Detroit City FC is linking up with one of the state’s largest youth soccer organizations as the club makes the leap from a semi-professional team to a professional one this summer.
Under a long-term agreement, Canton Celtic Soccer and affiliated Genesee Celtic club will be rebranded as Detroit City FC Youth West and Detroit City FC Youth Genesee. An official announcement was expected to be made Saturday during the Canton club’s annual Winter Fest.
Length of the agreement was not released, but it is for “several years,” Detroit City CEO Sean Mann said.
DCFC will provide technical staff and will work with the youth organizations to develop a coaching curriculum for the program. As part of the partnership, youth club members will have access to DCFC coaches and players, as well as ticket discounts for Detroit City FC matches at Keyworth Stadium.
“This is an opportunity to extend our reach across this region through strategic partnerships, especially with us going professional,” Mann said, “getting our players out in the community and really ramping up the notion of being a true club in the classic European sense with a youth program underneath the first team.”
Canton Soccer Club recently marked its 40th anniversary, having started in 1978, and spans 56 premier and select teams along with 120 recreation sides. The western Wayne County suburban outfit has 130 coaches, both paid and volunteers.
The organization hosts the annual Canton Cup tournament during Memorial Day weekend, which draws more than 650 teams.
Similarly, Genesee Celtic Soccer Club has a rich history whose roots extend to 1979. The club was started by Tom Saxton, who is now Michigan State’s women's soccer coach, as the Flint Arrows before becoming the Michigan Arrows. Mali Walton, who starred at Oakland University before playing professionally in U.S. soccer’s second tier, is a product of the youth program.
The Davison-based outfit, which rebranded to Celtic in 2016, boasts 28 teams, which spans select, premier and recreational sides.
DCFC, whose wild success as a semi-professional club in eight years has garnered worldwide attention, has increasingly turned its attention to the youth game. Last summer, the club launched a select program with the Detroit Police Athletic League to develop players within the city at an affordable price.
DCFC was drawn to nonprofit Canton Soccer Club partly due to its financial accessibility to families, Mann said. Critics of U.S. youth soccer say the pay-to-play model is driving kids away from the game and crippling overall player development.
“We work on what we call a ‘zero budget,’ meaning at the end of the year if we end up at zero we’ve done a fantastic job,” said Pete Alexander, Canton Soccer Club director. “Our goal has always been to be as fiscally responsible as we can for all of our members.”
Under the agreement, DCFC and the youth organizations remain autonomous. Canton will serve as a conduit with the Michigan State Youth Soccer Association, helping with player registrations if other youth organizations become affiliates.
The transition from Celtic to Le Rouge will be gradual due to licensing agreements. DCFC is outfitted by Adidas; Canton through Under Armour.
Canton and Genesee will start by incorporating DCFC’s maroon and gold into their color schemes.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” Alexander said. “I think for our program, we’ve been looking at different ways to continue to grow and develop with the game, and I think aligning ourselves with a professional organization like DCFC is kind of that next step.”
In the short term, DCFC’s Mann envisions perhaps 2,000 or so more vehicles on area freeways adorned with Le Rouge decals.
Long-term, “It’s giving kids a chance to have a club to follow beyond their own playing days, that they have a personal connection to,” Mann said.