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Preview: Detroit City, Charmingly Obnoxious

(This article was originally published ahead of the Riverhounds SC’s match at Detroit City FC, in late March. In that match, the Hounds-DCFC played to a 1-1 draw)

Detroit City are a team that have emerged from the chaos of lower league soccer into the somewhat tidy garage league we know and love called (presently, anyhow) the USL Championship. As I have said a few times previously – I think mostly on bleary-eyed after-work video streams that our enlightened PSN editor John Krysinsky sets up with my fellow ‘mom, I’m going down to the basement to record my podcast’ trolls Matt Popchock and Jordan Smith – Detroit City have a passionate, in-your-face fan base. How can you not love a team that got their supporters to raise the money to renovate Keyworth Stadium, which allowed them to pay off their debt two years early with donations? What’s better than a team where the fans are so invested, they volunteer to paint the benches in their newly renovated stadium? How can you not respect a team that was drawing over 5,000 fans a game when they were in NPSL, a league of teams across the US that generally plays before a crowd of a hundred on your local high school football field? DCFC are a great story of lower league soccering success in America. Huzzah!

DCFC began in 2012. The team jumped from the aforementioned NPSL to Peter Wilt’s new NISA league in 2019. NISA, for those who are unfamiliar, was begun with a lot of fanfare and promises about being the first soccer league in America to embrace an ‘open system’, aka promotion-relegation; never mind that the league started with eight teams, currently has ten teams, and has neither expanded to the point of having an upper and lower division, nor has it created a relationship with an upper or lower division allowing for pro-rel. The idea is laudable. Full disclosure: I am a fan of pro-rel, but to get into that completely would be a much longer conversation than we have time for in what is actually supposed to be a game-day preview article. Suffice it to say that NISA, with a mix of small struggling clubs, clubs that have matriculated to USL-C (Oakland Roots, Miami FC, and now DCFC), and teams that have gone on hiatus or collapsed altogether (Atlanta SC, Philadelphia Fury, and New Amsterdam to name a few) does not seem like the league that will successfully reinvent soccer in America for the 21st century.

I think DCFC management realized that they were probably a little bit too successful for NISA, precipitating their jump this year to USL. Yeah, Detroit could hang around for a few more years and pick up even more hardware – they have six NISA trophies in just three years of league play – but what would that stand to prove? So now they’re in the USL Eastern Conference. Yay!

Well, yay! may be too strong. Because while I applaud and celebrate DCFC and their fans, who bring support and love and unbridled passion for their team to a degree that I greatly appreciate, they certainly have chosen to do so with a kind-of acerbic style that can occasionally be off-putting. Detroit City’s Northern Guard Supporters turn out in droves and put on a hell of a smoke show

but they also have a ‘we invented soccer’ ethos that is pretty obnoxious – a sort of lower leagues Seattle Sounders energy mixed with a full embrace of the old English soccer chant ‘nobody likes us, we don’t care.’ In Pittsburgh, Steel Army likes to mix it up and torture opposing keepers or shout some off-color things on occasion, but at the end of the day, this is Mister Rogers Neighborhood ™, and so we keep it combative but friendly. DCFC supporters keep it combative and combative. While the overwhelming majority of their fans are solid soccer citizens with a straightforward passion for their team, a few of their twitter bantz crew are occasionally unnecessarily insulting or simply mean.

Maybe it’s a schtick – a Hollywood Hogan heel-turn meant to find any and all advantages over opponents, and even opponents fans. Sure, whatever. Personally, I think soccer in America ought to be an organic community of mutual respect. I want the Riverhounds to beat the snot out of Louisville and Hartford and Detroit. I also want to drink a pint in the parking lot before the match with anyone that loves the beautiful game,including and especially opposing away fans. I love that Detroit City have joined USL. I love their passionate fanbase. I don’t love that it is one of only a handful of teams where I’ve had to mute some of their supporters  on twitterbecause they’ve been jagoffs. In short, they are charmingly obnoxious. To wit:

But I could do with more of the charming some times, and less of the obnoxious.

Tactics and Personnel

DCFC’s last game seemed a little defensive at times – they kept players a bit deep against Charleston, perhaps recognizing and respecting that there are some good teams in USL, and it would be risky to go straight nose-to-nose against them. Nonetheless, they still controlled possession in that game by a 59-41 advantage – so the setup is more about controlling midfield and forcing turnovers than it is about attacking into the final third in numbers. They grinded out a 1-0 result, their first USL regular season win in club history, at home, in a match. There were a lot of aerial duels and a lot of corner kicks for Detroit, so controlling the air around center circle will be important for the Hounds. Their formation was a very flexible 3-4-3.

In terms of personnel, its basically Louisville City’s former mid Antoine Hoppenot and a lot of USL guys that you won’t really remember. Old school Hounds fans will remember Hoppenot was a Harrisburg City Islander, but us newer supporters know him as a very talented midfielder/forward and thorn in our side with Louisville City the past three years. He lined up at center forward for DCFC, but can pop up deep as a false nine, or switch and play wide too, and he’s great in possession – the rare striker with nearly as many career assists (34) as he has goals (39).

Detroit also has Deklan Wynne, a New Zealand international formerly with Colorado Rapids. Colorado had him at Left Back, and DCFC are using him as a Left Wingback. With Colorado, he had good-not-great pace, sometimes questionable defending, and lacked that cultured boot to serve in balls, and could never really break through at the first division. He started a good chunk of the 2018 season for the ‘Pids, who finished with an 8-7-19 (WTL) record, or second-to-last in the league. But he’s always been a competent ball handler and a tricky dribbler, and at 27, perhaps if some of those other pieces of his game have been refined, he might begin to shine.

Another international on this team is striker Billy Forbes. The 31-year-old has 16 caps and 8 goals for Turks and Caicos, although he hasn’t been called up since 2019. Dude gets around – his last five years were with five different teams; Phoenix, San Antonio, Austin, Miami, and now Detroit. Last year, in 10 starts and 25 appearances for *the* Miami FC, he had 7 goals.

Last to review is Centerback Stephen Carroll. The 28-year-old Irishman has played for DCFC since 2017 and serves as their captain. He’s tidy, and solid. At 6 foot 1, though, he might be a bit undersized in corner and aerial situations, especially against a Bob Lilley lineup where he likes to use those size advantages where he can to get an edge. Expect Jelani Peters (6 foot 5) or Arturo Ordenez (6 foot 3) to fight tooth and nail for all the headed balls they can against him.

One primary personnel change from Detroit City FC since this article was published, has included the addition of veteran Karl Ouimette to the back line.  John Krysinsky provides more on Ouimette in his Hounds Notebook leading up to the club’s second match at Highmark Stadium in June. 

Last Week’s DCFC Lineup

Match Info

Riverhounds (2-0-0) vs. Detroit City FC (1-1-0)
Date: Saturday, March 26
Time: 4 p.m.
Location: Keyworth Stadium, Hamtramck, Mich.
Odds: Hounds -110 / Draw +230 / Detroit +260 (BetRivers.com)
TV: 22 The Point
Streaming: ESPN+
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: Pittsburgh Soccer Now,  @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtag: #DETvPIT

Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men's and Women's teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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