana needs a new field…the turf and 90 degree humid weather made the field unbearable to play on.

Cass Tech’s atmosphere will pose a huge advantage for City when Indiana visits.

Matches without drums are weird.

Three year olds love DCFC and, given the chance, fill in as awesome capos.

IMG_7885Pirmann Watch

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Per usual…Coach Ben was snazzed up in a shirt and tie. In contrast, Fire’s coaches were in either khakis or basketball shorts. City’s classy all around.

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Ed: Had to include this.

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Finally a Mirror

Guest Post by Fletcher Sharpe (Follow him on Twitter)

I used to play soccer when I was young in Grosse Pointe, in the Grosse Pointe Soccer Association…and I hated every minute of it. I played with kids who either took the game too seriously, or their parents had so much money (Fords) that they didn’t care at all. I escaped soccer for prep school football, and totally fast-tracked my body to science by standing in there and taking hits from men twice my size, because, you know….football. But still I preferred football to soccer, as I felt the passion in the eggshape sport was just…something to bathe in, and watching my classmates who had a lot of money (kinda like the Fords) really bothered me a lot. I could call someone a few choice words, and it just be passed over, where as with soccer, I’d see them look at another and go down as if someone sent a laser strike from the heavens. Fast forward to 2010, and the first World Cup in a while where the USMNT actually looked dangerous…and I hated them. So much. Still do. I cheered heavily as Ghana roared…well, squeaked, past them.

All of these things have something in common: I had no one to cheer for/play with who I identified with. I thank Max Kendall (Twitter’s own @Maxplatypus) so much for his invitation to play on Midtown FC of the Detroit City Futbol League because it opened my eyes to people who look like me. I could go to Belle Isle and see people I could identify with, and laugh with, and drink with, and do other things with. But I still had no team to root for. I had some players to root for ALLLLLL THE WAYYYYYYY INNNNNN EUROPE, but I had no one in the United States to root for.

I heard about the Michigan Bucks, so I checked them out, before I started writing for them. With no disrespect to the owner, who is a very classy and likable man who treated me with nothing but respect, I did not enjoy covering that team. The players, while very talented, were very plastic. No personalities. There was no fan presence. Only 3 people actively cheered, while everyone else tended to their children who constantly ran along the sidelines. The only game I attended that had more that 400 people was the game where the Bucks beat the Chicago Fire. The atmosphere was electric and I was pleased. I thought this would maybe allow for more people, but alas, it dropped back to 100 the next game…and the game after that….and after that.

So when I heard about Detroit City FC, I was happy but sad. I was happy there would be a team in Detroit, but I was sad, because I was certain it would be another team I would grow to hate, as while they are from Detroit, they aren’t “from Detroit” (*cough* Red Wings *cough*). I can admit this: I, Fletcher Sharpe, was wrong. So wrong. Not only are there players who look like me and are relatable to me, the fans actually care. They are loud, they are passionate, and they wear their emotions on their sleeves….sometimes literally. Sometimes they care too much, but that’s fine.

They’re also crazy. I wrote an article on FC Sparta’s possible challenge to Detroit City FC’s stranglehold on soccer in the area. Within 3 days, my article was torn apart by 4 people, and I was crowned as a fan of theirs. Again, they are crazy, but it’s their passion that is the most interesting dynamic. It worried me, but it worried me in the good way. I was frightened about showing up to Cass (silly, I know), but in a excited frightened way (crazy, I know).

To sum up this entire jumble of words, Detroit City FC is a reflection of me. It is a grind-it-out organization from the city and for the city, and for that I am eternally appreciative of it and its existence. While I am a member of the media and (technically) not allowed to pick a side, I will say I wouldn’t be too sad to see the NPSL finals held here at Cass Tech.

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Fletcher Sharpe’s work can also be found on MLive. His e-mail is: fletchersharpe@gmail.com

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