Fans provide glimpse of pro soccer potential in Detroit

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers home field is transformed into a soccer stadium for the AS Roma vs Paris Saint-Germain soccer match with an attendance of over 33,000.

Detroit — On a hot, sultry afternoon, a boy wore a Barcelona Neymar jersey accompanied by his parents riding the People Mover to Comerica Park ahead of the International Champions Cup match between soccer titans AS Roma and Paris Saint-Germain.

At the Grand Circus station stop, a security guard jokingly admonished another boy for the audacity of sporting the sharp yellow colors of Brazil. “I’m from Argentina,” he said.

Those brief glimpses, not to mention those already congregating outside Comerica four hours before kickoff wearing the Benetton of jerseys representing soccer’s elite (Real Madrid, Arsenal, AS Roma and Paris Saint-Germain) offer hope to diehards the game, namely Major League Soccer, could succeed in Detroit.

PSG beats AS Roma on penalties before 36,000-plus

To numerous skeptics — and, yes, the soccer haters — there is more tangible evidence to be offered:

■The raucous 5,000 to 7,000 crowds semi-professional Detroit City FC routinely draws at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck.

■The 100,000-plus attendances for International Champions Cup matches at Michigan Stadium in 2014 and 2016.

The Manchester United-Real Madrid encounter in August 2014 drew international attention for being witnessed by a record 109,318 spectators.

■The 34,538 faithful who turned out at Ford Field to see the U.S. women trounced Haiti in September 2015.

Yet these are false equivalencies.

The players bearing the names of Dani Alves, Edin Dzecko and Thiago Silva who walked out from the Comerica tunnel behind home plate are not MLS players.

And the 36,289 who nearly filled the baseball stadium to capacity are sophisticated enough to know the difference.

Yes, they oohed when Paris Saint-Germain’s Spanish forward Jese nearly latched onto a corner kick for a goal in the sixth minute. They cheered minutes earlier when AS Roma defender Bruno Peres sashayed down the right flank by PSG defenders.

They collectively went bonkers when PSG's Marquinhos hammered in the match's opening goal in the 36th minute.

The setting was ideal.

AS Roma's Lorenzo Pellegrini and Paris St. Germain’s Dani Alves (32) battle for a loose ball during the first half. The teams played in the International Champions Cup at Comerica Park.

As the sun set, a soft orange glow was cast over the proceedings with the Penobscot Building and Ren Center peering over the top in the background. Soccer belonged.

An MLS franchise would need the same scenery, if not an international caliber player (Orlando has Kaka and New York City FC has David Villa). to prosper.

It’s hard not to believe Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores couldn’t conspire to bring such a marquee player to Detroit.

Meanwhile, fans become inoculated by the sport through many different means.

They see their children play on Saturday mornings. They grow to love the game by watching English Premier matches on NBCSN or through the successes or failures of U.S. men’s and women’s national teams.

Those folks as well as the casual sports fan will be tempted to see a Detroit MLS team — and call it their own — because that’s what we do here.

In terms of MLS, AS Roma’s manager Eusebio Di Francesco might have said it best during a news conference when asked what makes for a passionate soccer city.

“For me, the secret for a city or a country to be successful for football (soccer) is start from the bottom and grow toward the top,” said Di Francesco through an interpreter.

Wednesday’s ICC match was part of that growing process.