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Photo by Michael Kitchen

Sunday, June 19th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 1 Kalamazoo FC 0

Photo by Michael Kitchen
Photo by Michael Kitchen

This past Saturday, roughly 24 hours before Detroit City was set to take on Kalamazoo in a must-win match, there was a short-lived but intense outcry from City supporters regarding the lineup of PLA side FC Carpathia.


Just a day before the most crucial match of the season, City’s captain Dave Edwardson was starting for a lesser club in 90-plus degree weather. This led to many cocked eyebrows and even a few questioning his (and other players who play for clubs on the side) commitment to DCFC. This was obviously a bit of an overreaction*, born out of the frustration of a heretofore disappointing season, but even so, the timing of Edwardson’s side foray seemed a bit odd.

It turned out to be a non-issue partly because the man is a machine, probably distantly related to a locomotive, if not by blood then at least through marriage. The other part was that City played its most complete match of the season against Kalamazoo, dominating possession and putting forth a stifling defensive performance that was sorely needed.

While they only came away with the one goal, the sequence that led to it demonstrated the type of influence Dave Edwardson has on the team. After going hard into the sponsor boards by the supporter section, resulting in this nasty bruise…


…he raised the game’s intensity and lit a fire under his team by putting in one of the crunchier tackles of the season.

With the combination of his injury, yellow card, and the very real possibility of a second yellow in the immediate future, he was subbed off in the 60th minute. The tone had been set, though, and City went ahead just two minutes later. They then finished out the day by allowing Kalamazoo next to nothing in the way of quality chances.

Following Josh Rogers’ retirement at the end of 2015, Edwardson seemed the likely choice to succeed him as captain, despite his admittedly less vocal personality. Through the ups and downs of 2016, he’s grown into his new role, and Sunday may have been his breakthrough moment. What the team showed in their win was a reflection of his attitude and intensity. There’s still much work to be done for them to even put themselves in contention for a playoff spot, but if they approach their remaining matches with the same urgency and resolve, nothing is out of their reach.

*Ben Pirmann further put the issue to bed with his post-match comments on Sunday.


Quick Notes:

(1) Troy Watson started and was a major factor in tightening up the defense through midfield. As long as he’s healthy and has the energy, he should be starting every remaining match.

(2) Alex Isaevski was just cleared by doctors to resume play with no restrictions. Hopefully he can put in a few minutes against Dayton with an eye toward starting in the near future. His return offsets the loss of Billy Stevens, who returned home after completing his spring classes at UM. Once Isaevski gets back up to speed, the prospect of him combining down the left side with Jeff Adkins and Danny Deakin should give City supporters tingles.

(3) Speaking of the back line, it really looks like Seb Harris-Omar Sinclair is the best centerback pairing. Roll with ‘em from here on out.

(4) The search for a true go-to striker continues, with a possible surprise contender:


I have no idea how likely this is, if at all, but if it came to fruition it would be very fun to see.


The Age of Innocence

Friday, June 10th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 2 Grand Rapids FC 5
Sunday, June 12th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 2 Lansing United 2

Photo by Konrad Maziarz
Photo by Konrad Maziarz

The events of this past weekend marked the close of the initial carefree, happy-go-lucky period of Detroit City FC’s existence. It officially ended at about the time Grand Rapids hit City on the break and slotted home goal number five, capping the worst performance in club history. That the honeymoon lasted over four years is an accomplishment in and of itself, but good times alone cannot sustain DCFC if it wishes to compete at a professional level in the near future, much less with a potential MLS intruder.

In past seasons, short strings of losses and/or lackluster performances were always quickly snuffed out by renewed resilience, often immediately. The early hiccups of 2016, however (the 2-0 lead surrendered at Michigan Stars and the 2 second half goals given up to last-place Dayton), turned out to be symptoms of a more serious affliction.

City’s defense this season, to be blunt, has been atrocious, and I don’t think that’s too harsh a term. The numbers don’t lie:

Taken from AFCAA because the NPSL hasn't updated the standings on its website. Par for the course.
Taken from AFCAA because the NPSL hasn’t updated the standings on its website. Par for the course.

Most goals allowed in the conference, more than double the number given up by each of the top three teams in the current table.

I make it a point to never call out individual players for poor performances since they are all amateurs and many of them have careers and families that take precedence over DCFC. That won’t change here because the thing is, I can’t point to any individual(s) as the main culprit in City’s defensive failings. When focused on, nobody stands out as particularly bad; I think the problem is team defending as a whole. Most of the goals allowed this season have come off of set pieces and simple crosses. The problem’s gotten so bad that every time an opposing player sends a ball into our box, I expect it to result in a goal, or at least a quality scoring opportunity (and I doubt that I’m alone).

In my opinion, what’s most exacerbated the struggles has been the constant shuffling and mixing of lineups, particularly the back line. In City’s best season to date – 2013 – the starting defense hardly ever changed.


Those four played together game-in, game-out, with minimal rotation, even on two-match weekends. Essentially, I don’t think the current lineup has been consistent enough to allow for enough building of chemistry and cohesion. In the early part of the season, with so many matches crammed together, heavy rotation was understandable, but now it’s cause for concern. On paper this is the most talented team Ben Pirmann has ever put together, but aside from the two U.S. Open Cup matches, they’ve looked disjointed and incomplete.

The situation hasn’t been helped by the revolving door at goalkeeper. While Cody Lang was likely the best option available on Friday in Grand Rapids, the decision to start him mere hours after his cross-country flight from Seattle to Detroit was unfair to him. Worse yet, with the way the team played in front of him, it probably wouldn’t have mattered who started in goal.

Tactical quibbling aside, better results are essential, not just for City’s playoff chances, but for the club’s continued growth. The hardcore supporters will never leave, but it gets harder and harder to attract new fans with a mediocre on-field product.

The last couple years have seen a shift in fan mentality. Expectations have slowly crept upward and dissatisfaction at poor results has become more prevalent. These aren’t necessarily bad things – they show that the club is making the transition from cute, fun novelty to a legitimate mainstream sports team where wins and losses supersede all else. One can argue over the desirability of such a shift, but as a product of growth it remains.

Whether deserved or not, Detroit City has earned a reputation as an underachiever:

2012: Loss at home to Erie in final regular season match that would’ve clinched first place in the division; 1st round playoff loss to Cleveland.
2013: Loss at home to Erie in Great Lakes Playoff final
2014: Draw at Lansing in final regular season match which prevented City from making the playoffs
2015: Loss to Erie in final regular season home match, ruining City’s chance of hosting the playoffs; 1st round playoff loss to Cleveland

The frustration of this past weekend wasn’t due to the bombing from GRFC or the two surrendered leads to Lansing; it was the expression of angst that’s been building up for years – the result of unfulfilled potential and a string of what-ifs. Supporters’ naïve optimism has given way to a pessimism more familiar to a fan of Detroit’s four other major sports teams.

The positive is that the ink is not yet dry on the story of the 2016 season. Zooming out to get a wider view, fully half of the regular season still remains, and the playoff picture is far from decided. The next two weekends give City ample opportunity to get back on track – one game per weekend, both at home, both against very beatable opponents (Kalamazoo this Sunday, Dayton on the 25th).

Wins in those matches would set up a pivotal Fourth of July weekend with matchups against the top two current teams in the conference – Grand Rapids (home) and Ann Arbor (away). A hot second half and a deep playoff run would singlehandedly change the narrative built by any recent misfortunes.

Given what’s been shown so far, none of these things can be considered foregone conclusions, but all are doable. To drag out an old but apropos cliché, every crisis also presents an opportunity, and City’s current situation is no different. One age has ended, another can now begin.



CityBits ’16: Buffalo and Beyond

Friday, June 3rd, 2016 – Detroit City FC 2 FC Buffalo 1
Sunday, June 5th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 0 FC Buffalo 0

Photo by Dion Degennaro
Photo by Dion Degennaro

Rust Belt Derby is Detroit’s for the fourth consecutive year. If Cleveland’s childish owners continue to keep the RBD from returning to its original format by refusing to schedule friendlies against City, I move that their 2012 nameplate be removed from the trophy and cast into any random sewer grate. I await their response…


…or maybe not.

On a different note, I’m particularly upset that Friday night’s game wasn’t streamed since it included the Goal of the Year so far: Tommy Catalano’s volley off of a cross from Cyrus Saydee. Speaking of goals:

Extremely Brief Midseason Review

Attack It hasn’t been terrible (7 goals in 4 league matches), but no striker has emerged as a go-to guy to this point. Javi Bautista may be the best bet moving forward; he had an excellent performance against FCUM, scoring a goal, and looks to finally be healthy after a few weeks on the bench. Also, Jordan Kalk made his first appearance of the season on Sunday at Buffalo. He gives the team another speedy, dangerous option up top.

The most consistent attacking threats have been Jeff Adkins and Alec Lasinski, who’s following Troy Watson’s 2015 path of “come out of nowhere, play a lot, and look good doing it.”

Defense Solid in the run of play, shaky on set pieces. Seb Harris has been having his best season with City, Omar Sinclair has quietly become a rock solid centerback, and Matt Nance has returned from injury to bolster the fullback depth. The biggest problems have come on corners and crosses, which will need to be ironed out if the team is to make the playoffs, much less make a deep run.

A good amount of responsibility for these plays falls on the goalkeepers. Nate Steinwascher is the clear-cut #1 until Cody Lang shows up, and maybe even afterwards. Joe Smith and Robbie Beckwell have gotten ample playing time in the recent friendlies, and it’s evident that neither are quite ready to step into the starting role for City this early in their careers.

The Road Ahead Tricky but navigable. The table currently looks like this:

Source: FTLOF
Source: FTLOF

This weekend is the most important two-game set of the season. It includes the longest remaining road trip on a day and time which could seriously affect player availability (Grand Rapids, 7:45 pm, Friday) and a home match against Lansing, always a difficult opponent.


From there, the next two weekends look much easier – home against Kalamazoo on the 19th and home again on the 25th to face Dayton. Anything less than six points here would be a big disappointment.

City might not have to run the table to finish in the top 2, but they’ve given themselves plenty of work to do over the next month and change. With the Open Cup and Keyworth’s re-opening behind them, there are no reasons for their total focus to be anywhere but the Great Lakes West. Unless something wild happens, I don’t see the conference being decided until the very last weekend of the season. Every team besides Dayton looks to have at least a reasonable shot at making the playoffs, and with their depth of talent, I still fully expect City to be one of them.


The Lives We’ve Chosen

Friday, May 13th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 2 Michigan Stars 2

Sunday, May 15th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 4 Dayton Dynamo 2

Photo by Dion Degennaro

It’s one week into the season and I’m exhausted. About half of it is physical fatigue, and the other half is an unquantifiable mental fogginess, probably accumulated through weeks of the just-when-you-think-it’s-over-someone-brings-it-back-up MLS to Detroit discussion. (I guess I’m the guilty one this time, aren’t I?). Four years and change into the City Experience, we’ve developed a bit of a binge-purge rhythm: we starve for the nine-month offseason then stuff our faces as much as possible from late April to the end of July.

I’ve never experienced such a hectic whirlwind of a run-up to and beginning of a season, and I’m sure many are feeling something similar. Six matches in the first twelve days is a brutal, demanding run, after all. From Detroit City’s owners to the coaches, players, staff, on down to the supporters, it seems as if we’re all scrambling around trying to do as much as we can, as best we can, in the tiniest window possible.

After Brett Nason scored the winning penalty kick against the Bucks, he had to hurry home to finish his accounting homework. Dozens of supporters will be making the same-day round trip to Louisville this Wednesday, and many will only be able to grab a couple hours of sleep before heading to work on Thursday morning. Above all, Keyworth Stadium’s fresh concrete and new paint are still drying as we speak, only days away from the home opener.

Of those deeply involved with the club, particularly the five guys running it, I’d wager that most have had at least one “Oh crap, what have I gotten myself into?” moment. Whether you’re trying to rehab a long-neglected stadium, training to play in it, or rushing to finish the tifo that will usher in its new era, it’s a ton of work. Working and working and working at something can become a grind. It’s tiring, often frustrating, and it may sometimes even feel like a chore. In the end, though, we continue doing what we do because this is something we believe in, something we have true passion for. Outsiders and naysayers may poke and prod but they’ll never truly understand the way we feel. And, really, it doesn’t matter. They haven’t hindered us so far and they surely aren’t doing so now.

I’m tired, but that doesn’t mean I’m not happy. In fact, I’m having a blast. I can’t wait for what’s next because I know it will be incredible.

Photo by Jon DeBoer
Photo by Jon DeBoer


Quick takes from the weekend:

The Good:

(1) Danny Deakin It took him a couple matches to settle in, but against Dayton he ignited a City attack that had, up to that point, been less than spectacular. His first goal with Le Rouge was a thing of beauty*…

… and he assisted on the three subsequent goals, two of which were scored by…

(2) Alec Lasinski Lasinski caught my eye in the friendly against Muskegon when he came on as a second-half sub and recorded a goal and assist in about a half hour of play. Since he’s just coming off his freshman season in college, I figured he’d find it tough to find much playing time, but he featured prominently in both weekend matches and appears to have carved out a spot in the rotation.

(3) Road Results It hurt to give up a 2-0 lead against the Stars and only come away with a point, but given the circumstances (less than 48 hours removed from an emotional 120-minute battle, several key players unavailable, going up against what should be a much-improved opponent), a draw wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Given the length of the season, that result set Sunday up as a kinda, sorta must-win and City took care of business.

*Video by Michael Kitchen

The Bad:

(1) Defensive set pieces City came away unscathed after a barrage of corners against the Bucks, but failed to match that performance as both Stars goals and one Dynamo goal came off of corner kicks. I wonder what Coach Pirmann will be emphasizing this week during practice…

(2) Second half performance Two matches: 4 goals allowed, 0 scored in second halves. I wonder what else Coach Pirmann will be emphasizing this week during practice…

(3) Depth issues As feared, Evan Louro had to leave the team following Friday night’s match. More under the radar, Billy Stevens reportedly shattered his foot in the same game. With Alex Isaevski still on the mend, that leaves City with only five or six true defenders on the roster. Throw in a couple of inexperienced keepers and we have a situation that looks pretty iffy.

The lolwut?:

CiY0u9cXIAA33oU.jpg large

The reasons many City supporters are less than enamored with MLS are well-documented, but for me, another one is the sheer ridiculousness that exists at the D-4 level is incredibly entertaining and amusing and it would suck to lose that.

Yes, the Stars hired a garage band – The Dirty Elizabeths – presumably to try and drown out the noise of the Northern Guard. No, it did not work. They did play “What’s Up”, though, so that was pretty fun.

Up Next:

USOC Round 2 at Louisville City FC I know absolutely nothing about LCFC, so I’ll direct you to Robert Sherman’s excellent preview and analysis HERE.


On the Shoulders of Giants

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016 – Detroit City FC 0 Michigan Bucks 0 (4-3 DCFC on penalties AET)

Photo by Konrad Maziarz
Photo by Konrad Maziarz

One thing that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our practice of knowledge accumulation. Older technology forms the basis of new inventions and discoveries build upon each other, causing fields of study to become more and more specialized and intricate over time. This phenomenon exists at the individual level as well, in that we learn from our past experiences and make use of that information in the future.

Last year we were naïve… Myself, my staff, my players, we were out to lunch. This year we were focused.Ben Pirmann*

While many of Detroit City’s players are young up-and-comers looking to further their development by playing over the summer, what gets lost in the shuffle is that their head coach is in a similar situation. Even though Ben Pirmann is in his fourth year in charge of City, he’s still only 30 years old, essentially a novice when it comes to the coaching profession.

His approach to the Open Cup match last year was, to use his words, naïve. His team played too stretched, too open, and looked uncomfortable playing on the spacious indoor field. After a good early chance from Will Mellors-Blair, the Bucks asserted themselves and the game was over before halftime. The loss was deflating but full of lessons, many of which formed the foundation of Wednesday’s gameplan.

It was clear to any casual observer how badly he wanted this one.

lfg lfg2

In order to get it, he changed, he evolved, he adapted like the Borg.

After years of running a basic 4-4-2, which probably had as much to do with the narrow field at Cass Tech as his own personal preferences, Pirmann has rolled out more of a 4-2-3-1 in the early part of 2016. Apart from the subtle changes in formation, what was most striking in this game was the positional discipline and commitment to a defense-first strategy. Rarely did any City player stray too far from his spot on the field, and while this led to a somewhat frustrating offensive performance, it proved effective at stifling the Bucks’ attack. Aside from two or three real chances, the Bucks had a very difficult time generating anything else, in stark contrast to last year when their three goals easily could’ve been five or six.

In the end, the plan worked. Helped by some spectacular goalkeeping from Evan Louro and the (mostly) ice-cold penalty takes, City closed the on-field gap between the two clubs. In just one year, they went from a team that looked like it didn’t belong in the same building with the Bucks to one that played them dead even over the course of an entire match.

Pirmann now has a signature win – easily the biggest in club history – and his fingerprints are becoming ever more noticeable when it comes to the makeup of City’s roster and its playing style. The hope now is that the development of his skills as a coach will translate into further success, particularly in the playoffs. Of course, to get there, the team must first go through the 12-match regular season.

City’s level of talent is superior to that of any team they’ll face in a competitive match for the rest of the season, so if Wednesday was indicative of how they’ll play moving forward, a deep playoff run seems a very reasonable expectation. No longer part of a fledgling club, Pirmann and his players have ample experiences from which to draw upon. The heights they reach will be greatly determined by their willingness to learn from the lessons of the past.



Elsewhere: excellent articles from For the Love of Fútbol and Last Word on Sports.

Opposite field PK shootout video taken by John Brown II:


Photo by Jon DeBoer
Photo by Jon DeBoer