MLS is in the midst of a very rapid expansion. Soccer is making a real push forward in North America. Between expanding television rights deals for the British Premier League and the Bundeliga in the US and MLS putting more games on ESPN, more eyes have the ability to see soccer than ever before and more frequently than ever before.
Major League Soccer has added 8 clubs over the last 10 seasons and plans to add 4 more before the start of 2020 season. Atlanta, St. Paul, Minnesota, Miami, and a second Los Angeles club have already been awarded franchises. A few of the expansion franchises have come from lower tier clubs in the North American soccer pyramid but most have been bought and moved into existing stadiums until a soccer-specific facility is built. Detroit has recently been brought to the forefront as a landing place for the next franchise in 2020, however there appears to be some stiff resistance.
Detroit City FC is one of the more successful franchises in the NPSL, the fourth tier of North American soccer. They recently raised nearly $750000 to rehabilitate a stadium for the club via donations and crowdfunding and have built up plenty of goodwill in the community through their charitable efforts. They regularly draw 2000 to 3000 fans for matches and have one of the most vociferous and loyal supporters groups in NPSL, the Northern Guard Supporters.
Regularly, when MLS announces a new expansion site, they invite soccer supporters from the community and people associated with any existing local club. That was not the case with recent announcement that Quicken Loans founder and Cleveland Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert, and Platinum Equity founder and Detroit Pistons owner, Tom Gores, are looking to bring an MLS franchise to Detroit. And that has raised some points of contention with Detroit soccer fans.
It seems like a win-win at first. The proposal is to build a soccer specific stadium along with retail space on the site of what was meant to be a jail. But was that always the plan?
One Detroit soccer supporter I asked said no. Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores have made multiple attempts to purchase the land that was originally meant to be a Wayne County jail but the county has been unable to complete the project due to budget issues.
The supporter I spoke to said this proposal “has nothing to do with soccer. It’s about someone trying to strong arm the county into selling him land they refused to sell him for 3-5 years now.”
On whether or not he would support this new club if it came to fruition, he said, “Only if my team were part of the proposal. And it was genuine and community oriented.”
But from the rhetoric coming from the Northern Guard Supporters on social media, it’s quite obvious they don’t believe that is the case. If you follow their official Twitter account or any of the members, their use of “ML$” when referring to the league and references to the proposal being disingenuous are rampant.
Their claims don’t come without evidence though. By way of some internet sleuthing, it was uncovered that the website soccervsjaildetroit.com that sprung up after the announcement was started via a proxy website as well as the social media accounts associated with the website. This has led to the belief among some that the website is a sockpuppet for the league or the Gilbert-Gores group.
The way this proposal is perceived by some of Detroit’s most ardent soccer supporters may also be a by-product of MLS’s recent interaction with supporters groups as MLS has begun to crack down on Ultras groups with overreaching bans and inconsistent enforcement of poorly defined regulations. Of course, I’m referring to the year-long ban of a District Ultras member by both MLS and DC United after using, what the club called, an unauthorized smoke device on stadium property. That action alone has brought on protests by Ultras groups around the league and even in the lower tiers of North American soccer.
The end product though could be the 25th team in MLS with a stadium with the placated masses that the league seems to want to court while the boys and girls of the Northern Guard continue to cheer on DCFC and ignore the existence of the club they do not want.
By Jeff Plummer, TFN Guest Writer on 16/05/2016 at 15:03