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Detroit Sun switching to Corner Ballpark, giving area two semi-pro women's soccer teams

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News

Detroit summer soccer already is heating up.

And the women’s game is to thank for that.

This week, Detroit City FC announced Sam Piraine would coach its first women’s team, which is debuting in the United Women’s Soccer whose season runs from May to July. The former Madonna University standout is technical director for Detroit City FC Youth West, formerly Canton Celtics Soccer Club.

Aaron Roy will coach Corktown AFC

DCFC will not be the only women’s game in Detroit, though.

The Detroit Sun, a UWS club that’s played two seasons at Ultimate Arenas in Pontiac, is switching its home matches to The Corner Ballpark in Corktown this season.

The Sun hosted the Indiana Union in the first women’s soccer game played at the former Tiger Stadium site in June, losing 2-1. 

“With that development, it’s going to provide a local rivalry,” said Aaron Roy, who assumes the role of Sun coach. Roy served as associate coach with head coach Skipper Muhktar, who remains as club GM.

“That’s going to be a very exciting thing over the next couple of years, for us and them as well. It's got nowhere to go but up, the women's game, the fact there is the presence of two teams down in Detroit facing off every year, it's an exciting thing.”

The local moves coincide with an overall rise in fan interest women’s soccer worldwide, which has been highlighted by record-setting attendances.

A women’s international between England and Germany drew 77,000 spectators last month at London’s Wembley Stadium. Attendance records for women club matches have been smashed in Brazil, Mexico and England during the past year.

More: U.S. Soccer approves Detroit City FC, Michigan Stars to play in pro league NISA

In the U.S., the top-tier National Women’s Soccer League is seeing a knock-on effect from the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup victory in France.

Eight of nine NWSL sides — Houston the lone exception with a 7.2 percent decline — saw significant attendance increases in 2019. Portland’s 20,098 spectators a game led the NWSL last season.

Roy, who is a member of Ste. Anne de Detroit Catholic Church, believes the Sun can draw from southwest Detroit. 

Steve Hawthorne, who is one of the Sun's three owners, used to visit his great grandfather, a lifelong Corktown resident, where he'd watch the Tigers. Hawthorne sees the move as a great chance to partner with The Corner Ballpark, Police Athletic League and Corktown businesses.

The Sun will be hosting free soccer clinics and working with PAL to develop its soccer program, Hawthorne said.

"Being the first women's pro-am soccer team to call the city of Detroit home is both an honor and privilege," said Hawthorne, who lives in Grand Rapids.

Eddie Hudson, owner and general counsel of Troy-based Regions Title Agency LLC, has joined the Sun as an investor.

Along with the move, the Sun is overhauling its roster. The team finished 4-7 and third in the UWS East Conference Midwest Division behind first-place Indiana Union (8-3-1) and Lansing United (8-1-1).

The club is losing mainstay midfielder Dani Evans (Stoney Creek/Oakland U), who is concentrating on family. She is married to Jon Evans, another Oakland University alum who coached Grosse Ile High to a Division 3 state title.

Midfielder Bri Rogers (Livonia/Ferris State) is going to Europe this summer. The Sun doesn’t expect midfielder Darline Radamaker back, who is busy this weekend trying to win a Division II national title with Grand Valley State.

“It’s not a situation where we’re losing players to other teams,” Roy said. “They just have other stuff going on.”

The Sun has 49 players in its program, which includes a reserve side that competes in the Michigan Premier Soccer League and won a state cup. Of those, 17 are returning.

An injection of new talent includes Purdue center back Chloe Woodbeck (Ferndale/Shrine), Toledo forward Madison Medalle (Clinton Twp./Chippewa Valley) and Michigan State forward Paige Webber (Grand Blanc). 

The club is hosting an open tryout 9:30-11 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Oakland University Soccer Dome to fill five roster spots.

One of the biggest changes is on the sideline, though Roy has worked in tandem with Muhktar going back to the Motor City Soccer Club. Roy, who holds a USSF B coaching license, has previously coached with Vardar East, Madison Heights and Clawson youth clubs.

"He is going to do a great job," Muhktar said. "He is bringing heavy experience to the club. He has been the head assistant of the club since the start and was my assistant with Motor City.

"He has a great rapport with the women on the team. I believe he will be very successful."

Twitter: @larryo1961