Detroit FC draws record 7,410 for home opener

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — After months of anticipation and renovation, the moment finally arrived.

Fans flooded into Keyworth Stadium as Detroit City FC took the field at its new home Friday night, starting a new chapter in the historic venue’s 80-year-old story.

And Detroit FC, as well as the atmosphere, certainly didn’t disappoint.

In its home opener and first-ever game at Keyworth, Detroit City FC and AFC Ann Arbor battled to a hard-fought, 1-1 draw in a National Premier Soccer League match in front of a Detroit FC record crowd of 7,410.

Alec Lasinski scored just before halftime for DCFC, which played the majority of the second half a man down. Dario Suarez converted a penalty kick for Ann Arbor (2-0-1 NPSL).

“I know on paper it looks like a good result playing a good team a man down for 45 minutes, not getting calls and bounces to go our way whatsoever, we’re still disappointed,” Detroit coach Ben Pirmann said. “We still put ourselves in that bad spot. With that being said, we played very hard.

“Our schedule has been crazy. That’s our fifth game in 10 days. I don’t even know how some of these guys are walking around. … DCFC, we’re tough and we’re going to play hard every single game. I told the guys I’m happy for them and proud of them but now we have to work smart, not just hard all the time.”

It was the first meeting between the two semi-pro soccer teams. Ann Arbor played in the Great Lakes Premier League during its inaugural 2015 season before joining the NPSL this year.

And needless to say, Detroit (2-1-2, 1-0-1 NPSL) and its rabid fan base provided a rude welcoming.

When Ann Arbor took the field for warm-ups prior to kickoff, it was greeted by large “Detroit City” and “Supporter Built” tifos that covered an entire section on each end of the east grandstand, and serenaded with chants of “DC-FC!” and “This is our house!” led by the raucous Detroit standing room-only supporter section.

But it didn’t stop there. By the game started, the taunts turned to clouds of billowing yellow, white and red smoke, and a “The club of the people” tifo was unveiled along the wall at the south side of the stadium.

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“It’s incredible,” Pirmann said of the turnout. “I’ve said these fans are the best in the country, I don’t care what level. They proved it again tonight.

“And it’s not just the die-hard lunatics in the Northern Guard, it’s everybody. It’s the community, this city. I mean you look at the banners and look at what we stand for. This is special.”

Ann Arbor was unfazed as it opened the game with the first solid scoring chance after it was awarded a free kick to the left side of the Detroit box in the 5th minute only to have its cross quickly cleared out by the defense.

Detroit didn’t threaten until the 16th minute when Ali Al-Gashamy ripped a shot from outside the left side of the box that sailed just over the crossbar.

After much of the play early in the first half was back-and-forth, Ann Arbor started to string together quality possessions and chances, only to come up empty-handed each time.

In the 18th minute, Suarez sent a cross screaming through the box wide of his teammates and into touch. Five minutes later, Yuri Farkas got off an open look but his shot landed right in the hands of Detroit keeper Nate Steinwascher (U-D Mercy).

Then in the 34th minute, Ann Arbor’s Willie Bayemi broke loose along the right side and sent a pass atop the box to a trailing Farkas, who had his one-timer deflected over the net, and the Detroit defense was able to clear two consecutive corner kicks.

Detroit flipped the script and started applying the pressure toward the end of the first half. In the 40th minute, Billy Stevens (Michigan) sent header wide of the net and three minutes later, Brett Nason was unable to get much on a one-timer outside the box, sending a shot harmlessly out of bounds.

Detroit was able to break through just before halftime as Al-Gashamy sent a pass ahead to Lasinski, who split a pair of defenders after receiving the ball with his chest and chipped a shot past Ann Arbor keeper Fabian Veit for a 1-0 lead in the 45th minute.

Several Ann Arbor defenders argued that there should have been a handball called on Lasinski but the goal stood.

“It was literally just the perfect pass and I saw the goalkeeper coming out so I just took advantage of the shot and space that I had,” Lasinski said. “It all worked out perfectly. It had to be a perfect touch and it worked out, but it usually doesn’t. It worked out and it’s great to get the first goal at Keysworth Stadium.”

Lasinski said it wasn’t a play the team practices but was part of the game plan to push Ann Arbor back and get behind them in the first half.

“I’m just happy that we capitalized on one of the opportunities,” he said. “It was an incredible experience. Just seeing the fans and how everyone wanted to be here and was excited about the soccer game, it’s just incredible.”

Yet, Ann Arbor wasted little time providing the equalizer. After a turnover on Detroit’s side of the field, Suarez broke through the defense before being taken down in the box by Nason and awarded a penalty kick. Nason was given a red card on the play.

And Suarez took advantage, sending Steinwascher diving the other way as he slotted his shot into the right corner to even it at 1 roughly three minutes into the second half.

“I thought in the first half he was probably the best player on the field. He was a difference maker for us for sure,” Ann Arbor coach Eric Rudland said of Suarez. “He’s our guy when it comes to penalty kicks and I thought his placement was superb.”

Ann Arbor came within inches of taking the lead in the 61st minute with Detroit down to 10 men. J.P. Rylah raced past the defense and sent a shot from outside the right side of the box that skipped just past the left post.

Ann Arbor had an odd man rush in the 93rd minute but Steinwascher came out to make a huge save to keep it tied.

“A lot of teams will come into Detroit and say we’re happy with a draw,” Rudland said. “Quite frankly we felt like we were in a great position to win the game tonight. It played out as we expected. We played in pretty deep in the first half and absorbed some pressure but didn’t really give away much.”

Rudland added his team was fortunate to be the first team to play Detroit at Keyworth.

“We have a number of guys who have played in environments like this before in front of big crowds in North America or other places in the world. So those guys were electrified by the environment because they’re accustomed to playing at places like this,” Rudland said. “For some of our younger guys on the team, I think it was a cool experience for them.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins