2017 will go down in history as Detroit City FC’s most successful and memorable season to date.
Despite a slow start, Detroit went on a tear, winning nine National Premier Soccer League games in a row – as well as two victories over professional European clubs – to advance to the 2017 postseason, where Le Rouge captured its first Midwest Region title and advanced to the national semifinals for the first time in club history.
From reaching a record home crowd of 7,533, to building and strengthening lasting partnerships with local organizations, to prolific performances from the Boys in Rouge – 2017 had it all.
Let's take a walk through the summer of 2017 for Detroit's soccer team.
DCFC welcomed a crop of new players before the season got underway. It was the youngest team in the club history, with top collegiate players from around the nation suiting up for City in 2017.
City finished the 2017 preseason with a 2-1-0 (W-T-L) record. City defeated Saginaw Valley State University, 3-1, and Lawrence Technological University, 2-0, and finished with a 2-2 draw against Dayton Dynamo in front of 4,168 supporters at Keyworth Stadium.
DCFC opened the regular season on May 12 against divisional newcomers Milwaukee Torrent. A total of 5,041 supporters attended the home opener, which resulted in a 3-3 draw after a dramatic Max Todd equalizer in the 96th minute.
The next two matches ended in disappointment for Le Rouge. After going up 2-0 on the Michigan Stars on the road on May 14, the match ended in a 2-2 draw. City then traveled to Ann Arbor on May 22, where it was handed a 2-0 defeat.
Off to a disappointing 0-2-1 start, City found a spark. On May 27, the team hosted its first international friendly of the year when it welcomed Belfast-based Glentoran FC to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Cougars, Detroit's first soccer team made up of players from Glentoran.
DCFC recorded a 1-0 victory over Glentoran thanks to Tyler Moorman’s heroic goal in the 86th minute.
The win was a jolt to Le Rouge’s confidence and spirit, and proved to be the turning point in the season.
DCFC took down Grand Rapids FC, 3-1, at home on June 2 to earn its first league win of the season. Though Grand Rapids struck first, City bounced back with three unanswered goals from Louis Dargent, Shawn Lawson and Derrick Otim.
The win over Grand Rapids marked the beginning of Le Rouge’s nine game win streak in the league. Two days after defeating Grand Rapids, the Boys in Rouge took care of business on the road against FC Indiana, winning 3-1, with goals from Lawson and Bakie Goodman.
Improved to 2-2-1 and gaining steam in the division, City briefly resigned from league play, welcoming the Columbus Crew College Program to town on June 7. City marched to a 3-2 victory – its first-ever win over the Crew College Program – with goals from Seb Harris, Roddy Green and Lawson.
Le Rouge had put together a nice string of wins going into a weekend matchup away versus Kalamazoo FC on June 11. Lawson struck the only goal in the 18th minute and City was able to hold off Kalamazoo successfully for the remainder of the match.
Next for DCFC was a critical road match in Grand Rapids. The match was played at Fifth Third Ballpark on June 17, with City hitting a homerun against its divisional rivals, winning 2-0 and extending its NPSL win streak to four games in the league.
Though both teams played rather coy in the first half, Lawson and Goodman were able to score in the second half to propel City to victory. Goalie Nathan Steinwascher’s clean sheet and stop on a first-half Grand Rapids penalty kick were critical to DCFC taking all three points.
City’s announced Alternative for Girls, a Detroit nonprofit serving homeless and at-risk girls and young women in Detroit, as its 2017 charity partner. The Boys in Rouge wore special charity kits for its home match against Kalamazoo FC on June 23, and club and its supporters raised $3,500 for AFG through a silent auction of the jerseys during the match.
Roddy Green scored first, but Kalamazoo was able to tie it in the second half, opening the door for Elijah Rice, who buried the game winner in the 67th minute in his City debut to propel Le Rouge to a 2-1 win.
Detroit couldn’t be stopped. The team won its next three league matches away at Milwaukee, and at home against Indiana and the Stars. After defeating the Stars 3-1 at home, City moved into first place in the division for the first time all season.
Moving into July, DCFC stayed red hot after defeating Lansing United on the road, 2-1. The victory, the club’s first ever in Lansing, clinched a spot in the NPSL playoffs and extended the team's win streak to nine games.
The win streak was snapped when City met Ann Arbor for the second time of the season. In front of 6,972 supporters at Keyworth Stadium, City was vying to win the division outright. However, their 1-0 lead at halftime wasn’t enough, as Ann Arbor came back to win 3-1.
Until that loss on July 11th, City hadn’t lost nor tied since May 22. City’s next challenge was to bounce back from the defeat, and it did so with an impressive comeback draw against Lansing just a few days later in the regular season finale at home.
At the 68th minute mark, Lansing held a commanding 3-0 lead. But ten-men City charged back with goals from Shawn Lawson, Seb Harris and Owain Hoskins, earning a hard-fought draw in front of yet another crowd of over 6,300 supporters.
With the draw, Detroit finished the regular season 9-3-2 as Great Lakes Division runners-up with 30 points.
Before the playoffs, Le Rouge hosted Serie B Italian club Venezia FC on July 18 or its second international friendly. Two first-half goals from Roddy Green and Elijah Rice, as well as a clean sheet from goalie Fernando Piña, were the difference in City’s 2-0 victory.
Managed by Filippo Inzaghi and aiming for Italy’s top league, the Winged Lions were no easy task for DCFC. The historic victory served as a momentum boost before the first-round playoff match against Dakota Fusion on July 22.
Detroit routed the Fusion, 5-1, earning a date with Duluth FC in the Midwest Region Semifinals. Led by a first-half hat trick from Tyrone Mondi, DCFC downed Duluth, 5-2, on July 28 to meet Ann Arbor in the Midwest Region Final the following day.
In the dramatic and classic final, City went on top 2-0 only to watch Ann Arbor tie it at two in the second half. City, alongside a crowd of over 6,400, kept fighting, and Mondi (with the right foot!) scored four minutes into stoppage time to seal the Midwest championship for the first time in club history.
The victory also earned Le Rouge a spot in the National Semifinals against Midland-Odessa FC. City hosted the Midland, Texas, team on August 5, in what ended in a heartbreaking loss in penalty kicks (4-2 PKs). The largest crowd in club history was in attendance, with 7,533 supporters on hand to watch DCFC's final match of the season.
City's average attendance in 2017 was 5,498, up from 5,225 in 2016.
The national semifinal loss was a bitter way to end such a historic season. Looking back, though, the season will be one to remember for many years, especially for head coach Ben Pirmann and his staff.
“This was a summer to remember,” Pirmann said. “We achieved some great accomplishments: Winning the Midwest Region trophy, defeating two European professional clubs and picking up several individual accolades. What I cherish most are the bonds we made within this family – from the players, to the technical and support staff, to the supporters."
And indeed, the individual accolades were aplenty for the Boys in Rouge. Shawn Lawson and Tyrone Mondi led the way in goals with nine and six, respectively. Mondi, Saydee and Goodman led in assists with ten, five and five, respectively.
The unsung heroes all year for Detroit were on the backline. Defenders Zach Bock, Stephen Carroll, Spencer Glass, Kervin Kenton, Omar Sinclair and Troy Watson were all critical in lifting Detroit throughout the season.
Carroll and Bock led in time on the backline with 1,335 and 1,041 minutes, respectively. David Edwardson, Goodman and Saydee led the way in the midfield all season, too.
After a fan vote for the team’s most valuable player, Mondi earned himself the annual Black Arrow MVP award. The South African led the team in assists, was second in goals and scored the most important goal of the season in the playoffs against Ann Arbor.
Several players were also recognized by the league. The NPSL named Cyrus Saydee and Seb Harris to the NPSL Midwest Region Best XI.
Saydee led the team in minutes played this season with 1,351. He also recorded 15 starts in 16 games played, with three goals and five assists. Veteran centerback Harris had three goals in seven games played, with two of his goals coming against the Fusion.
The NPSL also awarded Bock and Saydee First Team All-NPSL honors. Lawson was named to the Second Team All-NPSL, and Piña was named to the Third Team All-NPSL.
“The memories made this season will last a lifetime,” Pirmann said. “We have a very bright future because of all the amazing people involved with City.”
Moving on, one thing is certain for every Le Rouge supporter, coach and player: next spring can’t come soon enough.