Detroit Is Missing Something…
We are a rabid town when it comes to sports.
Detroit is a mecca of sports, and always has been. We are one of twelve cities to have at least one team from the four major sports. Two of them, the Red Wings and the Tigers, are charter members of their respective leagues (NOTE: the Tigers actually pre-date the American League, starting in the Western League in 1894). We have also been home to many teams from leagues long past: 2 Negro League teams (the Detroit Stars and the Detroit Wolves), 4 Indoor Soccer teams (the Lightning, Rockers, Safari, and Ignition), a World Football League team (the Wheels), a USFL team (the Michigan Panthers), 2 Outdoor Soccer teams (the Express and the Cougars; the Cougars were actually an Irish team that played here to promote soccer in the U.S.), a successful WNBA team (the Shock), 2 Arena Football teams (the Drive and the Fury), an Indoor Lacrosse team (the Turbos), and an IHL team (remember the Vipers?). We even have another indoor football team, the Thunder, from the CIFL, starting play in 2013. The only professional leagues we missed out on are all defunct (the several women’s baseball leagues throughout the 20th century, the AFL, a few other indoor arena football leagues), except for one: Major League Soccer.
Major League Soccer was founded in 1993, to help with the bid for the 1994 World Cup. Many in the sports community thought it wouldn’t last. Even my father, a lifelong soccer player/coach/fan thought that MLS would fold within a few years, because “Americans just don’t get soccer”. 20 years later, MLS is still here, even after an expansion, contraction, then two more expansions. Somehow, the World Cup coming to the United States in 1994 boosted the interest of soccer here stateside ten-thousand-fold, at least. The league is so successful, it has managed to attract foreign players such as David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel to it from their high-paying European clubs.
Comparatively speaking, MLS is small when you look at the size of other professional soccer leagues around the world. Most of the other soccer leagues use a system of promotion and relegation; for example, the top 20 teams in English soccer are in the Barclays Premier League. At season’s end, the bottom 3 clubs are relegated to the Football League, while the top three Football League clubs are promoted to the Premier League. Overall, there are 92 clubs in the League system in England; MLS only has 19 teams, one less than the Premier League. Revenue-wise, MLS is also smaller than other soccer leagues around the world, and when compared to the big four here, it is also small, but of the professional sports leagues here, it is the most successful outside of the big four.
I can already hear all of you non-soccer fans screaming “WHY! Soccer is not a sport!”. Let me say this as a former player: it is the most physically demanding sport I have ever played. The field is larger than a football field; take the sidelines and endzones and make them all in play and it is close to the same size. You are constantly moving, with no substitutions. If you are subbed for, you are out of the game, like a pitcher in MLB. The game is 90+ minutes long, with a short intermission at the half, about the length of time it is between quarters in football.
I come from a soccer family; my dad was born in Philly, and his father’s job with Exxon moved them to places like Aruba, England, and the Netherlands. So my dad played soccer a lot overseas, then passed on his knowledge to us kids. My sister was an outstanding player in high school and college, and is now the head coach of women’s soccer at Elmira College in New York. My brother was All-State and a State Champion with the Petoskey Northmen in 2008 in Class A. But even so, this does not mean I am a soccer “fan”; I have a favorite team, but I never watch games. Just can’t sit through them. But soccer has definitely caught on stateside, so why don’t we have a team in Detroit?
People will say we don’t have the draw; this is completely unrealistic. We have the draw, and here’s why: southeast Michigan has the largest congregation of travel, or “elite” clubs. Elite clubs are teams that are selected by tryouts, usually made up of the top soccer players in the area. These teams travel all over Michigan, and in some cases the U.S., to compete in matches and tournaments. My father coached my brother’s elite team, which was basically what became the 2008 Class A State Champions. These teams are that good. I am willing to bet if you go through the rosters of the last ten MHSAA state champions, most of the rosters played together on travel teams from a young age, so they are like a well-oiled machine. These kids would definitely come to games.
Another big draw: Dearborn, or rather it’s large immigrant population. Soccer is big in other countries, and Dearborn has one of the biggest immigrant populations in the U.S., and immigrants would definitely come to see professional soccer games. To us Americans, soccer may pale in comparison to the four “homegrown” sports, but to the large immigrant population here, soccer is king.
So we have the draw, but where would a team play you ask? Ford Field. The MLS season would not interfere with the NFL season, and professional soccer matches have already been held there; in 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup matches were held there. It sits empty for most of the year, so why not lease it to an MLS team for a few of those months? Additional revenue for Detroit right there. I am certain a permanent team could easily fill Ford Field on a regular basis. If the Lions can, an MLS team could.
What would we call it? Well, look at what we have named other teams. Mostly names of the feline family or names relating to automobiles. Maybe give recognition to the old Detroit Cougars, or even just something soccer sounding, like FC Detroit or Real Detroit (pronounced Ree-all). The team colors, well, most of our teams have worn these three colors: red, white, and blue.
Stocking with players? Not a problem. We have a bumper crop of soccer talent in that corner of the state, plus an entire planet of players to try and woo away from their overseas teams, not to mention great NCAA players here.
Final thoughts: Our city, which is struggling financially, is missing out on roughly $12-14 million dollars of revenue per season that we do not have an MLS team. We have a fan base willing to pay to see professional soccer. MLS will expand again soon. Let’s get a push behind this. I may not be a huge soccer fan, but I would be happy to have one more Detroit team to cheer for in the dog days of summer; not to take away from our Boys of Summer at Comerica, but it is unbalanced when 3 of our teams share the fall and winter. Our city needs an MLS team. Detroit wants to draw people to see our teams, well, give the soccer fanbase a team they would pay to go see.