Note: I wrote this piece to be published on another site, but that fell through. Since it covers basically everything I intended to include in my annual State of the Club, I’m posting it here now.
The first five years of Detroit City FC’s existence were defined by rapid growth, not only in the club’s popularity, but in match attendance and revenue as well. The greater City’s reputation has become, the more speculation has arisen over its potential jump to a professional league. With the struggles of the NASL and the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision concerning Division II league sanctioning, that speculation has only intensified.
Up until the league’s recent brush with death, I’d preferred the NASL as Detroit City’s destination if and when the time came for the club to move up to the pro level. There was a lot to like about the league, namely its hands-off approach to its member clubs, which stands in stark contrast to the tightly-controlled single-entity model of MLS. In my view a jump to the NASL represented a happy medium in that City would be able to compete at a higher tier and raise its profile, and at the same time maintain the culture and identity that made the club special in the first place.
In light of the events of the past two months, though, I’ve changed my position. NASL’s instability, demonstrated primarily by the near collapse of its flagship franchise, the New York Cosmos, as well as the exodus or uncertain future of several other clubs, makes it clear to me that the league should no longer be seriously considered in Detroit City’s future plans. Despite rumors coming out of the NASL meetings in December that Detroit was in advanced talks to join the league beginning in 2018, DCFC co-owner Sean Mann denied any involvement other than some general discussions. Thanks to the USSF’s January 7th decision not to revoke NASL’s Division II sanctioning, the league may be able to stabilize and recover, but in the short-term it appears to be too risky an option for an up-and-coming club to join.
The other result of that January 7th meeting was the conferring of Division II status on USL, allowing it to move up from its de facto Division III position to become essentially equal to NASL. While USL’s reputation has grown in recent years thanks to the great success of clubs such as Sacramento and Cincinnati, the major sticking point for me and many other Detroit City supporters is that the inclusion of MLS reserve sides and affiliates in the league gives it a distinct “minor league”/“little brother of MLS” type of feel. Were a true MLS reserve league to form and allow the independent USL clubs to split into a separate division, that would make it a much more attractive option for City, but until then it’s difficult to see supporters showing much interest in USL as currently constituted.