Michiganders Should Embrace Semi-professional Soccer in 2014-15

by Evan Wildey

The World Cup has been over for a month, yet it seems like forever. While there is no debate that the US Men’s National Team can capture our attention every four years (and be sure to watch the US Women’s National Team in the 2015 World Cup), the bigger question is: will we watch soccer and support teams based in the US? While this will focus more on soccer in Michigan, I want to encourage you to give Major League Soccer (MLS) a try. The players are amazing and are incredible to see live. It is family friendly, and about the same price or cheaper than going to a Major League Baseball game. And, the game is over in two hours, which is definitely not true with baseball. So, take a trip to Chicago to watch the Fire, or head down to Columbus and catch a Crew game, you won’t be disappointed.

While we don’t have a professional team in Michigan, there are a number of semi-professional teams currently playing, and a few hoping to start next year. These teams are made up of mostly college soccer players looking to play in competitive games in their off-season and are not paid in order to maintain their NCAA eligibility. The most successful team is the Pontiac-based Michigan Bucks, who play in the USL Premier Development League (PDL), which is the fourth tier of professional soccer in the US (think single-A baseball). They’ve been around for nearly 20 years and recently won the 2014 North American PDL Championship. However, despite their longevity and success, the Bucks have never garnered a large fan following. The Risers SC out of Muskegon hopes to join the Bucks in the USLPDL this year.

Enter Detroit City FC, a team playing in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). This team has a tremendous following and regularly draws 3,000+ fans to their games at Cass Tech High School in Detroit. In 2014, Lansing United also joined the NPSL and just finished their first season. And, 2015 is shaping up to be a very interesting summer in Michigan Soccer. Ann Arbor City and Grand Rapids FC all hope to join the NPSL. While Ann Arbor City hopes to capitalize on the recent success of the Real Madrid-Manchester United game at Michigan Stadium, Grand Rapids FC is taking an interesting approach to starting their team. For $100, you can become a founding member of GRFC and have a vote on the major decisions of the club. While the organizers set an initial goal of 200, they have shot past that goal and currently have more than 400 founding members. With these new teams joining Detroit City FC and Lansing United in the NPSL, it will be interesting to see if these clubs can create a fan base and rivalries with other teams to sustain themselves or if the five teams, together, with over-saturate the market for soccer in Michigan.

Michigan may never get an MLS team, and that is okay. I, for one, plan on enjoying so much soccer being played at a high level in many of our cities. These smaller teams allow you to be more involved, to sit closer to the action, and to embrace the team as a community. The passion is here, and the teams are coming, so go out and support your local team. I promise you’ll enjoy it.

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