When and where else in the city could you catch a great soccer game and be an unofficial guest at someone's wedding? A hot, sweaty Sunday afternoon on a high school football field with Detroit's minor-league soccer team.
Say what you will about the Motor City but there are few cities nationwide with four pro sports teams. We might not handle policy well but this will always be a sports town.
Last year, soccer joined the mix in a big way with the Detroit City Football Club, part of the National Premier Soccer League. The last time I remember soccer being even just a little bit of a big deal in Detroit was when the Detroit Neon (which would've been the Detroit Caliber and Detroit Dart had it survived past '97 — yes, that was a big ol' corporate sponsorship) was on the field.
DCFC - -nicknamed Le Rouge, "the red" for you non-French speakers — made it to the semi-finals in their division last year but lost out. This season, they've been undefeated, and my Twitter timeline has been increasingly filled with new fans seeing what all the hubbub is about.
Soccer, be it on the scholastic level or just folks goofing around, has always existed in Detroit. It's not a foreign concept to a town that claims the Pistons, Red Wings, Lions and Tigers, so let's get that out the way. (The headline I'll barf if I see in a national publication: "Can minor league soccer save Detroit?") A winning, minor-league team with strong grassroots support, however, is new.
I went to my first DCFC match for two reasons: One, as a casual soccer fan, I was interested. Two, as someone who particularly enjoys oddball weddings without the usual pomp, I had to check out these nuptials.
Even though this was my first time, we'll do this review-style:
1. Before the game.
Tickets can be purchased online, but the gate at Cass Technical High School, where all the home games are played, opens an hour and a half before the match. I'd strongly recommend getting to the gate early, as Sunday's match reached a new attendance record (1,895).
The gate opened at 11 a.m., and I had some time to kill in the morning beforehand. Fortunately Honest John's is one of the few places nearby with breakfast hours, so I had a bowl of Cajun gumbo and some chocolate chip pancakes. I got out in just enough time to snag a great parking space a block between the Masonic Temple and the field. (Parking around Cass fills up quick as well.) Getting in early also meant I could get a nice, shady seat under the press box. Tickets are only five bucks, and on this particular day, kids were free.
2. First impressions
Everyone's wearing DCFC's burgundy and gold colors. If you've got an old Central Michigan or Mumford High School shirt laying around, wear it; if you're feeling particularly ballsy, wear a Renaissance High shirt on Cass Tech's football field.
For a moment, despite sharing a field with a state champion high school team, you do feel like you're at a "real" sporting event. There are expensive branded jerseys, sporting-drink brands hawking their products and plenty of corporate sponsorship. While it's not a typical day at Comerica, it was a step up from my 8-year-old cousin's flag football scrimmage in Ferndale I went to earlier that weekend.
Look around from the bleachers, and you'll see echoes of Cass Tech reverberating through the city, from the Diana Ross concert billboard next to Motor City Casino to newer condos built under the brief-but-overshadowed Kilpatrick administration revitalization. Those moments of reflection are disturbed when the Northern Guard hits the scene.
The Northern Guard is DCFC's support squad, made up of dozens of smoke-bomb throwing, giant flag-waving, expletive-hurling superfans, led by a makeshift marching band. They all cheer in unison: "No, no, no, we don't hear a fuckin' thing," among other taunts and insults before heading into their own section on the opposite side of the field. They curse a lot.
The Northern Guard will be loud as hell through the entire game and I wonder how they'll all go to work the next morning without sounding like Macy Gray after guzzling a smoothie made of tobacco and plaster dust. And the smoke bombs? Those can't help. They smell too much like my
riot disturbance experiences in East Lansing, but they come in all sorts of fun colors. But it's all in good, riotous fun.
The start of the first half is marked by the opening chords of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," fitting since Jack White is a Cass Tech grad and used to play at the Masonic next door. But before the game, the announcer lays down a reminder to the crows: Keep it clean, and be good sportsmen; "You help define the image of our organization and our city."
The "and our city" part is what hits home. We all know Detroit can be painted as nothing but destitute, scurvy bums who, according to East Coast Huffington Post bloggers, spend their days wallowing in coffeeshops mad at the world and waiting to die. In truth, we are hospitable and friendly, but not pushovers.
I hear little kids in the stands talking about their favorite players. (After the game, attendees are welcome to an autograph session with the team.) DCFC has a following. They're treated like hometown heroes.
They play like pros, though. All of the rage and aggression you'd see in a typical soccer match is not lost here. DCFC's defense is strong; they hold off Buffalo, the opposing team, from getting the ball too far infield for the majority of the first half.
I'm sitting behind one woman whose son is on the team and she is turned all the way up. She knows everyone on the team by name and is screaming "get it together!" and other encouraging-but-abrasive commands to the players. There are people in the stands with vuvuzelas. And bad or missed calls by the ref are met with stadium-level jeers. The Northern Guard does a fine job of dissing the ref ("I'm blind! I'm deaf! I wanna be a ref!") and opposing players who get out of line ("You can't do that! You can't do that!")
Buffalo tries so hard, but they just can't get a ball in. Meanwhile, DCFC scores once in the first half and twice in the second half, rising above all of the bad calls (that leaned heavily in Buffalo's favor; home teams can't get a break even in minor-league soccer?) and a few fouls along the way. We win!
4. The halftime wedding
Except for the cursing, there was probably nothing more fresh-out-of-a-romcom sweeter than the nuptials in the middle of the field for two of Le Rouge's biggest fans. The groom wore a plaid kilt and the bride wore white — above her plaid kilt. Northern Guard chants, "let's get fucking married!" And they did just that.
5. A final thought
I'd say a DCFC game is highly recommended. It's a cheap, fun way to kill an afternoon while showing some Detroit pride. I wish I had some flowery metaphor about how the rise of a minor-league soccer team is rising like the phoenix from the ashes of Detroit or something like that, but honestly? DCFC adds to our rich cultural fabric (of the entire city, not just Midtown), and weaves in quite nicely. Plus, you can feel good about rooting for a Detroit sports team that actually wins games.
Anyway, here's some video I shot of the wedding. Warning: It's not great at all — even in the shade, I was getting too hot and right after the first half, I went down to the concessions and the lines were longer than I thought and as I made my way back to my shady seat, the wedding was starting and I was all like "oh shit, let me get my phone out" and the way my phone works I couldn't adjust the zoom or anything, BUT at least I held it horizontally:
For a complete schedule of DCFC games, click here.