Soccer league celebrates ‘uniquely Detroit’ coupling of sports and community development

Soccer league celebrates ‘uniquely Detroit’ coupling of sports and community development

Between the Detroit Tigers’ literally and figuratively frigid start to the season and tepid wrap-ups by the Red Wings and Pistons, Detroit sports fans need inspiration. The Detroit City Football Club (DCFC) hosts its 7:30 p.m. home opener at Hamtramck’s Keyworth Stadium April 13. The DCFC community soccer league, also known as the Detroit City Futból League (DFCL) is more formal than the average pickup or intramural league – but rooted in a uniquely Detroit hybrid of sports and community engagement.

DCFC founder Sean Mann wanted to get people excited about soccer and about the city.  Entering the league’s ninth season, DCFC Community Liaison Phil Lucas says the participatory nature of the Club was driven as much by a love of Detroit as by a love of the sport.

“We wanted to highlight city parks so that people can see the great stuff going on in the neighborhoods,” he says. “You might get out there just to play a game and think, ‘Hey, that’s a beautiful park that I didn’t even know about.’”

This year the league boasts 34 teams with close to 1,000 participants spanning from the Old Redford to Springwells, East English Village and Osborn communities. Some teams have grown so large they’ve split and now boast rivalries.

The DCFL originally played on the 1994 FIFA World Cup field, which was relocated from the Pontiac Silverdome to Belle Isle. That year’s World Cup, the only one played in the United States in FIFA’s nearly 100-year history, wowed organizers, breaking attendance records in a country without a historically large soccer fan base.

“Back then, we had PVC (plastic) goals because the city parks didn’t have the resources to build permanent goals,” Lucas says.

Requirements for the League are straightforward: The majority of team members must be residents of the city of Detroit and live in the neighborhoods their team represents. Players must also engage in community service. Some pair with neighborhood nonprofits, while others work in targeted efforts like community cleanups.

While the league is only open to adults 18 and older, Lucas says recruitment in Detroit schools could serve as a path toward promoting soccer to populations that have seen sports curriculum fall victim to budget cuts. Promoting active lifestyles and stemming the tide of population decline in neighborhoods are essential goals.

Games are played every Tuesday evening through the summer. The season will expand to a year-round schedule once DCFC completes its indoor field house on the city’s near-east side, the site of a former Red Wings practice facility. Summer enrollment costs $25 per player, per season, for a minimum of eight outdoor games. At the end of the season teams play a tournament at Fort Wayne, with seeds ranked not by number of wins, but by community service hours.

“You get cool results, like a 32 seed that beats a 1 seed,” Lucas says, referring to one team that faced a higher-ranked squad because the winners banked substantial community service hours.

The League has come a long way from its boot-strapped origins. Formed by five teammates, Detroit City Football Club boasts today of having built a multi-million-dollar franchise with little more than word of mouth and community collaboration.

“This is uniquely Detroit,” adds Lucas. “You can’t get that in New York or Chicago – to be able to play soccer that affordably, learn about your neighbors, and participate in neighborhood revitalization while you’re doing it.”

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