Garber, Gilbert discuss Major League Soccer in Detroit, stadium site


Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and MLS commissioner Don Garber were among the dignitaries on hand Wednesday to discuss the potential for Major League Soccer in Detroit.

The passion to bring a franchise to Detroit isn’t new, but Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores are working to make it happen now. Garber said the earliest a team would join is 2020.

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Detroit has seen steady growth from its fourth-tier side, Detroit City FC, gaining a reputable supporter base that started with 1000 fans per game in Year One and has grown to capacity, selling out matches at 3500+ last season. That helped the club privately fund the renovation of a bigger venue in Hamtramck’s Keyworth Stadium through a pledged $740,000 from supporters and investors.

Garber knows this. He was on hand and sure to compliment both DCFC and the nearby Michigan Bucks, the Pontiac-based side which has achieved good on-field success in the fourth-tier.

Garber spoke about the possibility of a team in the league, but said a stadium plan must come before a team (See: problems for NYCFC and Miami Beckham United).

A stadium inside of a massive downtown development was raised, but speculation on that site being used for soccer has already been met with opposition by Wayne County authorities. The site is currently an unfinished jail, one whose proponents say is direly needed in the area.

That last comment from Gilbert could be a loaded one as we move forward. Surely megawatt billionaires like Gilbert have experience in running gigantic sporting enterprises, but what clubs like Detroit City have done to engender passion for a club deserves to be nurtured. Whether they like it or not, a fervent soccer base already exists in the Motor City, one that has been vocally critical of MLS.

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Not involving DCFC at some level is a shot at that culture, and uses an arrogance to say, “Get in line or forget about it”. There has to be a spirit of community from the supporters as well — not “We know best and only doing it exactly how we say might make me interested” — but failing to acknowledge and involve the current supported team would be a massive error in judgment from MLS and the Gilbert/Gores group.

Garber has made the mistake in the past of picking on markets or established supporters groups, like his thinly-veiled shot at Chattanooga FC — an NPSL side that drew 18,000+ to its championship game — during BlazerCon in New York City this Fall.

The astute commish has learned from that, but how much involvement, if any, is asked of Detroit’s lower league builders will be worth following with great interest by many markets around the country.

Although, admittedly, his choice to use the 3500 figure in the following comment — a number close to DCFC’s average attendance — does have a bit of defiant swagger to it, does it not?

The press conference was supposed to be streamed, so thanks to Detroit Free Press executive editor, a confessed soccer nut, for doing yeoman’s work for those of us outside of Detroit. Also, killer Twitter handle.