Carpathia FC is bringing something to the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League that no pterodactyl fuchsia-color logo branding scheme or social media blitz could ever achieve.
The Sterling Heights-based German club is rolling up to the semi-pro circuit flashing seven decades of rich history.
Carpathia Club formed in 1913 to promote Donauschwaben and German culture, adding a soccer program in 1952 that won the U.S. national amateur cup 10 years later in 1962.
For the past two seasons, the team has played in the fifth-tier United Soccer Premier League, winning the Midwest East Division (5-1-2) title and falling to Joliet (Ill.) 3-0 in the Midwest Conference semifinals this summer.
Prior to the UPSL, Carpathia competed in the Great Lakes-based Premier League of America for three years.
The time is right to move on up, said Bruce Wilden, Carpathia owner and president.
“It's going to be a really good fit for us,” said Wilden, who also coached the team but will relinquish the job in 2020. “There is going to be some travel. We like to travel; we like to have fun. We have Columbus. We have Fort Wayne. We have Muskegon, whom we've played before. ... I think we have a chance to compete and win it.”
Carpathia will continue to play its home matches at 2,000-seat Avondale High School. About 150-200 people attend games, which have been free to attend.
The team would make $500 at the gate if it charged admission, but “I’d rather have the people there,” said Wilden, who plans to keep the free admission policy in place next season.
Carpathia’s choir and dance groups sell knockwurst and bratwurst to raise money at matches.
The club is not seeking sponsors, either. Clinton Township-based Greene Metal Products, where Wilden’s president, will remain the main underwriter.
“I want to establish ourselves at least one year in the NPSL to show everybody what we have on and off the field,” said Wilden, a four-year letter winner in soccer at Michigan State. “So eventually I will go after sponsors, but I will sponsor it myself for the first year. We're in it for the long term. Carpathia is a long-standing club.
“We have to build the clientele. We want people to watch because we play a brand of soccer where everyone goes all out. We just play. We get the ball we attack. We counter well. We push it.”
Ideally, Carpathia would like to have one or two home encounters at the club’s Utica Road headquarters.
The site has regulation soccer fields and a locker room, but falls short on other NPSL requirements calling for separate team dressing rooms, scoreboard, PA system and seating for 500-1,000 people.
Carpathia Club hosts an annual Donauschwaben festival in July, which celebrates the culture of Danube Swabians, who are German speakers from a handful of southeastern European countries, particularly those along the Danube River.
A coinciding match with Chicago-based RWB Adria a couple of years ago at the festival drew nearly 3,000 spectators, Wilden said.
“We could make it work but we would need their (NPSL) permission,” he said.
Carpathia’s upward move also maintains NPSL’s presence in the Detroit area, which has seen a musical chairs of teams switching leagues during the offseason.
Detroit City FC, which won the NPSL Members Cup this fall, is leaving the semi-pro circuit after eight years to join the fledgling third division National Independent Soccer Association this spring.
AFC Ann Arbor is also departing the NPSL to link up with the U.S. Soccer Federation-sanctioned USL League Two. Oakland County FC, which played in UPSL, also announced a switch to the USL2 this offseason.
NPSL and UPSL are overseen by the U.S. Adult Soccer Association.
“I think the NPSL, I believe, is a step above,” said Oakland University men’s soccer coach Eric Pogue, who played for Carpathia FC. Some of Pogue’s OU players also play for Carpathia during the summer.
“It will be interesting to see how it all works because there seems to be a lot of teams leaving the NPSL to go to the league the Bucks are in, USL2. So, I think all the dominoes are kind of falling. One team leaves and it has kind of a trickle-down effect.”
Through the years, Carpathia Kickers were a major player in Metro Detroit men’s amateur soccer amateur circles when teams were largely drawn up along ethnic lines.
As soccer became more popular in the 1980s and culturally based sides faded, Carpathia remained strong in the Michigan Premier Soccer League by being inclusive.
At one time, the club boasted 40 youth teams representing all age groups. That’s dwindled to five or so as other “mega” youth programs like the Nationals, Liverpool and Michigan Jaguars have thrived, Wilden said.
Wilden sees Carpathia’s venture into the NPSL as helping raise the club’s profile, which could help in restoring the number of youth sides.
Former U.S. national team player Brian Maisonneuve played for Carpathia before joining Vardar. Maisonneuve is the Ohio State men’s soccer coach.
Carpathia has also been a landing place for numerous college players, including those from University of Detroit Mercy, Madonna and OU, who need to stay sharp during the summer.
Carpathia will maintain a side in the MPSL, which will act as a reserve team for the NPSL contingent.
Pogue, who was a standout goalkeeper at Oakland, would play for Carpathia and the Mid-Michigan Bucks at the same time because they were in different leagues.
The Oakland coach cites Carpathia luminaries Mike Talan, John Huth, Keith McVittie, Kurt Seiberling, and John Motzer as having a profound impact on his soccer upbringing.
“The members there make you feel like part of the club,” Pogue said. “You were encouraged to come in and have a meal afterward and have some drinks with the old-timers and it was really frowned upon if you didn't participate in the culture of Carpathia and just played soccer.
“That's what I think makes them unique. It is more than just a soccer club, it's a club that just happens to have a soccer team, not a soccer team that just happens to have a club.”