If you’re around football long enough, you’ll start to recognize that the connections in it oftentimes are a bit spooky. The connections happen faster than they really should, the associations, the commitments. Intense belief creates things; intense belief by thousands of people in the same place at the same time creates eddies in the pool of reality, warping time and space, making the impossible thinkable. Sometimes football smears reality against the window-pane, seeming interested in the explosion of colors thus revealed. These things are only ever organic; football is grown as much as it is played.
Our organic football, played by our boys wearing the kit of Detroit City Football Club, is a terrifyingly accurate portrayal of the terroir in which it is grown: Capable of mediocrity in the mundane things - like, say, public transit or league play - but put a real challenge out front and watch the transformation. Clearly, our lads relish punching up much more than punching down; culture will out. Tonight, in front of a stadium-bursting crowd gathered to watch the final preparations of the opponent, Club Necaxa of Liga MX, with nothing to play for but pride and the reputation of Detroit City, Le Rouge produced a performance of astonishing cohesion and heart. The only place City lost on Tuesday was the scoreboard, and even that was a respectful 2-1 for the 10-man hosts.
The game began nervily for City, with Club Nexaca casually passing the ball about for the first two minutes or so after kickoff, then two more minutes, then two more … Six minutes in, Le Rouge had completed six passes, and their swaggering visitors were sharing the ball about like a pickup game at a picnic. Slowly, though, City’s pragmatic 4-4-2 squeezed the game. DCFC manager Ben Pirmann’s decision to start two natural central midfielders, Jakub Svehlik and Adan Garcia, on the midfield wings meant that City’s natural shape was wasp-waisted, narrow in the midfield, frustrating Necaxa’s insistence on playing through that zone.
By the time the PA announced that ticket sales had ceased - the stands looking as full as this reporter has ever seen them - City had used that platform of stability to work back into the game. In the meantime, they’d collected a couple chances of their own. In the 20th minute, for instance, Jonathan Barnes and Adan Garcia worked a combination that freed Barnes onto the wing, where he used his pace to beat the defender to the endline and angle a sharp cross intended for the run of Jake Rudel, provoking desperation defending from the bemused and increasingly alarmed Mexican side. Barnes’ pace was again a problem in the 42nd minute, as he and Roddy Green combined to bamboozle Necaxa left back Alejandro Mayorga so thoroughly he gave up and openly pulled the fleet City wingback down, earning the first caution of the contest.
The first half ended scoreless and unsettled. For some of the Necaxa players of sufficient pedigree, the result - drawing with a semi-pro side - verged perilously close to insult, and the physicality of the match ratcheted upward a bit as a result. The intensity began to slosh over the edges of the barrel marked ‘Friendly.’
The crazy thing was, City was growing into it. Just three minutes into the second half, Seb Harris - who had been incredible in the first half in central defense - pulled up lame with what looked like a quad problem. To that point, the unlikely Harris/Kervin Kenton pairing in the middle had played well; now Omar Sinclair would move infield to pair Kenton, with Mo Busaidy entering on the flank.
Six minutes later, Kenton fell prey to some of the fabled dark arts. A promising City possession is ended by a turnover right in the center of the field, and the ball is immediately lobbed long for Necaxa striker Carlos Camacho to run onto. In the moment after the ball was struck, Camacho - taking advantage of the natural tendency for everyone to track the ball for a moment - simply pushed Kenton to the ground, thereby making his run onto the pass entirely unimpeded. Camacho showed his quality in keeping his nerve to finish over a thundering back-check from Sinclair that arrived a moment to late: 0-1, Club Necaxa. In the aftermath, Kenton was shown a yellow for dissent, as the search for justice is often punished by the powers thus interrogated.
A welter of substitutes wouldn’t dim City’s general growth into the match, but the breakthrough proved difficult to fashion. Half-chances kept falling to Green, but he couldn’t find the miracle finish that would tie it, and the game seemed as like as not to finish 0-1 in the 84th when Jack Arnold, on his City debut, made a tackle on the edge of the area that was immediately adjuged to be 1) a foul and 2) in the area by the official, prompting Kenton to lose his mind entirely in the service of truth and justice, with exactly the results our world should condition us to expect from that situation. Kenton’s second yellow reduced Le Rouge to 10 men, and Victor Davila’s penalty made it 0-2, Necaxa.
Did City accept it? Did they go down a man and a second goal, watch Northern Guard popping off their end-of-game smoke, and call it a night? They could’ve. No one would’ve blamed them. It’s been a long season. Necaxa is incredibly talented. The excuses are right there, closer even than arm’s reach; they crawl right up on you, offer to fling themselves off of you, no effort necessary. They’re professionals. We’re not.
Did they accept defeat?
The visitors’ celebrations for their second goal were still underway when Shawn-Claude Lawson and Trevor Amann conspired to get Lawson isolated on the right wing. Lawson’s exquisite stutter-step left two defenders for dead, and his rifled cross found the run of Amann, still looping goalward after their earlier combination, to bang home near-post to make the score 1-2, Necaxa.
Energized, City pressed wildly for an equalizer in the dying moments. Amann’s goal-bound blast from the left channel required a two-fisted save from Necaxa keeper Yosgart Gutierrez in the 91st. Lawson is fouled at the top of the box in the 92nd, and Svehlik’s free kick is headed out for a corner. Brogan Shrimpton wins the corner but can’t head it on goal … and time ran out.
Welcome to Detroit City. Yes, we’re always like this.
Detroit City FC's next home match is against Windsor TFC in the clubs’ annual friendly on Tuesday, July 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available at http://tickets.detcityfc.com.