Copa Detroit: Neighborhoods meet for a soccer showdown on Belle Isle

August 2, 2010

July 31: Detroit City Futbol League commissioner Sean Mann has been at Belle Isle since 9 a.m. marking the pitches and setting up goals. The activities have become part of his summer routine since the first game kicked off May 17. Today is tournament day: the inaugural Copa Detroit will determine the champion of the 2010 season.

The DCFL began as a pet project for Mann, who wanted to play soccer and shine a new light on the city. “I saw this as a way to market the neighborhoods of Detroit,” Mann says. “The reason these neighborhoods are around and here today is I think there’s a stronger sense of community here than in the arbitrary neighborhoods that make up [other cities]. These neighborhoods are survivors and they should be recognized”

It quickly grew by word-of-mouth into an 11-team, neighborhood-based league. Cass Corridor, Corktown, Downtown, Green Acres, Hamtramck, Hubbard Farms, Mexicantown, Midtown, New Center, the Villages, and Woodbridge are all represented. But Mann says he hopes the league can expand to include even more.

“The league is like 80 percent white, I would say, so I think next year I’m going to recruit more heavily so it’s more representative of the city.  There’s no reason there isn’t a Rosedale, there could be an an Osborn, a Brightmoor — those neighborhoods should totally be represented.”

For today, the 11 original teams will face off in sudden-death matches, seven vs. seven with goalies. Mann also promises entertainment, shenanigans and food via a taco truck.

To the pitch:

The keeper makes a save in the Midtown-Cass Corridor match

The first round games begin at noon, with the regular season’s losers playing for a chance to advance. The better teams show up at 1 p.m. for the second-round games.

A DJ has set up a soundsystem on a small stage next to the taco truck. New Order’s “World in Motion” — England’s 1990 World Cup theme song — blasts.

Teams have chosen to express their spirit in a variety of ways. Corktown brought along a wooden pheasant decoy to perch atop an empty goal post and watch over their games.

Most visible, and notorious, however, is the Cass Corridor “Suck It” banner, the size of a full bed sheet and emblazoned in gold. There were reported sightings of smaller black and gold “Suck It” signs posted outside each DCFL captain’s house this morning.

Mike Brady claims the Nain Rouge must have been the culprit. “The connection is this: the March of the Nain Rouge was down the Cass Corridor. He must have something against all the other neighborhoods,” Brady says.

“‘Suck it’ is just a funny phrase that means no harm” Corridor’s Amy Kaherl explains. “It’s a taunting tactic, but it’s out of fun.”

Cass Corridor’s strategy is to have a good time. “One third of the people on our team have never played before, but we give equal playing time to all,” Brady says.

“We’re adults,” Kaherl adds. “We shouldn’t be taking adult soccer too seriously.”

Woodbridge huddles up

The Woodbridge team is resting after handily defeating Green Acres 3-1 in a second-round match-up. When asked about their motivation, one player replies, “We have to win because we can’t go home! My cat doesn’t even love me. We have to win.” He’s joking, it seems, but a little negative motivation seems to work.

Philip Lauri, Woodbridge’s captain, says he got involved in the league the way most people did: “I’m friends with Sean.” He also says he “thought it would be a great way to meet my neighbors,” and recruited his team by posting fliers. His team’s strategy going into a semi-final match against Midtown? “Hustle, hustle, hustle.” He sees the league and the Copa as an “incredible display of things you can do in Detroit. Young people are really taking a hold of the city an doing positive things.”

The referees

During the regular season, refereeing falls to volunteers from various league teams, but for the Copa, Mann has brought in professionals. Hector Estrada refs for the Think Detroit kids’ league and also plays in the Liga Detroit, the city’s spanish-language league. He says he finds the level of play in the DCFL good, and while the Liga is all men, “here you got a lot of girls who are actually really good.” They refs say they haven’t had any problems so far, and even though they have the authority to give yellow and red cards, nobody makes the book all day.

Tina George came down from Royal Oak, vuvuzela in tow. She’s here to watch her sons, Nick and Brad, play for Midtown. “It’s been 30 years since I’ve been to Belle Isle,” she says, “and I’m sorry I haven’t been back!” Her sons played together in high school, and Nick assists Brad to a goal in the first half against Cass Corridor. Tina says she’s happy to watch them play again.  “They’re a brother team just like the old days.”

Midtown and Cass Corridor shake hands after their match

Woodbridge and Midtown (which goes by the name “Grimace” in reference to their purple shirts) are tied at the end of their semi-final match, so it goes to penalty kicks. After an seemingly endless trade of goals and saves, Woodbridge takes it.

On the other pitch, the Villages team has come from a 10th place spot at the end of the regular season to win its first three games, defeating Hamtramck in the semi-final.

Villages players look skeptical

The final is set: Woodbridge vs. Villages. Each team has already played at least two hours of soccer today, but they gamely take the field. Woodbridge scores in the first minute, but the Villages soon counter with a textbook corner kick to a header into the net.

Most of the other teams have stuck around to watch the final, and  some players question the integrity of the Villages team. A major point of criticism seems to be that the Villages have kept the same highly skilled squad of six on the field for most of the day, barely using their bench or allowing others playing time. A Cass Corridor team member calls this strategy a “travesty,” and others, similarly outraged consider it against the spirit of the league. Trash talking commences: “Of course they’re in great shape,” a Hubbard Farms player mutters. “The all have Detroit Athletic Club memberships!’

At half time, the Villages lead 3-2. The Detroit Party Marching Band takes the field and is soon joined by spectators on vuvuzelas.

Halftime entertainment: The Detroit Party Marching Band

The second half is hard-fought but less eventful than the first. The Villages end up getting a fourth goal past Woodbridge’s keeper. At the final whistle, the DJ puts on Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time.”

Mann presents the victorious team with the Copa cup, from which they drink vodka.

Villages beat Woodbridge 4-2 to become the first Detroit City Futbol League champions

“You know, it’s a social league, so if you win, you’re the ass,” Villages player Roy Lampheir admits. “The second place team is really the winner  — they’re the moral victors.”

The second place, morally victorious Woodbridge team ends its season by doing vuvuzela-bongs of champagne.

Simone Landon is a Metro Times editorial intern.
Photos by Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman.
Copa Detroit poster designed by Kat Hartman.

  • chris

    “The Woodbridge team is resting after handily defeating Green Acres 3-1 in a second-round match-up.”

    Obviously the author did not watch the Green Acres/Woodbridge match. Green Acres carried a 1-0 lead for most of the game until the pressures of playing two games in a row with limited subs led to giving up three goals in the final five minutes after the Woodbridge team's ability to bring in fresh legs proved too much to overcome.

  • Detourdetroit

    great piece. actually, for accuracy's sake, there was one yellow card issued against cass corridor i believe for booting or punching the ball after a whistle. people from the cass corridor are known for taking their aggression out on errant and flying balls, especially if not properly respected or compensated.


    Stop complaining Chris and recruit more players next season if you don't like the odds.

  • chris

    not complaining. just fixing in inaccurate statement.

  • Asthmatic Villager

    Additionally, another correction: the concoction in the COPA cup was not simply vodka, but a heavenly mixture of vodka, vermouth, olives, olive juice and sweat [yuck] from all 15 Villages players who played according their best to take the COPA cup to its rightful, yet somewhat unexpected place, on Detroit's Eastside.

  • red card lucken

    you mean “least side”.

  • Caramia

    I have attended every game in the city to support the new Detroit soccer league, I am very disappointed that the Detroit Futbol League hasn't supported nor recognized the hard work, effort and heart The Villages PLAYED to win the first Championship. Stop cryin Woodbridge, since you made it to the Final game over a shoot out!!! I was disappointed that I wasn't able to watch The Villages vs. Midtown. Better Luck Next Year!!!

  • Marta&Mia

    “here you got a lot of girls who are actually really good”…roflmao…Hello, Mr. Old Country. Welcome to the new world.

  • Barry Brown

    So True. I played forward for the Villages and I was nervous with the amount of fresh legs Woodbridge had. Luckily the Villages are in top notch shape!!! I am glad I wore my blue dri-fit shorts because we were drenched with hard work!!! ;-)

  • Coach

    The spirit of the COPA Detroit is an end of the season tournament that determines the best team. That team wins and retains the prize which is the cup. This is a single elimination format. Obviously, this means you coach to win. The Villages have had the better team all season and were grooming their team for the final prize. “The Cup”. As in any team there are various positions coaches, star players, role players, cheerleaders, etc. Grow up Cass Corridor and Hubbard Farms and be gracious losers. The Villages enjoyed the whole season not turning away anyone who wanted to join. Everyone played and has improved their game, as well as, made great friends. We will continue to practice so that we can make another run at winning the COPA next year.

    Good luck next year to the gracious losers.

    This is a great league. Awesome job Sean Mann


  • spectator

    Why wasn't there any formal presentation of the cup? I think there was more pomp and ceremony for the 3rd and 4th place teams.

  • M3h Shallal

    I think the last lines of the article were the most accurate way to describe the league.

    “You know, it’s a social league, so if you win, you’re the ass,” Villages player Roy Lampheir admits. “The second place team is really the winner — they’re the moral victors.”

    The second place, morally victorious Woodbridge team ends its season by doing vuvuzela-bongs of champagne.

    Also I was the goalie for woodbridge and I never heard any negative remarks from any of my teammates about Villages or any other teams.

    For the person who said woodbridge shouldn't have made it to the finals and thought mid-town should have been there. Sorry but thats not what happen get over it, but its not like we cheated or anything we played a hard game and came out on top.

  • Barry Brown

    Well Said Coach!! The way the Villages moved the ball was 2nd to none!!. They were the most improved, most skilled, and most likely to win the copa in my eyes!! I am humbled to be on such a quality team like the Villages. We had a goal and we achieved it. Win the Copa!! Now it is time to show we can do it back to back!!!

  • Caramia

    For a social league there hasn't been great sportsmanship among the other teams, just a lot of whining and complaining. Too bad the other teams can't accept the fact that The Villages are the true Champs! What a Fabulous Victory for The Villages! I hope to see them win it again next year! Enjoy your COPA CUP, your team has earned it!

  • Caramai

    Don't alway believe what you read, if the last paragraph of the article helps you sleep better at night So Be It!

    Fact: The Villages have the COPA CUP!

  • Detroit

    Group Hug!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Detourdetroit

    as a cass corridor player, i will second m3h shallal's post quoting the villages player. i say congrats to the villages for 4 straight games of exceptional futbol and the copa glory, as well as a big kudos to woodbridge, the best team of season. as to the comment about the “travesty” that took place, well that's just a funny word to say about a rec league.

  • Asthmatic Villager

    Leave it to Cass Corridor to find a funny word to say about a rec league :)

  • bdcanuck

    The three goals were scored pretty early in the second half. No one scored for like the last 15 minutes.

  • bdcanuck

    Wow. Maybe you should look into gracious winning, not just gracious loosing. I'm glad the Villages players are better sports than you.

  • bdcanuck

    Don't Feed The Trolls.

  • bdcanuck

    Let's be real everyone… there were teams that were massively depleted because they thought the COPA would be last Saturday. Many people, especially from DTLP and Corktown, ended up travelling this week. Woodbridge and Villages had their core teams pretty much in tact, whereas others didn't, so let's be considerate of those less endowed, roster wise.

  • Anonymous

    I play on the Villages team and would first like to mention that Woodbridge was not whiny. They were gracious and played a great game.
    I have to dispute this claim that we “kept the same highly skilled squad of six on the field for most of the day, barely using their bench or allowing others playing time”. I was not part of the squad of 6 I think the writer is referring to but was perfectly happy with my playing time, getting in for a few shifts each game. Every person played at least one shift once a game, usually once a half. We were down a lot of people and only had 3 and at one time 4 male subs, all whom were pretty good. We had about 5 female subs and, like the other teams we played, kept only 2 women on the field at a time. Some of the women who had never played before this year didn’t want a lot of playing time in those games; they didn’t feel comfortable being out there for long. Should we have told them, “Too bad, some people from the Hubbard Farms team want you to play more so get out there!”
    I feel these decisions of strategy should be made within the team and we’re all adults, if you want more playing time you can speak up within your team.
    I have played rec soccer for much of my life in different cities. I’ve never been told that everyone has to have equal playing time, even as a kid. The last time that was expected, I was 5, playing t-ball and they didn’t keep score.
    I really enjoyed the season. We lost a lot of games, graciously, I think and got a long well with all the teams. But the way our team was treated in the final by some bystanders (not Woodbridge) was really disappointing. I was heckled while on the field and we were booed many times, most loudly when we won. I have played rec soccer in the suburbs with some serious douchebags and haven’t seen unsportsmanly conduct like that.
    While it left a sour taste in my mouth about the league, I had a great time during the regular season, losing and not taking it that seriously, and hope the next season is just as fun.