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A new standard? Detroit City FC impress in their USL expansion season

Between their impressive stadium, smart roster build, and quality tactics, Detroit City FC has been an exemplary USL expansion team.

3 min read

ANSWER:

BY JOHN MORRISSEY

Full question submitted by Harwan A.:“Detroit City FC is new to the USL Championship and has taken to it nicely. How do you rate their transition to the league and what can be expected of them in the coming years?”

Thanks for the question, Harwan! Both on and off the pitch, Detroit City has been a smashing success.

To date, they’re the most successful USL Championship expansion side in the last five years in terms of points earned per game. They’re currently sitting in seventh in the Eastern Conference right now, which puts them above the playoff line. On top of that, both FiveThirtyEight and my own odds give the club an 85% chance of making the playoffs.

CONTINUITY IS KEY

Continuity has set their transition to the USL Championship apart from previous expansion teams. For Detroit, that starts with their manager. They retained Trevor James, whose experience ranges from running player development for the LA Galaxy to assistant coaching with the Portland Timbers and scouting for the Chicago Fire, as their coach. He also spent two years on the Indy Eleven staff and served as their technical director.

After leading Detroit City to numerous NPSL and NISA trophies, James got the USL nod.

Detroit City’s opening roster featured seven senior players from the ‘James Era’ in the lower tiers, meaning that Detroit came into the Championship with more chemistry than the typical expansion team. Many of those returners, including Nate Steinwascher (third in the league in saves), Pato Botello (team-leading six goals), and talismanic midfielder Maxi Rodriguez, have proven to be top-end USL talents.

Even more importantly, those players allowed Le Rouge to retain their 3-5-2 tactical system as they changed leagues. Two of the three starting central defenders from 2021 returned to the team, along with Rodriguez in ahead of them and Steinwascher in net behind them. That’s a strong core.

IMPORTANT SIGNINGS

Still, a team is made up of more than just five or six players. Detroit’s other additions have been vital as well.

Let’s break down the signings by placing them into two buckets: USL stalwarts and NISA all-stars. In the first category, Deklan Wynne was one of the top chance creators in the league from the wingback position after a strong stint with OKC Energy in 2021. Karl Ouimette, who put in 100 appearances with Indy Eleven, has been a rock at center back. Still, no one has had a bigger impact than Antoine Hoppenot. The ex-Louisville man is fifth in the USL in chances created. Hoppenot’s intelligent runs and inch-perfect crosses set the tone for Detroit, and this last-ditch assist in transition to earn a draw against Oakland recently shows his importance.

On the NISA side, Devon Amoo-Mensah really stands out. He was signed from the Michigan Stars and earned all-league plaudits before a midseason injury. Still, Amoo-Mensah’s technique as a passer and ball carrier were vital for Detroit. Elsewhere, players like Rhys Williams and Michael Bryant are key figures poached from the club’s former league rivals. You can criticize Detroit for a lack of depth, and their recent run of form – just one win since late May – is indicative of that issue, but this roster is playoff-quality.

THE FUTURE

Speaking of depth, that’s the primary thing that Detroit should address going forward. Even without a ton of it, though, this season’s success is a wonderful thing to build on. If Detroit can add a few starting-caliber pieces up top and in the midfield, keep their defense-first identity, and avoid losing players like Amoo-Mensah to bigger opportunities, they’ll be a stalwart at the top of the USL table.

Other aspects of the club add value to Detroit City, too. The club already has one of the best fanbases in the league. Keyworth Stadium is an intimate, supporters-first environment, and Detroit regularly packs it with more than 7,000 fans. Their W-League squad nearly topped their division, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them join the upcoming second-tier USL Super League. On the men’s side, there’s already a nascent academy system in place, represented by the Tanyi brothers this season.

No matter how you slice it, Detroit City has been an exemplary expansion team in the USL.

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