Only Detroit City FC’s Sam Piraine will be able to list “built a women’s semi-professional soccer team from scratch during a pandemic” on his resume without an HR person doing a double-take.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the coach of DCFC’s debutante entry in United Women’s Soccer has brought in 12 players these past two weeks. Le Rouge women were scheduled to kick off May 9, but UWS has delayed the season due to COVID-19.
Undaunted, Piraine continues business as usual, announcing the additions of midfielder Molli Krick (Novi), goalkeeper Rebecca Przybylo (Canton/Eastern Michigan), defender Mackenzie Lutz (Michigan Hawks) and forward Caroline Fleming (Grosse Ile) on Monday.
“It’s been a fun process and it looks like the pieces are starting to come together,” said Piraine, who held an open tryout on Jan. 4 attended by 67 hopefuls. “We've still got a few more spots available and more communication that needs to be done, but obviously times are now a little different.”
So far, DCFC women’s contingent is a mixture of college and post-college players. A few like defender Meyah Romero (Trinidad & Tobago) and forward Sydney Schembri (Malta) have international pedigrees.
In assembling his initial roster, Piraine has relied on strong ties with DCFC Youth West, which operated as Canton Celtic until last year. That link led to Le Rouge landing forward Kenna White, who bagged 10 goals in her freshman season at Bowling Green where she made the All-Mid-American Conference second team.
White played for Piraine with Canton Celtic before moving to the Michigan Jaguars during her senior year at Plymouth High. Last summer, she played with the Women’s Premier Soccer League Motor City FC team, which advanced to the national championship semifinals.
“She's dangerous in all different sorts of positions as a forward,” Piraine said. “She can play wide, she can play central, she's dangerous with the ball at her feet, she's dangerous if there's crosses coming into her. She's an all-around strong, attacking player.”
White’s college coach concurs.
“Her most impressive skill on the field is probably her ability to remain calm under intense pressure, and finish technically difficult opportunities at the most extreme moment,” said Matt Fannon, who left Bowling Green during the offseason to accept the women’s head coaching position at Iowa State.
The 5-foot-10 poacher was elated when Piraine was announced as DCFC’s first women's coach.
“He’s very good at making connections with players,” White said. “He likes to have fun, but he’s also very serious and likes to get stuff done. And he’s very good with his players. He makes sure he has a bond with every single one of his players.”
In White’s case, Piraine took an active role in her college recruiting process although he was no longer her coach.
Another Canton Celtic product turned DCFC member, midfielder Marlee Taylor, vouches for the coach’s personal commitment to overall player success. Taylor is coming off her freshman season at Dayton where she appeared in all 19 matches.
“I think there are certain coaches that know how to coach girls and there are certain coaches that know how to coach boys,” Taylor said. “He’s coached both, obviously. I think it’s very different to coach girls, especially like at this age.
“I had him at 13, 14 and then I think at 16 … and he was always around. The biggest thing he helped me with was just confidence, because that’s something I was struggling with, just take chances on the ball, not being too reserved. I think he’s a good communicator and he’s smart, and coaching for long enough where he’s knows what he’s doing.”
Building a team from the ground up has provided some pleasant surprises, Piraine said.
During the tryout at City Fieldhouse in January, Piraine was bowled over by Erin Weide, who was a two-time Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association MVP at Adrian College (2012, '14) and beating players one-on-one.
“It really stood out to me that there were no nerves in her play,” Piraine said. “And in a situation like that when there's 60-plus players, you don't know much and you're all fighting for a spot, you tend to not show as much confidence maybe in the beginning, but she did from the beginning to the end.”
Romero also turned out to be a hidden gem. She flew in from New York for the tryout, having been enamored with DCFC’s reputation for drawing passionate crowds at Keyworth Stadium.
The center back has made four appearances for Trinidad & Tobago in CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying. She also played at Queens College in New York.
“The roster’s a good mix of current college and post-college players that I think will be a good jell and a good mix for us when we get into the heart of the season,” Piraine said.
2020 DCFC women's roster so far
Player, position, hometown, college/previous team
►Maggie Rogers, G, Rochester Hills, Western Michigan
►Becca Przybylo, G, Canton, Eastern Michigan
►Sarah Huge, D, Northville, Ann Arbor Lumberjills
►Meyah Romero, D, Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago National Team
►Makenzie Lutz, D, Sylvania, Ohio, Dayton
►Marlee Taylor, M, Plymouth, Dayton
►Molli Krick, M, Novi, Eastern Michigan
►Kenna White, F, Canton, Bowling Green
►Sydney Schembri, F, Northville, Xavier
►Danielle Toney, F, Northville, Penn State
►Erin Weide, F, Madison Heights, Adrian
►Caroline Fleming, F, Grosse Ile, Adrian