In terms of this week’s soccer friendlies, Tuesday’s Detroit City FC-Venezia FC encounter might be dismissed as an undercard to the following day’s AS Roma-Paris Saint Germain clash at Comerica Park.
That would be shortsighted.
Perhaps no soccer team has compiled a more compelling story than the Winged Lions of Venice. In two short years, the club has risen from the ashes of bankruptcy to win consecutive fourth and third division championships along with a Copa Italia.
The club is managed by AC Milan icon Filippo Inzaghi, whose 70 goals rank fourth all-time in European cup competitions.
Venezia FC will start this season in Serie B, a step below Italy’s renowned Serie A, in which AS Roma competes with the likes of AC Milan, Inter and Juventus, and in 2½ years will move into a new 25,000-seat stadium — being designed by Detroit’s Rosetti and Associates — near Marco Polo airport.
The man driving the renaissance is high-profile New York lawyer Joe Tacopina, who’s best known for being Alex Rodriguez’s agent.
While Tuesday’s encounter with DCFC is the Venetian club’s only match on U.S. soil, it’s an entrée to bigger things, the self-assured chairman pledged.
“Even one game was important for us to get to the States because we are globalizing a brand,” Tacopina said in a telephone interview from Venice. “This is a club I literally took from the bottom up. We’re the first team in 57 years to go from the fourth division to the second division in two seasons, which is a fantastic achievement.”
Part of Tacopina’s ambitious marketing strategy for Venezia is to tap into the city’s steady tourism stream, which sees 13 million visitors pour in each year. He notes soccer giants Real Madrid — which drew crowds of more than 100,000 in friendlies in 2015 and ’16 at Michigan Stadium — attracts a lion’s share of its fan base from outside of its native Spain.
Venezia’s new stadium will include visitor-friendly amenities such as a hotel, shopping center and small amphitheater.
“We’re looking very much to North America and to Asia because most of our tourists to the city come from North America and Asia, and it’s something that is important for us to focus on,” he said.
Detroit’s sizeable Italian-American population made for an ideal launch pad for Venezia’s global initiative.
“On a personal level, being an Italian American, it’s a matter of pride as the president and representative of Venice football club, representing one of the most historical cities in the world, being able to bring that team to the United States is a nice sensation for myself and my partners, all of whom are Americans,” Tacopina said.
Sean Mann, one of DCFC’s owners, was contacted by former Venezia CEO Ted Philipakos about playing a friendly. Le Rouge, which routinely draws between 4,000-6,000 fans despite playing in the fourth tier of American soccer, has drawn worldwide attention on the soccer landscape for its vociferous grassroots support.
This will mark the third international match hosted by the semi-pro club, including a visit by Northern Ireland’s Glentoran FC for the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Detroit Cougars in May.
“It should be one of our bigger crowds,” said Mann, whose team saw a season-high 6,972 fans turn out at Keyworth Stadium for its match against AFC Ann Arbor last week. “Hopefully, the weather holds up and we get a packed house.”
Coincidentally, Tacopina served as vice-president of AS Roma and was a minority investor before taking over Venezia. His soccer resume also includes a term as president/owner of Serie A Bologna FC.
His deep-rooted interest in soccer stemmed from his immigrant father Cosmo’s undying love for Roma. Venezia players, staff and Tacopina plan to be at Comerica for the International Champions Cup kickoff.
“(Roma’s coinciding visit) wasn’t a factor for us; it was a sweetener,” Tacopina said. “We would’ve come to play Detroit FC regardless if Roma was playing or not playing or anyone else was playing.”
Venezia FC at Detroit City FC
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Keyworth Stadium, Hamtramck
Tickets: $20, available at detcityfc.com
Also: A special kick-off party will take place 6-8 p.m. Monday at Amnesia at MotorCity Casino Hotel. The event will include a meet and greet and Q&A session with DCFC and Venezia FC representatives, including Venezia manager, Filippo Inzaghi.