It's Premier League opening day and I find myself writing about minor league soccer in the USA.
Because I have thoughts on this.
Detroit City FC needs to go pro. They've outgrown the NPSL in terms of popularity and reputation. Trash talking against Grand Rapids and Lansing is nice, but Detroit is a national city on a national stage. We deserve to trash talk with Miami, New York, Indy... etc.
Plenty of smaller cities have minor league pro teams. Harrisburg, PA, Birmingham, AL, and Reno, NV all have pro teams while a major market like Detroit doesn't. DCFC going pro is past overdue from this standpoint.
There is also my only complaint about the team, there aren't enough games. The NPSL season starts later than American pro leagues and ends sooner. There are only seven scheduled regular season home games right now and going pro would more than double that. Please, give me more City.
I'm hesitant about the NASL. The league is overambitious and isn't expanding intelligently (one of their new markets for 2018 is Orange County, which already has two pro teams and is getting another MLS franchise next year). They had a brush with death last winter when the New York Cosmos almost folded and were only saved by an eleventh hour deep pocketed investor. They appear stable for now, but I wouldn't be shocked if they go through a similar near death experience again in the near future. There are also reports out there that the option of a merger with the USL is still on the table.
The NISA is intriguing, but I thing DCFC is too big for it. The new third tier league is meant to bridge the gap between the NPSL and the NASL and ambitions of as promotion/relegation system represents a potential bold future future for American soccer. I imagine some of City's foes would be familiar faces from the NPSL like Cleveland, Buffalo, and (although they've never played) Chattanooga. Choosing this option would be an easier transition, but I also think the club should have higher ambitions.
I can understand why they are avoiding the USL. The league is more stable than it's fellow division II outfit, but it's close relationship with MLS would bother some supporters. There is also the two different approaches the league takes with its clubs. Half of them serve as developmental sides for MLS with little care to developing a soccer culture while the other half are the exciting independent clubs creating a vibrant soccer environment in their communities. It's a separation that is beginning to cause contention within league circles, especially as new teams are coming into the fold every season and with a division III league launching in 2019.
Either of these choices would require outside investment. As great of a story as DCFC is, they don't have the money to make the jump all by themselves. There is no shortage of rich business people in the city that could help the club make the ump (including a couple of rich sports owners aiming to bring MLS to the city, I don't like saying it too loudly, but those two and City are a perfect fit for each other and this would be a great way to start a low risk working relationship, but, I digress). The grassroots story is nice and all, but it's moving too slowly for this landscape. The club needs to open itself up to outside money or risk losing their status as Detroit's soccer team.
Regardless of which avenue they take, the time to go pro has come and the window is closing fast. With the MLS expansion bid gaining momentum and lower leagues expanding at exponential rate, the soccer landscape is going to be full before too long. It's time for Detroit City to join them before its too late.