Semi-professional soccer is experiencing a big bounce in the Metro Detroit area.
This month, five teams kicked off their respective seasons in the tri-county region, highlighted by Detroit City FC’s regular-season debut before 5,041 supporters Friday at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck.
Le Rouge’s immense popularity, as evidenced by its crowds of 4,000-5,000 at the historic stadium in the ethnically diverse neighborhood, has prompted other teams to follow suit by moving to densely populated neighborhoods while drawing awareness to the blossoming semi-pro network that spans three leagues.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Dan Duggan, Michigan Bucks owner and CEO. “It’s what we would’ve hoped would have happened when we started this 25 years ago.
“Our goal was to give these aspiring college kids a place to play in the summertime in a professional environment.”
Through its rich quarter century history, the Premier Development League club in Pontiac has produced numerous professional soccer players. Dominic Cervi (Celtic), Pat Noonan (New England Revolution) and Jacob Peterson (Atlanta United) are but a few notable Bucks alums.
The PDL is considered the top amateur circuit in the U.S., which unofficially puts it a smidge above the National Premier Soccer League in which Detroit City FC, the Berkley-based Michigan Stars and AFC Ann Arbor play.
The PDL and NPSL, as well as the recently formed Premier League of America, rely heavily on college players.
The respective soccer leagues are reminiscent of what primed baseball’s Adray League, said Chris Corteg, Michigan Stars general manager. The former Detroit-area diamond circuit featured teams whose rosters were comprised of players from state colleges who honed their skills during the summer.
Detroit City FC has taken it a step further. The sixth-year NPSL club has successfully fused player development with a fanatical grassroots support, which has captured worldwide attention.
“Every club would like to build on what Detroit City FC has done,” the Stars’ Corteg said.
Marketing is key, which is why is Oakland County FC is going full throttle on spreading its purple-and-gold message. The team's website features radio podcasts and links to Youtube videos.
This season, the Premier League of America club shifted base from Stoney Creek High in Rochester Hills to a more “centralized” part of the county, Royal Oak High School, owners Benjamin Rode and Nick Morana said. The team's match-day experience includes live music, promotional giveaways, and food booths.
Oakland County FC soon found it had a neighbor.
The Michigan Stars joined their women’s team, Motor City FC, at Hurley Field in Berkley after playing two seasons at Pontiac Wisner Stadium. The team wanted to be embedded into a neighborhood.
The Stars also hope to tap into the youth soccer base in Berkley, Ferndale and Royal Oak to drum up attendance.
The club expects to draw 1,000 to 1,500 spectators for Sunday’s clash with Detroit City FC, which brings strong support from the Northern Guard.
Neither club is too concerned about the other encroaching on its turf.
“Hopefully, we do well and they do well for the good of the game,” Corteg said.
HOME: Ultimate Soccer Arenas, 867 South Blvd., Pontiac
LEAGUE: Premier Development League
SEASON: Through mid-August
Dates to consider: Wednesday, May 17, vs. Indy Eleven, U.S. Open Cup at Ultimate Soccer Arenas; Bucks continue cup run after downing AFC Ann Arbor 1-0 in the first round.
Players to watch: Grand Rapids native and midfielder Brad Dunwell (Wake Forest) made Top Drawer Soccer’s PDL Players to Watch list.
Outlook: The Bucks are the defending PDL champions who reload every season with the top collegiate talent across the nation.
DETROIT CITY FC
HOME: Keyworth Stadium
LEAGUE: National Premier Soccer League
SEASON: Through early August
TICKETS: $10, $15 and $50 VIP
Dates to consider: May 27, vs. Glentoran FC, 50th anniversary of the Detroit Cougars; June 2, Grand Rapids FC; and July 7, vs. AFC Ann Arbor.
Players to watch: Midfielders Cyrus Saydee; Jeff Adkins and David Edwardson; forward Tommy Catalano.
Outlook: Detroit City FC can poach goals with the best, but the team is lax at the back and the highly competitive Great Lakes West is unforgiving with AFC Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids FC, Kalamazoo FC, Lansing United and Michigan Stars all too willing to capitalize on mistakes.
HOME: Hurley Field, 2400 Robina Ave., Berkley
SEASON: Through mid-July
Dates to consider: May 19, vs. Grand Rapids FC; June 2, vs. AFC Ann Arbor; July 7 vs. Lansing United.
Players to watch: Roster still being finalized
Outlook: Michigan Stars have a difficult time in a congested Great Lakes West. The club will have to rely on first-year coach Morris Lupenec’s eye for talent and ability to motivate.
OAKLAND COUNTY FC
HOME: Royal Oak High, 1500 Lexington
LEAGUE: Premier League of America
SEASON: Through mid-August
Dates to consider: June 3, vs. Muskegon Risers; July 22 vs. Carpathia FC.
Players to watch: Midfielder Hamid Barry (Oakland), midfielder Jonathan Barnes, forward Javier Steinwascher, goalkeeper Cary Wilson, defender Connor Ballantyne and defender Talal Hamodi.
Outlook: OCFC is motivated and highly organized (the club has a reserve side), and quickly could become the Premier League of America’s flagship franchise.
HOME: Avondale High, 2800 Waukegan St., Auburn Hills
SEASON: through early August.
TICKETS: Free admission according to team Facebook page
Dates to consider: June 4, vs. Ole Soccer; June 28, vs. Oakland County FC
Players to watch: Forward Dane Laird (Madonna) scored both goals in team’s 2-0 victory over Muskegon Risers Saturday.
Outlook: Carpathia Kickers are synonymous with amateur soccer in the Detroit area. The Sterling Heights-based organization has been involved in the game since the 1950s, winning men’s titles at state and national levels. The club’s venture into the Premier League of America is a natural extension of that involvement.