Rise of the Rockers? Arena Soccer League, starting in '22, wants Detroit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit once looked like a shoo-in to get a Major League Soccer franchise, but those talks stalled several years back amid stadium disputes. Now, a startup professional league has its sights set on the Motor City.

The Arena Soccer League, which officially launched this week and is set to start play in April 2022, has confirmed it wants Detroit to be a part of its initial 10-franchise roster.

"Our goal (is) to have teams in the largest possible markets and Detroit is certainly on that list," Neal Johnson, the league's deputy commissioner, told The News in an email.

"It may happen this year, but we have a lot of details to work out."

The Arena Soccer League is targeting Detroit.

The Arena Soccer League has only secured two of its initial 10 cities, with Chicago (the Sting) and Philadelphia (the Kixx) having signed on.

It's not clear what venue in Detroit or the metro area the league is considering.

Arena soccer is played in a boarded rink, of sorts, with plexiglass walls. Balls off the walls are considered in play. The playing field is 85 feet wide and 200 feet long.

At one time, the format drew quite a following in Detroit, most notably with the Detroit Rockers, who played in the National Professional Soccer League from 1999-2001 — calling home, at different times, Joe Louis Arena, Cobo Arena and The Palace . The Rockers won the championship 1991-92, and at one time were owned by the Ilitches. During their peak, they would average more than 5,000 fans a game.

Most recently, the Detroit Ignition played from 2006-09 at Compuware Sports Arena in Plymouth, as part of the Major Indoor Soccer League. They won the title their last year.

The Detroit Neon, later the Detroit Safari, played at The Palace from 1994-97 as part of the Continental Indoor Soccer League. The Detroit Lightning played one season, 1979-80, at Cobo Arena, as part of the MISL.

Now, the Arena Soccer League wants to add a chapter to the area's soccer history.

"The short answer is," said Johnson, "that we're working on it." 

The area's current most-acclaimed soccer franchise is Detroit City FC, which plays traditional soccer at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck and draws 6,000 fans a game.

The Arena Soccer League is planning on having an annual player draft, a 36-game regular-season schedule for each of its 10 teams, and an All-Star showcase.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984