Detroit Sun midfielder Madison Schupbach, who played with the Bowling Green Falcons, says the pro-am women's team is comprised of top-notch players from Division I and II college programs. Larry O'Connor, Detroit News
The Detroit Sun, Metro Detroit’s representatives in the United Women’s Soccer circuit, are dreaming big entering their second year, but the fledgling club might be excused for those grandiose visions.
In its inaugural season, the Skipper Mukhtar-coached side blazed to a 6-1-3 record in the 20-team second division circuit where its nascent journey ended in a 1-0 Midwest Conference finals playoff defeat to eventual league champion Grand Rapids FC.
The Sun open their season Friday against the Brighton-based Michigan Legends at Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac. Kickoff is 8 p.m.
Talk to Detroit Sun president Steve Hawthorne and it’s hard not to get caught in the enthusiasm he sees for women’s soccer’s potential in the Motor City.
At the core of his lofty five-year plan is a 5,000-seat soccer-specific stadium, which would be constructed within the city limits.
Hawthorne, who is a retired entrepreneur who specialized in home construction and real estate, doesn’t believe such a facility would require a huge financial undertaking.
He cites the modular stadium concept used by Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps, who played at 27,528-seat Empire Stadium for two seasons before moving into BC Place. Empire Stadium was a temporary structure and cost $14.4 million.
For comparison, the price tag on Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures soccer-specific stadium, which was part of an office, retail and residential complex, was projected at $1.46 billion. Those plans were scrapped in favor of using Ford Field in Detroit’s bid for a Major League Soccer franchise.
Modular stadiums are basic in concept and construction. Such unadorned facilities are erected in sections — brought in like shipping containers — and are easily expandable.
“There’s all sorts of ways to put a facility in,” said Hawthorne, who lives in Grand Rapids. “You don’t have to put in $20 million. Detroit City (FC) just rocks that place over at Keyworth, right? Look at what they are able to do there.”
Some investors at the grassroots level have kicked in some “exploratory” money, said Hawthorne, who is scouting potential sites within the city. He’s looking at putting together a 12-foot rendering next winter to generate interest in the proposal.
Non-soccer uses for such a facility could involve a farmer’s market, said the soccer booster, whose first association with the beautiful game came when his father would listen to Liverpool matches on short-wave radio. “It’s got to be organic,” said Hawthorne, who hopes to see such a stadium in place by Year 5.
For the time being, the Sun will continue to play at the 600-seat indoor Ultimate Soccer Arenas, which is also home to men soccer’s highly successful Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League.
The Sun evolved from a U20 Michigan Premier Development Academy squad coached by Mukhtar, which won a national championship 2014.
As then, the Sun’s roster is mostly comprised of Metro Detroit women who play or played collegiately at Big Ten to Division II schools. The area’s women’s soccer talent pool is deep, enough so the Sun field a competitive reserve side in the Michigan Premier Soccer League.
Teachers, nurses, advertising executives and business managers are among professions represented on the Sun roster. The team also features a pediatrician, an engineer with Ford Motor Co., and a medical biologist.
Older players, some in their early 30s, mentor younger college-aged players.
“A great group and a true sisterhood,” Hawthorne said.
Captain Dani (Haelewyn) Evans and midfielder Madison Schupbach reflect the Sun’s cohesiveness.
Evans played at Oakland University from 2008-10, earning All-Summit League honors in her senior season. Schupbach starred at Bowling Green from 2014-17 where she was all-MAC.
They are both Rochester Hills Stoney Creek High graduates, but have forged divergent paths in the game.
Schupbach, a 5-foot-2 dynamo who led the Sun with nine goals and four assists last season, has sights on playing professionally abroad (Sun goalkeeper and 2017 UWS defensive player of the year Caitlyn Clem just signed to play with an Icelandic pro team Selfoss).
Meanwhile, Evans will return to playing co-ed once the Sun season is done.
“I’m a bit older, though,” said Evans, 29, who had four goals and four assists last season, “so it allows me to keep playing at a high level against college players and to keep the momentum going with that. It gives me the opportunity to work with players I haven’t been able to in the past. Maybe I’ve coached them or played with them prior but not as long as I (would’ve) liked, so I get to do that.”
The Sun plays attacking soccer, which is due to the team’s premier contingent of goalkeepers and locked-down backline.
“If you are in the stands, it’s a fun style to watch,” Mukhtar said.
Not lost on the Sun coach and players is being a role model for girls.
Said Schupbach: “I think we set a good example of where women’s soccer is going in the United States.”
Midfielder Dani Evans says women's pro-am soccer team likes to use the full-width of the field to attack. Larry O'Connor, Detroit News
2018 DETROIT SUN SCHEDULE
Friday, May 11 vs. Michigan Legends at Ultimate Soccer Arenas, 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 13 vs. Indy Premier SC at Ultimate Soccer Arenas, 6 p.m.
Sunday, May 20 vs Grand Rapids FC at Grandville High School, 6 p.m.
Friday, May 25 vs. Grand Rapids FC at Ultimate Soccer Arenas, 8 p.m.
Sunday, June 3 vs. Genesee FC at Atwood Stadium, 4 p.m.
Friday, June 8 vs. Genesee FC at Ultimate Soccer Arenas, 8 p.m.
Sunday, June 17 vs. Ford Wayne United at Indiana Tech University, 2 p.m.
Sunday, June 24 vs. Lansing United at East Lansing Soccer Complex, noon
Friday, June 29 vs. Michigan Legends at Legacy Center Fieldhouse, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 6 vs. Fort Wayne United at Ultimate Soccer Arenas, 7 p.m.