A simple halftime substitution during a recent Detroit City FC friendly enabled the fans to reconnect with its professional soccer past and a father to realize his dream of seeing his son follow in his footsteps.
Owen Finnerty played in goal for Le Rouge during the second half of DCFC’s 2-1 loss to Michigan State at The Corner Ballpark. As the rain fell, some of the drops of moisture hitting the ground were Bryan Finnerty’s tears when son Owen took the field.
Bryan “Goose” Finnerty was goalkeeper for the Detroit Rockers of the National Professional Soccer League, helping lead the club to a league title in 1992. The elder Finnerty, whose acrobatic heroics in goal and countless community endeavors off the field, became synonymous with Detroit pro soccer in the 1990s.
The father was overcome with emotion.
“I'm watching my son play with DCFC thinking my goodness, man, I feel super old,” said Finnerty, who is 51. "Also I was just crying like a baby when he came out to play and my wife's nudging me like, 'What in the world is wrong with you?' And I'm like look at the people here, the fans they come out to what's not even really designed to be a soccer stadium supporting it. This is what we started here 20 years ago. …This is unbelievable.”
Owen Finnerty, who graduates from Detroit Catholic Central this spring, is poised to step out from his father's shadow.
The Michigan Wolves Academy product is part of the U.S. Under-18 National Team and was a member of U.S. U16 Futsal squad.
He will play at Michigan this fall. In 45 minutes against MSU, he made several stops to keep Le Rouge in the match while getting a taste of what's in store when the Big Ten play commences.
This summer, Owen is working on an arrangement to train with USL League One's Lansing Ignite.
U.S. Soccer nixed an academy deal, which would have seen Owen train with USL Championship side Las Vegas Lights — a team coached by Bryan’s former San Diego State teammate Eric Wynalda — due to the Wolverine Lake teen not being a homegrown player.
The irony is Bryan didn’t want Owen to become a goalkeeper. The position wreaks havoc on the body as the father's list of injuries accumulated through four years of college and a 11-year pro career attest.
Amid the broken fingers (he has a prosthetic knuckle in his left middle finger), the elder Finnerty suffered a compound right leg fracture, a ruptured posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, two meniscus tears and repairs on the left knee, three broken ribs, three broken noses, fractured right cheek bone, broken right wrist and torn left rotator cuff.
Concussions? Several, he estimates. "They weren't counting back in the day," he added.
Yet Owen recalls the two in the family’s Wolverine Lake home basement when Bryan would kick Nerf balls toward him and he would instinctively save them.
“Ever since I was a young age, I had a knack for it,” said Owen, whose fraternal twin Josh also plays soccer and is headed to Division 3 Caltech. “When I was 12 years old, I switched full time to goalkeeping and I really just fell in love with it.”
Owen possesses a single-minded determination the position requires, his father said.
“He would beg to have me take 10 shots at him and if he didn’t hold onto all 10 in a row, we’d start all over again,” said Bryan, recalling the basement kickabouts. “So, I think as much as I really wanted him to play on the field sometimes, you just can’t take that out of him. It is what it is. I think it’s in his DNA.”
Bryan's fingerprints are linked to the area's soccer community, particularly in the 1990s.
The San Diego native was one of the most prominent members of the indoor soccer Detroit Rockers, which were in existence from 1990 to 2001 and played at Cobo Arena, Joe Louis Arena, The Palace of Auburn Hills and Compuware Arena.
He represented the club in the community, appearing at countless speaking engagements, soccer camps and through D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) events in schools.
"We were pretty thrilled to play 10 of the 11 years here," Finnerty said. "What I hope I contributed to that was honoring that commitment that Detroit sports gave to us, people gave to us. They came and watched games. They moved from Cobo over to The Joe and some from The Joe up to The Palace.
"That was just nice and so I hope that my commitment to the game both on the field and certainly off it ... all of those things were done out of love for being here."
Finnerty is among the litany of Rockers alumni who remain in the area, many of who moved into coaching. Their ranks include: Andy Chapman, United FC Michigan; Ian Fairbrother, United FC Michigan; Lars Richters, Michigan Wolves Hawks; Doug Landefeld, Michigan Wolves Hawks; Joe Malachino, Michigan Jaguars/Eastern Michigan; and Andy Wagstaff, Liverpool Academy/Flint City Bucks.
The former goalkeeper staked his post-career fortune in business, starting a franchise of cell phone stores with business partner Rob Emery and launching High Velocity Sports in Canton.
The 110,000 square-foot indoor sports facility opened in 2001 and has grown to include an under-cover regulation-sized soccer field. Finnerty used the proceeds from another cellular phone insurance venture to start a foundation, which offsets the costs of pay-to-play sports through scholarships and grants.
Finnerty and wife Denise, whom he proposed to on bended knee on the field during halftime at Cobo Arena, launched Opportunity Seed, which is a three-pronged operation. Denise, who taught high school alternative education in the Waterford School District, administers the foundation.
Opportunity Seed Capital is the venture capital arm that earmarks sports and technology sectors for investment while Opportunity Seed Sports is the sports facility consulting services arm. Profits from those entities are plowed into the foundation, which gives grants to schools and nonprofits.
Opportunity Seed, which does not operate as a 501(c)(3), has given out $250,000, Finnerty said.
"It's a nice circular investment and a nice way to know that, yes, I'm in the for-profit world of life, but whenever we generate income from the sale or the profit from a business, we know it's going to populate the foundation," Finnerty said. "It's a nice place to be."