It seems like just weeks ago the Northern Guard Supporters rounded the corner of Cass Technical High School in booming harmony, filling the sky with smoke and unfavorable chants about Ohio. The third season for Detroit City FC was just 30 minutes away, emotions were high, and fresh kits were ready to be debuted against the Cincinnati Saints.
Just 90 minutes later, Le Rouge was well on its way to a 3-0 victory. Clean sheets remained the theme of the season when playing in the cozy confines of Cass Tech, as DCFC rattled off three consecutive shutout victories at home to kick off the 2014 campaign.
And when the season was all said and done, coming to a conclusion with a friendly against the Windsor Stars on July 23, City thanked their fans in a familiar manner — with a spirited performance to earn a 0-0 draw against a formidable foe.
“It was a great season,” Le Rouge head coach Ben Pirmann said. “If you look at the amount of players we played and the amount of young players we played, you’d be astonished at the amount of guys that got good minutes. Not a friendly here or a friendly there, but good, league minutes. Most of these guys are from this area, so it was really important for our city.”
Despite being pushed into the midst of conference realignment, Detroit City FC responded well against unfamiliar foes to post an impressive 8-3-3 record in the Great Lakes West Conference. Four inaugural clubs joined DCFC’s division — Lansing United, Michigan Stars, Cincinnati Saints, and Indiana Fire — but Le Rouge got the best of each club at least once, and often twice, throughout the year.
A seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2) to start the season placed Le Rouge in a favorable position heading into the latter half if its schedule. But in the final five games of the year, City couldn’t string together consecutive victories. Injuries to several key pieces in the attack, including Jeff Adkins (Butler), William Mellors-Blair (Michigan), and Zach Myers (Saginaw Valley State), resulted in missed opportunities in the final third.
Ultimately, the 2-1 and 3-1 losses to the Michigan Stars and FC Buffalo in early July resulted in missed opportunities to gain valuable separation from Lansing United in the conference standings. Those squandered chances would come back to bite Detroit City FC. On July 13, City needed a victory in East Lansing against Lansing United to advance to the playoffs. Anything less, and it would be the end of the 2014 campaign.
A back-and-forth affair — in front of hundreds of Northern Guard Supporters who made the road trip — eventually ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw. With City pushing men forward all afternoon looking to garner a lead, Lansing United’s counterattack was threatening and became the deciding factor in eliminating DCFC from playoff contention.
“As disappointing as it was to not get in the playoffs, looking back at the season you can’t help but feel really good about it,” said Detroit City co-owner and midfielder David Dwaihy. “From the standpoint of growing the game, as far as the mission of the club to be passionate about the game in this city, I think we’ve grown steadily and in a sustainable way and have exceeded our wildest expectations in that regard.”
Just in the exhibition match against the Windsor Stars on Wednesday, July 23, many new faces made their season debut in front of an astounding 3,020 supporters — an attendance figure well over the season average for any of DCFC’s conference opponents.
But surging attendance numbers were a common theme for Le Rouge in 2014, with the club reaching its first record sell-out crowd of 3,112 supporters on May 23 as City defeated Lansing United, 1-0. And the numbers continued to grow from there. A new record attendance was reached on June 6 when 3,234 supporters showed to watch DCFC draw a 2-2 score line against Erie Admirals SC, giving Le Rouge back-to-back sell-outs for the first time in club history. Not long after, the record would be smashed again, this time on July 11 against Fort Pitt Regiment when 3,398 supporters were in attendance.
Along with increased attendance came the opportunity for more philanthropic events to benefit the city of Detroit. Staying true to the mission statement of DCFC, the 2014 season was dedicated to an adequate balance of on-field and off-field success.
Detroit City FC’s home match against the Erie Admirals on June 6 was dedicated to the Ruth Ellis Center, a shelter that provides short-term and long-term residential safe space and support services for runaway, homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth. Proceeds from an auction of player-worn commemorative jerseys raised over $3,500 for the shelter. In addition, Le Rouge began a partnership with United Way of Southeastern Michigan in the fight to end hunger in Metro Detroit.
As always, the passionate Le Rouge supporters worked to make a difference off the pitch, too, raising $3,280 for the family of John Bieniewicz, the soccer referee tragically killed in early July. Because of the City supporters’ efforts, Detroit City FC owners pledged to match that amount. Along with the money raised, supporters commemorated the fallen referee with a stirring red card tribute’ in the 44th minute of City’s match against the Cincinnati Saints on July 6.
The 2014 season has set the bar for what Detroit City FC is capable of as a soccer team and a professional organization. Making strides to become involved with important community outreach projects continues to be at the forefront of the ownership’s mind.
The camaraderie between the players, coaches, supporters, and owners continues to build a grassroots project into a recognizable and enticing event in downtown Detroit. Wednesday’s friendly proved the aforementioned statements to ring true, as supporters from both sidelines cheered on the ownership, coaches, and players when season-concluding announcements and thank yous were made at midfield. In those speeches, it was announced that Cyrus Saydee (Michigan State) was awarded the Black Arrow Award, given to the club’s most valuable player. Saydee was unable to attend the friendly, but for good reason. He is currently in the process of going through a professional tryout with Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC.
In addition, Josh Rogers (Michigan State) was awarded a custom-built bicycle courtesy of Detroit Bikes for embodying what it means to be a part of the Detroit City FC organization since Year 1 and always playing with an unwavering passion and honor that is expected of the captain of the Gold and Rouge.
The end of July marks the beginning of a 10-month period in which Cass Tech remains rather solemn and quiet. There won’t be smoke or the beating of drums, but the passion for DCFC, for the game of soccer, and for Detroit will resonate far beyond the confines of the stadium. Here’s to hoping those 10 months fly by as quickly as possible.
We’ll see you in 2015.
- Jeremy Summitt, DCFC Staff Writer