Veteran pair Greg Janicki, Cory Miller offer guidance to Detroit City FC

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News

Amid Detroit City FC’s roster brimming with young unbridled talent is a pair of veterans serving as guiding lights.

Former Michigan State standout Greg Janicki and Cory Miller played together on the backline for the North American Soccer League’s Indy Eleven for two seasons, which included an appearance in the 2016 Soccer Bowl against the New York Cosmos.

The former teammates have reunited on DCFC this season but for different reasons.

Janicki, 33, who retired in 2016 after a 10-year career that spanned three U.S. professional leagues, including first-tier Major League Soccer with DC United and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The defender also played with the NASL San Antonio Scorpions and the United Soccer League’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds.  

Janicki, who is married with two sons, Adrian, 4, and William, 2, moved on with his post-soccer career. He works as a package engineer with Bloomfield Hills-based Paper Express.

In his spare time, the defender offered to play, recruit or assist the semi-professional team coached by Ben Pirmann, whom he knew from his days at Michigan State. 

“I missed the game a little bit, I wanted to be around the guys,” said Janicki, who left the game partly due to concerns over concussions he had sustained. “Ben Pirmann was a friend of mine. 

“I thought it was a good opportunity to be involved with the club in some capacity and help out in any way I could.”

The New Baltimore native and former Anchor Bay standout appeared in Le Rouge's marquee match of the 2017 season, the national semifinal against Midland Odessa where his goal-bound header rang off the crossbar in an enthralling contest DCFC eventually lost on penalty kicks.

"It was a hair away from putting us in (the national final)," he said.  "That would have been a highlight for my career."

Miller, 29, also carries a hefty professional resume.

The 6-foot-2 center back paved his career with the USL Carolina RailHawks and Los Angeles Blues before landing with Indy Eleven, where he made 54 appearances from 2014-17.

Miller is coming off the second of two surgeries to repair ligament damage to his right ankle sustained from an ill-fated attempt to block a shot during a game against Edmonton two seasons ago.

To compound matters, Miller and his Indy Eleven teammates played as uncertainty swirled around NASL as the league fought to attain Division 2 sanctioning from the United States Soccer Federation.

The eight-team circuit eventually crumbled, leaving the Indianapolis-based club to join the USL. Indy Eleven, which finished sixth in the combined spring and fall standings, also changed coaches.

In the upheaval, Miller wasn’t offered a contract.

Miller linked up with Pirmann, with Janicki serving as the intermediary.

“A lot of players out there need teams,” Janicki said. “They need a place to play to continue their careers. Cory is a great guy. We got along really well. Cory and his wife’s family are from here. I thought it would be a good fit.”

NASL’s implosion created a “perfect storm” where players of Miller’s pedigree find themselves playing in the fourth tier of U.S. soccer.

“It's huge,” said Miller, whose wife Brittany Hengesh played soccer and volleyball at Canton High. “I don't think I would be searching as hard as I am now. There has been an influx of 200 players. When you have that many less teams to sign players, it kind of shrinks the market and makes it hard to sign with a team, especially coming off an injury or surgery.

“It's definitely created some hard times.”

Miller is rolling with it, though. He doesn't portray the sullen veteran playing beneath his station.

During a break in practice at Lawrence Tech, Miller lined up Gatorade bottles in a row of four during an animated discussion about defensive tactics with Pirmann.

Miller has been a calming influence whose 6-2 frame provides size and physicality on DCFC’s backline, Pirmann said.

“There's a lot of good players out there and he's one of them,” Pirmann said. “I think he's got abilities to play whether that is with Detroit City or other clubs. I think that is up to him and his long-term goals. I think he's more trying to get back more into it right now.”

Miller joins Le Rouge’s revolving center-back contingent, which includes crowd favorite Seb Harris, former standout MSU Jimmy Fiscus, stalwart Stephen Carroll and rangy Santiago Amigo. “And I’ve had to use all of them this season due to injuries,” Pirmann said.

Janicki and Miller both said the younger DCFC players are well-immersed in technical skill. The only advice the wily veterans can lend is wisdom.

Janicki pointed to Detroit's gallant U.S. Cup run, which ended in a 4-1 extra-time defeat to second- division FC Cincinnati May 16.

"The differences are minimal," he said. "It's just an experience thing. It's a feel-for-the-game thing. It's not me telling them how to do a stepover or something like that. 

"There are some kids who are pretty far along compared to where I was when I was their age."

Miller just tries to impart on the younger DCFC players to "be as intense in training sessions as you are in games," he said. "I think that is the only thing I can bring to it. A lot of these guys are really good players, honestly. The level is really good at training.

"A lot of times I'm trying to keep up with them."