Now that the Riverhounds SC have completed season and home openers, coming away with a full six points, they’ll be getting ready to face a new challenge, stepping into a jungle of sorts.
That’s right, the Hounds’ next opponent, this coming Saturday (4 p.m. kickoff) will be on the road against the newest club in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference, Detroit City FC, a franchise that has a rabid fanbase which regularly packs Keyworth Stadium, creating one of the most unique and lively soccer stadium experiences in the United States.
Playing in a hostile environment should provide a good, stern early season test for the club with high expectations, aspiring to stay atop the Eastern Conference table.
This will also be a homecoming match for the Hounds’ leading goal scorer last season, forward Russell Cicerone, who is from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
It’s also marks the return to Detroit for Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley, who spent the 2007-08 seson coaching the Detroit Ignition of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL).
This will also be the first time in a long time that the Hounds most faithful followers from the Steel Army will be traveling in large numbers to an away game. The Army is planning to converge on the Motor City, to have ‘boots on the ground’ in Michigan early Saturday. Much like trips in 2017 and 2018 to Cincinnati, the Steel Army will be largely outnumbered, but make no mistake, they’ll still make their presence known, especially to the Hounds players and coaches.
In addition, Pittsburgh Soccer Now also plans to follow the Hounds and the Steel Army to Hamtramck, Michigan, which is actually an enclave of Detroit.
Yours truly and Ed Thompson will be on hand to capture the sights, the sounds and the excitement on Saturday.
Danny Griffin: Post Training Interview
The theme coming out of Saturday’s press conference with both Bob Lilley and the players, even after starting the season 2-0, with six points in the bag, is that there’s still a lot of room for improvement with this team.
On Monday, after practice, Danny Griffin echoed those sentiments.
Grassroots Community Support Fuels Detroit City FC’s Rise
This week, Pittsburgh soccer fans will learn a lot more about one of the most interesting and exciting stories on the American soccer landscape.
Detroit City FC’s rise through the ranks from the Fourth Division’s National Premier Soccer League to third division NISA, and now landing in the USL Championship has been fueled by incredible community support.
“I think we are a grassroots success story,” said DCFC CEO Sean Mann, one of the club’s original five founders. “Started out from very humble beginnings, rooted in community, and have always kept a focus on the community that the club represents, but also the community that has grown up around the organization. We’ve built this incrementally over the past decade to get to the point where we are today.”
The team plays a Keyworth Stadium, an older facility in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck.
The Stadium sits right in the middle of a dense neighborhood.
My colleague Gary Moody from International Soccer Network, who has also worked for the National Premeir Soccer League, which DCFC belonged from 2012-18, describes the atmosphere at Kenworth Stadium as a ‘one-of-a-kind experience’ that is without anything else to compare in the United States.
Moody said the community aspect of the gameday experience and the club’s culture, is centered around a neighborhood which rivals what you might see in the lower divisions in England.
In 1970, the 90% of Hamtramck’s population was made up of Polish immigrants who moved to the area in mass numbers in the early part of the 20th century as the Dodge Brothers auto plant became the area’s primary employer. Today, the population has shifted, but remains a landing place for immigrants, including transplants from the Middle East (primarily Yemen) India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, and Southeastern Europe (especially Bosnia and Herzegovina).
This is a community that is bonded by it’s love of the world’s most popular sport — soccer. Through the past decade, with the club’s successes in the NPSL and NISA, it has brought more fans onboard from in and around the Greater Detroit metro area.
PSN’s Mark Goodman will take a closer look at DCFC, it’s roster, tactics and what challenges they’ll present to the Riverhounds on Saturday in his regular pregame Scouting Report feature.
Rust Belt Derby Banter
In light of the addition of Detroit City FC to the USL Championship, in the preseason the PSN crew — namely Mark Goodman and I — discussed the emergence of the new franchise, and its prospects in a new league, and the potential excitement that the Riverhounds’ could build potential rivalries with Detroit and other future Rust Belt Cities that are looking to add USL Championship franchises in the coming years.
Goodman also pointed out that DCFC has a chance to become the new FC Cincinnati. While there are immense differences in how the two franchises came to be, his point being that they have an opportunity to bust into the USL Championship with a rapid fan base intent to shake up the establishment.
“They had a massive following in NISA,” Goodman explained in the preseason episode of Sounding Off on Soccer, on Pittsburgh Sports Live. “Jumping leagues from NISA to USL Championship might give them another bump, which is great for them.”
Goodman added that with its supporter group culture already in place led by the Northern Guard, Detroit City FC could pump some added intensity into its matches with Eastern Conference foes, primarily the closer in proximity potential rivals like Pittsburgh, Louisville and Indianapolis, where they’ll likely also travel in numbers.
“I am kind of horrified by them because they have an obnoxious fan base, but I really like that they bring a lot of sauce to the league, and I really enjoy it,” Goodman added.
“I think it will be great.”
In some of our post match follow-up after the Hounds win on Saturday, I also even mentioned the possibility that we could see the emergence of a Rust Belt Derby between Pittsburgh and Detroit.
Of course, DCFC fans had to remind us that a Rust Belt Derby does exist. When Detroit City played in the NPSL, they regularly competed vs FC Buffalo FC and AFC Cleveland for the Rust Belt Derby from 2012-16.
They also have tried to keep up with the tradition of this Derby.
Between 2017 and 2019 the derby was defunct, though was functionally revived for the 2020 and 2021 NISA Independent Cups when it was announced that Detroit City, FC Buffalo, and Cleveland SC would compete in the Great Lakes Division.
DCFC has won the Rust Belt Derby every year since Cleveland initially won in 2012.
— Dion (@DionDCFC) March 20, 2022
Regardless, it would be nice to see some version of it renewed once again, and now at a higher level.
As for the future, we know that Buffalo was already engaged with the USL Championship, annoucing in 2019, that a franchise will aim to start play in 2023, though, following the emergence of the pandemic shortly after that, there’s a bit more uncertainty to when that will actually happen. There have also been some rumblings that Cleveland may also enter the conversation, but nothing has materialized.
Circling back to my conversation with Gary Moody earlier this week, and he reminded me that the origins and the first version of the Rust Belt rivalry series could be traced back to the Riverhounds, and its series of matches with the defunct Cleveland City Stars (based out of Bedford, Ohio) in the USL-2 and USL-1 from 2006 to 2009.
Those series of matches between Pittsburgh and Cleveland also conicided with the emergence of the Steel Army, which was founded in 2007. Orginal Steel Army members even made a trip to Cleveland to support the Hounds back in the early days of their existence.
Either way, the bottom line here is that it would be great to see some new soccer rivalries built between Rust Belt cities again.
Now that Pittsburgh and Detroit are going to do battle in the same conference, maybe this will be a good starting point.
Only time will tell.
Homecoming for Russell Cicerone
As mentioned above, Russell Cicerone will return to the Detroit area, where he grew up when the Hounds face Detroit City FC on Saturday afternoon.
In the preseason, when asked about this trip, Cicerone immediately smiled at the question, but pointed out that he may not be the one most excited about coming back to Michigan.
“I think my parents are more excited,” Cicerone said. “I should also have friends and family coming to the game. I am excited.”
“I know a few guys on the roster. I trained with Brad Dunwell during the off season.
Bob Lilley Once Held the Keys to the Ignition
Bob Lilley ended his professional playing career primarily as an indoor soccer player in the mid-1990s. One of those stops was with the Pittsburgh Stingers.
In fact, while the Hounds may have played Detroit City FC in a preseason match in 2021, it may have been a long time since there was an official professional soccer match between teams from Pittsburgh and Detroit.
I went through the entire year-by-year history of the Riverhounds from 1999 through now, and the only time they played a team from Michigan, were Western Michigan Edge during the 2005 season.
Lilley’s Stingers did take on the Detroit Neon in the 1995, and thanks to our Pittsburgh soccer video historian, Patrick McCarthy, a record of this exists on YouTube.
After successful coaching career that took him from Hershey to Montreal and Vancouver in the A-League (U.S.’s second division league in the 2000s), he followed his friend Mark Pulisic to return to the coach the Detroit Ignition of the Major League Indoor Soccer League for one season.
Compuware Arena in Plymouth, Michigan to be exact
The team became a member of the MISL in 2006. Pulisic was its first coach.
Bob Lilley then became the head coach in 2007, leading them to a 22-8-0 record and a first place finish in the regular season. They were defeated in the league playoff semifinal round that season.
Among the players who were on that Ignition squad? Jose Rife, who some around these parts may remember was a Hounds assistant in 2015 and 2016, under Mark Steffens. These days, Rife is the Head Coach of Women’s Soccer team at Ball State University.
We’ll have more from Bob about his experience in the Motor City in the next couple of days.
Williams and Williams Called to T&T National Team
The Hounds’ back line will have a few temporary departures this week, and that’s a good thing.
Both Mekeil Williams and Jesse Williams have been called up to Trinidad and Tobago’s National Team for their upcoming friendlies.
As Bob Lilley mentioned in post game interviews the other night, both Jesse Wililams and Mekeil Williams will be on International Duty with @socawarriors starting this week. #RiverhoundsSC #USLChampionship https://t.co/k6HxQ8QYkL
— John Krysinsky (@JohnKrysinsky) March 22, 2022
This will leave the Hounds with four true center backs including: Shane Wiedt, Jelani Peters, Arturo Ordonez and likely Nathan DosSantos.
The latter has made two appearances in the late stages of matches as an outside back. The Ordonez-Wiedt-Peters three man backline got the start against Memphis in the season opener.
Pittsburgh Soccer Now Coverage This Week
Both Ed Thompson and I will be venturing to Detroit on Saturday to provide full coverage of the match, plus look for us as we catch up with the Steel Army prior to the match as they’ll be traveling in decent numbers and will have boots on the ground in Hamtramck.