Next Tuesday, the most incredible possible confluence of my own personal sports awesomeness will happen. The U.S. Men’s National Team will play the opening round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament at Ford Field. The USMNT playing a meaningful game on the Lions’ home turf mashes up my sports passions like . . . uh, the Red Wings in Spartan Stadium? The Tigers taking the field in the Rose Bowl? The Lions on the hardwood of Breslin Student Events Center?
Yes, for the first time in 17 years, the USMNT will play in Metro Detroit. Birmingham native Alexi Lalas, a starting defender on that ‘94 US team that played in the Silverdome, is thrilled to come home to watch this match as an analyst. The Motor City Supporters, and the Detroit chapter of the American Outlaws, the USMNT supporter’s group, will be out in force. The leading lights of the US Soccer Federation will be here, seeing for themselves how Detroit supports their teams. What’s more, there’s now a top-flight professional soccer league in America—and MLS officials will be in Ford Field, anxious to see what kind of support Southeast Michigan can muster.
Watching with them will be Steve Apostolopoulos, owner of the Silverdome. As the head of the ownership group trying to bring an MLS team to Detroit, he’ll be rooting for a good showing—on the field, and off. “We’re hoping that things go well,” he told me. “We know that [MLS is] excited, and we’re very excited to have this caliber of soccer coming to the Detroit area.” I asked him what the status of expansion bid is, and if Detroit has a chance to usurp New York City’s claim on the 20th franchise. “We’d love to be the 20th market,” he said. “We know the commissioner’s pushing for the New York team. If things come around full circle there, and they’re the 20th team, then we’d love to be the 21st.”
Of course, Detroit is not the only option for the 21st team; recently MLS Commissioner Don Garber urged the State of Nevada to consider building a soccer stadium in Las Vegas, and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf mentioned an MLS franchise as a possible source of revenue for the Vikings’ theoretical new digs. I asked Mr. Apostolopoulos about Detroit’s chances against these other markets. “We know there are other possible expansion cities, but we feel we are frontrunners amongst them. We have a committed ownership group, we have a stadium, and a strong vision we believe in.”
I was anxious for an update on that radical Silverdome renovation he discussed with me in February. “We are preparing for the renovation; we’ve engaged with architect firms and engineers. We’re going to proceed with RFPs soon—though we have estimates; we know how much it will cost.” Given the variety of events the Silverdome is being used for, and the multiple uses of the indoor spaces below the field, Mr. Apostolopoulos told me his group will “proceed with the renovation either way,” regardless of whether Detroit has secured an MLS bid.
In the meantime, his Triple Sports Group is trying to bring even more top-flight soccer to Detroit. “We’re in discussions with various European, and several English, football clubs for more friendlies [exhibitions]. It’s mainly a matter of working out timing with the FIFA dates,” referring to sections of the calendar when pro teams must take time off, for international play (like the Gold Cup).
It’s been thought that if MLS isn’t ready to come to Detroit, the Silverdome could host a team in the second-division USL or NASL leagues, and hope to be promoted to the MLS after some time. This what happened with the Portland Timbers, and the Seattle Sounders. If the Silverdome renovation is complete before MLS has awarded Detroit a team, that seems like a natural fit. I asked Steve about this possibility. “Our focus is on Major League Soccer,” he said. “We’ve been approached by other leagues, and that’s an option too, but right now our main focus is on MLS. Our discussions with the league continue to go well. They are definitely very interested in Detroit as a market.”
So. Let's show MLS, US Soccer, and the world just how we do it. Let’s show up huge against Canada on Tuesday. I guarantee it’ll be worth your while—and I’ll even save you five bucks. Click here for tickets to the Gold Cup date at Ford Field, and enter in the promo code “GC11.” Your tickets even buy you two games: Panama vs. Guadaloupe at 6 pm, and the border showdown between the USMNT and Canada at 8 o’clock. If we can show up huge, I bet it won’t be 17 years before we see soccer like this again.