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Detroit City FC to go pro in 2019

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News
Detroit City FC is shedding the term “semi” from its professional status, joining an 11-club pro circuit start that will kick off in 2019.

Detroit City FC is shedding the term “semi” from its professional status, joining an 11-club pro circuit that will kick off in 2019.

The National Premier Soccer League will debut the new venture at the end of the 2019 regular season with a cup competition from August to November.

A full league schedule will follow in 2020, featuring teams stocked with professional players, coaches and staff. Many details remain up in the air, but the move will only strengthen the club’s community roots, co-owner Alex Wright said.

Additional home matches and a season spread out over more months should heighten interest, Wright believes.

“It’s pretty amazing we’ve been able to get our fans to come out for that short summer season, sometimes twice a week, in the numbers that they have,” said Wright, referring to DCFC’s attendance at Hamtramck's Keyworth, which averaged 5,946 fans during a 13-match home slate last season. An exhibition against Italy Serie A Frosinone Calcio drew a record 7,887 spectators July 31.

“In order to be a more sustainable organization, but also in order to have a more sustainable supporting culture, you spread these games out more. More games in a stretched-out schedule is going to allow, not only our supporters to raise their game, but also more people to come out and get exposed to what we are doing. It’s going to create more revenue and more sponsorship opportunities that, in turn, is going to allow us to bolster the work that we are doing in the community.”

Season tickets being sold for the 2019 season will cover the NPSL Founders Cup home matches, Wright said.

Detroit City FC will join ASC San Diego, Cal FC, California United Strikers FC, Chattanooga FC, FC Arizona, Miami FC, Miami United FC, Milwaukee Torrent, New York Cosmos, and Oakland Roots in the new pro league.

The New York Cosmos and Miami FC both played in the former North American Soccer League, which went on hiatus in 2017 when the pro circuit lost its Division 2 sanctioning from U.S. Soccer.

"Detroit brings one of the best supporters' groups in the USA, a very committed fan base, a model that any team around the country needs to emulate," Joe Barone, NPSL chairman, said in a statement. "Detroit and its ownership group was a major driver in the NPSL Founders Cup. They are an important voice because of the successful business model that they have created." 

Though NPSL has not determined what level of divisional sanctioning it will seek, the league's professional venture is not intended to compete with Major League Soccer, an NPSL spokesman said.

"I don't think that this is the answer to that," said Joe Favorito, an NPSL marketing consultant. "This is not competitive with MLS." 

DCFC has been an NPSL member since the team's inception. The league operates in the fourth tier of U.S. soccer's pyramid and runs May-July, which is due to the availability of amateur/college players.

In the coming months, DCFC will grapple with how to pivot from a semi-professional outfit to a professional one midseason. As a pro club, DCFC could no longer rely on college players — which comprised a bulk of its roster — since they would lose their eligibility.

Another major consideration will be travel. Under the current setup, DCFC's opponents — Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids — are in the state or nearby Ohio or Indiana.

No Founders Cup schedule or format has been announced.

"We’re still focused with working with the league to make sure that this transition is smooth and that we turn the page cleanly on this new chapter for the team,” Wright said

The move to go pro has been a goal of DCFC ownership and supporters as the club felt it had outgrown the semi-professional ranks.

The six-year-old club's attendances have steadily increased, especially since the move to historic Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck three years ago. The stadium underwent a $750,000 supporter-funded renovation.


Twitter: @larryo1961