While the soccer community is caught up in Detroit City FC’s meteoric success and whether Major League Soccer will award the city a franchise, another version of the world game simply endures.
Indoor soccer has a rich, colorful history in the area. Dominic and Mario Scicluna of Detroit Waza Flo are seeing to it that legacy stays alive.
Detroit Waza Flo opens its home schedule Saturday at Melvindale Arena, returning to its Downriver roots after a year on hiatus to recuperate from an ill-fated 2015-16 season spent in Flint amid the city’s devastating water crisis.
The financial hardship partly related to the trek north has led Waza Flo to drop into Major Arena Soccer League 2, a developmental circuit. The professional club retains an inactive status along with Las Vegas, Chicago, Toronto and Baja in MASL’s top tier.
This season, Detroit competes in MASL 2’s Eastern Conference with Colorado, Chicago, Cincinnati and Muskegon.
“We stepped back because of financing and we’re rebuilding our professional team,” said Mario Scicluna, who serves as co-owner, coach and player. “We’re giving an opportunity for up-and-coming young players.
“Once we rebuild the foundation, we will jump up to division one.”
Waza Flo’s roster is a mixture of homegrown players fortified with veterans like Brazilian midfielder Ricardo Lopes and Bosnian midfielder Mirsad Halep. The team is off to a dreadful 0-4 start — all road encounters, which Mario puts down to growing pains.
“It’s going to take a second for our younger guys to catch up to the speed, play and the physicality of the game we’re playing,” Mario said.
Indoor soccer’s selling point is its speed and hell-bent nature where a five-goal lead can evaporate as quickly as a teardrop placed in front of a blowtorch. On that front, Dominic Scicluna almost sounds like Vince McMahon.
“It’s a hard-hitting sport. We’re talking high-impact soccer here,” said Dominic, who still plays at 46. “We’re talking the referees let us go at it and we’re talking a city of Detroit that loves hockey. If this is a hockey town and a hockey city, then people if they open their hearts and minds and need something to do when there is no hockey or there is no basketball, they need to get turned up and come to one of our games.”
Melvindale Arena is Waza Flo’s Roman Coliseum for their rock ’em, sock ’em brand of soccer, where a game can average eight to 10 goals and include power plays with two-minute penalties.
The former municipal ice rink can squeeze in about 1,000, Mario said. Waza Flo crowds draw from the nearby Latin and Arabic communities, which provide “a lot of culture and vibe” to games, as well as soccer mom and dads who want their children to see how the pros do it, Dominic added.
With its high scoring and physical play, indoor soccer emerged in the late 1970s as a way to introduce the game to skeptical American audiences. The hybrid took off with teams like the Major Indoor Soccer League St. Louis Steamers and New York Arrows playing to 18,000 fans or more.
Popularity waned as the traditional outdoor game has slowly taken hold. The Sciclunas refuse to let Motor City indoor soccer wither, though.
For one, they see a practical application. Indoor soccer, which is played with hockey dasher boards, is merely the American version of futsal, a five-a-side court game played with a smaller, harder ball that is popular in South America, Dominic said.
“Have you heard of Messi? Have you heard of Ronaldo? They all played futsal,” said Dominic, referring to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. “Pele gave arena soccer two thumbs up because he said it was faster, quicker and you had to be more technical, you had to be stronger.”
The Scicluna brothers ties to the indoor game run deeper and involve family.
Their uncle Paul Scicluna help found Total Soccer, which blossomed into a number of indoor soccer facilities in the Metro Detroit area.
He also served as part owner of the National Professional Soccer League Detroit Rockers, which won the league title in its second year of operation.
Known as the “Godfather of Michigan soccer,” the Maltese immigrant was instrumental in building the Livonia Wolves (boys) and Hawks (girls) programs. He also served as Eastern Michigan first women’s soccer coach and has the school’s soccer field named in his honor.
More so, Scicluna, who died in a single-vehicle crash on U.S. 23 in April 1999, served as a father figure to Mario and Dominic, Waza Flo general manager Kathy Coyne said.
“He helped raise those boys,” said Coyne, who also managed the Total Soccer facilities.
The Scicluna brothers share their late uncle’s passion for the sport, having spent countless hours doing school clinics in southwest Detroit. Poverty is the biggest hurdle, Mario said.
“We literally coached in every grade school, middle school and the high school in southwest Detroit, but it was costing us thousands of dollars every year and you can only tap people’s pockets so much,” he said.
The brothers finance Waza Flo through four tournaments and five camps they operate. They are looking for a sponsor or two to see them through this indoor campaign.
They’re willing to tackle any financial hardships to keep playing indoors.
“It’s just about keeping that tradition of indoor soccer alive and highly competitive soccer available,” Mario said.
Detroit Waza Flo 2018 home schedule
Jan. 13 vs. Chicago Mustangs
Jan. 20 vs. Cincinnati Swerve
Jan. 27 vs. Muskegon Risers
Feb. 10 vs. Chicago Mustangs
Feb. 17 vs. Cincinnati Swerve
Feb. 24 vs. Muskegon Risers
Saturday kickoff: 7:05 p.m.
Games at Melvindale Arena, 4900 S. Dearborn, Melvindale