Back in 1978, the Motor City welcomed the Detroit Express into its sports world. The Express, a member of the now-defunct North American Soccer League, played for three seasons at the Pontiac Silverdome before being relocated to Washington D.C.
Twelve years after the Express kicked off its franchise history, the Detroit Rockers joined the National Professional Soccer League and introduced indoor soccer to the area. During their 11 years in Detroit, the Rockers played at Joe Louis Arena, the Cobo Center, The Palace and Compuware Sports Arena.
The Silverdome also hosted four World Cup games in 1994, including the United States’ thrilling 1-1 with Switzerland, which helped launch a thrilling American run to the Round of 16.
Whether people are aware of it or not, there is a relatively deep-rooted soccer history in the Detroit area. The city’s newest team, Detroit City FC, will kick off its inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League on May 12 against AFC Cleveland.
The NPSL is an amateur league made up mostly of current and former U.S. college players. Detroit will compete in the Great Lakes Conference against teams from Binghamton, Buffalo, Cleveland and Erie, and will play its home game at Cass Tech High School.
The team will be coached by Kylie Stannard, who currently serves as an assistant coach for Michigan State’s men’s soccer team and played his college ball at Creighton.
Stannard took some time out earlier this week to chat with The Detroit Sports Site about the upcoming Detroit City FC season.
The Detroit Sports Site: Can you just give us a sense of where you are in terms of preparation for the season?
Kylie Stannard: We just wrapped up our third and final open tryout. Basically, what I’m doing from here is inviting in about a group of 40 or 50 for a training camp in the first week of May. Due to NCAA rules, current, active Division I guys are not able to partake on an outside team until May 1st, so most of these tryouts have been geared toward others — former college players, current or former pros or whoever’s interested, like men’s league players around the area.
So that first week of May is going to be the first training camp, so to say, like other professional teams do as far as bringing in guys and whittling it down to the final selections. (Ed. note: Detroit FC has a May 5 scrimmage at Fort Wayne scheduled prior to the start of the regular season.)
TDSS: Do you currently have any players in place on the roster?
KS: We’ve signed a couple guys, one being Tom Oatley who played profesionally with the Milwaukee Wave indoor team, MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League). We’ve got some former Michigan State guys — Spencer Thompson, who was a first-team All-Big Ten player, actually was drafted by Toronto FC a couple years ago; Josh Rogers, former Michigan State player; Jeremy Clark, just finished up playing for us this past year.
And then some current Michigan guys, as well — they’re officially signing (soon) so I can’t speak to that yet.
TDSS: So you’re dipping into that MSU pipeline?
K: Yeah, yeah — one of our guys was like, “We should change our colors to green and white, instead of maroon and gold.” There will be a handful of former State guys.
One of the downsides of me being the coach (of Detroit FC) is that due to NCAA rules, I can’t have any current State guys on the team. We’ll have some former State guys, then other current college guys like Michigan, a couple from Detroit, Western Michigan, Oakland. It will be a good makeup of primarily Michigan-based guys.
TDSS: Are you taking this on in addition to your duties at Michigan State or will this be your full-time job?
K: This is in addition to my Michigan State stuff. That’s still my full-time thing. That’s still my number-one priority. As you know being in the sports world, recruiting stuff is pretty much 24-7. Although, we’re about to wrap up our quote-unquote “offseason,” there’s a little bit of downtime and then we get the camp season going, which is pretty hectic in the summer.
May’s actually a good down month to get things kicked off for Detroit city, and then we’ll find some rhythm hopefully to finish it out.
TDSS: How did this opportunity with Detroit FC come about?
KS: It’s a funny question and interesting story, to be hoenst. Ben Steffans is one of the co-owners, he and I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa together. His family was originally from the Detroit area and moved to Cedar Rapids to start, I think, 5 or 6 Little Caesars in that area. His dad started a club called Little Caesars Soccer Club — we were kind of the first select travel team, back in the day when it was called that. Ben and I grew up together playing, then went our separate ways after high school.
We reconnected in the last couple years. He’s at a law firm in Detroit now, he found out I made my way to Michigan State, and we just kind of connected. He and a couple guys started going back and forth on this idea a couple of years ago, he approached me this summer and things went form there.
Damon Rensing, the head coach at Michigan State supportive too, because he realizes it’s going to take some of my time. But he thinks that it will be good to be out in the Michigan community and have another high-level team in the area. Things just worked out, fortunately.
TDSS: Can you give us some sort of idea what level this league would be considered? Will you funnel players up to higher leagues, like the MLS?
KS: There’s always that potential. What I would say is this is one of the top two amateur leagues in the country. There’s this and the PDL — Premier Developmental League, the Mid-Michigan Bucks are in there. NPSL is bigger in the southeast and western regions, but those two (leagues) are the biggest in the country.
There are guys that go on from this league to play in the USL (United Soccer League) or NASL (North American Soccer League). I think it’s a stretch for the MLS, but some of the current college guys definitely have a chance to go play at the MLS level. (Detroit FC) is a medium for them to stay playing at a very high level all year round. It allows them the opportunity to stay sharp. You go play in New York and Cleveland and Pennsylvania and things like that.
The coaching world is a small world, you know. One coach may like a player and then the word spreads. It’s benefitial for players who want to play at the next level, because coaches will start talking to scouts and other coaches.
TDSS: Your first game obviously isn’t until mid-May, but have you started to get any sense of the interest level in the local community?
KS: I know the ownership group has been doing an awesome job just getting a positive buzz in the communtiy. They’ve been hitting Facebook and Twitter and social media in general really well. They’re just about to finish up their finalized website — once that gets out, it’s going to really show how professional of a look this is all about. It’s not a professional team, but i’s going to be a very professionally run organization.
All I’ve heard about in the Michigan soccer world is all very positive. I just like the fact that they’re going to have their own little niche in Detroit, and that’s very important for them. It’s going to bring something to downtown Detroit. Even at all the tryouts, there have been probably 30 to 40 random spectators at each one, who are just interested. They’re selling tickets and apparel like crazy, so it’s awesome.
TDSS: You mentioned that it’s an amateur league, so the player can’t be paid, especially the NCAA guys?
KS: That’s one of the restrictions, none of the players can get paid, besides just expenses. The club can pay for travel, lodging, equipment, stuff like that. They cover all the costs for participating with the club, but they’re not allowed to be paid at all for participating in this league.
TDSS: I know there’s been some buzz in the area, especially with the new ownership group for the Silverdome, of eventually bringing an MLS franchise to Detroit somewhere down the road. Will this serve as a jumping-off point for that at all?
KS: I think anything’s possible with that, especially if you start to get enough support behind it, both from a numbers or marketing standpoint and, obviously, the financial resources. There have been a couple amateur teams — I can’t remember off the top of my head — that have ended up making the next step to an actual professional league. I don’t think any have gone fully up to an MLS team, but I think with the size of Detroit and the opportunity that is in Detroit, I think it’s a possibility.
It’s just a matter of showing that they can draw fans and that they have the resources and facilites to do it. I think that’s the major holdback right now. I think it is a goal of the ownership group at some point, but I don’t want to speak for them.