Detroit and MLS soccer: City could cash in if awarded a franchise – Detroit Free Press
AS Roma’s Kevin Strootman talks about the competition his teammates had with a few Michigan football players on Monday in Ann Arbor. Video by Brandon Folsom/Special to DFP
Should Detroit get an MLS team, it could be a boon for the city.
Italian soccer club AS Roma and Paris Saint-Germain FC, two pro teams with ravenous fan bases that attend its games, face each other in an International Champions Cup match Wednesday at Comerica Park in Detroit.
AS Roma has trained at Eastern Michigan since Sunday and during a prematch news conference Tuesday in Ann Arbor, coach Eusebio Di Francesco and star player Maxime Gonalons were asked whether Detroit could support a high-profile club.
“For a city or a country to be successful in football, (it has) to start from the bottom and go to the top, starting from the school, the university,” Di Francesco said via a translator. “That’s the best way to create a soccer culture, passion (among fans).”
Let’s look back the major events — besides Tigers baseball — that Comerica Park has hosted. Video by Ryan Ford/DFP
Southeast Michigan can check off that box. College teams such as Michigan, Oakland and Detroit Mercy all have flourishing programs, while other state schools like Saginaw Valley State, Davenport and Western Michigan have acted as feeder programs for the semi-pro scene in Michigan. The National Premier Soccer League, for example, has six teams in Michigan alone, including Detroit City FC, a squad that regular draws crowds of 7,000 supporters. Fans can’t seem to get enough soccer during the summertime.
“I think, in some way, you have to create the conditions that have made American football a success in this country,” Gonalons said. “There has to be a passion.”
Gonalons was referring to a booming TV market, the quality of stadium a team plays in and other resources available to NFL teams that help keep that league relevant on sports tickers and in the news.
It also doesn’t hurt to have fantastic training facilities.
“I had a chance to visit the facilities of the University of Michigan football team, and the facilities are impressive,” Gonalons said. “It was an interesting visit. Obviously, we’re talking about two different sports, but somehow they’ve created those conditions (to build a successful team and a passionate fan base).”
If Detroit lands an MLS team, it shouldn’t have a problem building training facilities that would attract star free agents.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner and Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert has already pledged $520 million to help Wayne County build a new criminal justice complex 2 miles north of the city so that his ownership group, which includes Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores, can purchase the county’s old jail site and build a state-of-the-art MLS stadium downtown.
The proposed stadium would add to the rejuvenated downtown, which the city has rebranded as the District Detroit, a hot spot for concert venues, bars, casinos and sports stadiums.
Should Gilbert’s group and the county come together and work out a deal to build a stadium downtown, and should the MLS award Detroit one of the four expansion teams the league hopes to add by 2022, only time will tell if the city can support a club on the level of European teams like AS Roma and Saint-Germain.