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