Detroit — The buzz started soon after Tuesday’s ruminations that billionaires Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores were looking to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Detroit.
It continued Wednesday with the official announcement of the proposal to build a stadium in downtown Detroit — and it continued to spread throughout the burgeoning soccer community in Metro Detroit.
“It’s great in that it creates a buzz and interest around soccer in the city,” said Dewayne Jones, athletic director of Detroit’s Police Athletic League. “It creates an opportunity for kids who maybe didn’t understand and know that opportunities existed beyond the college level.”
Jones said the growth in soccer’s popularity in recent years has increased the number of participants in PAL to more than 3,500 each year. That includes about 1,500 in recreation leagues and 1,000 in the Soccer for Success program and GOAL league, a partnership with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the city of Detroit.
The excitement also reached George’s Soccer Supply in Lathrup Village.
“It’s been mentioned by customers coming through the door and talking about it — it’s an exciting thing,” said Sebastian Schwager, a manager at George’s. “It’s a professional sport in the highest division America has to offer. It’ll do great things for soccer in the city because the Metro Detroit area has a huge soccer community.”
The proposed stadium is part of a $1 billion plan for development on Gratiot, just north of downtown. If plans are approved and Detroit is awarded a franchise, it could start as soon as 2020 or 2021.
On a smaller scale, the existing teams in Detroit — Detroit City FC and Motor City Football Club — are a good start, but an MLS franchise would be a game-changer.
“They’ll be able to have a professional team to root for besides the Seattle Sounders or the L.A. Galaxy or the New York Red Bulls,” said Rich Ludwig, who coaches the U11-14 group for Waza FC, a youth travel-soccer group. “It’s going to be big for the city of Detroit.”
Waza has 81 teams in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and is one of several local groups that would benefit from having a top-tier pro team. While there isn’t a huge high school soccer presence in Detroit, Jones is hoping that within a few years, that could change too.
“When you get Major League Soccer, you’re going to see major league players come in — and everything they have to offer,” Jones said. “The promotions and crowds are going to be a little bigger. You’re talking about playoffs and camps and clinics that hopefully this team would be able to provide.”
On that level, an MLS team also could draw from several areas, including Windsor and other Midwest cities. The residual impact on youth soccer could take some time to grow, but it wouldn’t just have an impact in the Detroit area.
Though the stadium and franchise still are years away, the possibilities are tantalizing.
“It’ll be an attraction to go to Detroit. It’ll be something a lot of people will come from Grand Rapids, coming down to see it,” Ludwig said. “’You’ll capture both markets, east and west (in Michigan), to come on down, because those are where the major pools of talent are.”