Former and current MSU soccer players unite in National Premier Soccer League
Outside of his collegiate responsibilities, Pirmann is the head coach of a soccer team based in Detroit, where players hail from colleges across the Midwest and fans wear red uniforms, wave flags, beat drums and cheer vehemently.
The Detroit City Football Club or DCFC, is one of five teams in the Great Lakes West Conference in the National Premier Soccer League, a fourth tier soccer federation boasting 78 teams affiliated under the United States Adult Soccer Association.
Of the five teams, three are based in Michigan — Detroit City Football Club, Michigan Stars Football Club in Dearborn Heights, and Lansing United.
MSU has players, both former and current, on each team, including sophomore goalkeeper Zach Bennett on Lansing United, 2005-08 midfielder Josh Rogers who is the captain of DCFC, and junior midfielder Ben Myers on Michigan Stars Football Club, or MSFC.
NPSL teams are a smorgasbord of diverse talent, consisting of college players from MSU, U-M, Oakland and other universities from across the Midwest, and seasoned veterans who have played in the upper tiers of professional soccer.
Beyond the proximity rivalries between the teams, there’s plenty of friendly competition. Team members who play together during the fall and spring find themselves on opposite sides of the field during summer, creating friendly rivalries.
“I would say more than anything it’s fun,” Pirmann said. “It’s great to see guys out of their element. I get to see those MSU players at training for a game at Michigan State for the Big Ten, now I get to see them outside of their environment, how they play in different types of stadiums against different teams. There are rivalries and I think that’s great for the game of soccer and I think that’s great for the communities that each of these teams represent.”
“Fun” was the word Zach Bennett also used to describe NPSL play. In his first year under Lansing United head coach Eric Rudland, Bennett had a strong season, helping Lansing United to a 7-3-2 record. In nine games, Bennett has posted four shutouts and has given up only nine goals.
“Zach’s been phenomenal at goal, he’s a big-time goalkeeper at Michigan State,” Rudland said. He’s got a few clean sheets and he’s been in all but two of our matches as our number one goalkeeper.”
For Bennett, the NPSL is an opportunity to grow in multiple ways. Along with his MSU teammates, including redshirt junior forward Tim Kreutz, redshirt junior defenseman Ryan Keener and sophomore forward Justin Stacey, playing with athletes from several different colleges gives a different perspective of what the game of soccer means.
“There (are) quite a few guys from Oakland and Western and a few guys from Michigan that I’ve played with this summer,” Bennett said. “I didn’t know how it was going to work out before the summer started, but they’ve all been really nice and it gives you an appreciation of the talent that’s in the area. They’ve been great teammates and it just shows how good college soccer is in the whole state.”
MSFC assistant coach David Hebestreit, who coaches current MSU players Ben Meyers, Kyle Rutz and Brian Winterfield, along with former MSU player Ali Scheib, said players put collegiate rivalries behind them when a greater goal is at hand.
“Just because you’re from Michigan State and you’re playing with a Michigan guy, those annoyances and hatreds, those rivalries disappear,” Hebestreit said. “On a good team with a good organization, those rivalries disappear because of the goal at hand.”
The college men on the team are able to learn from their professional teammates, including Thabiso “Boyzzz” Khumalo, a player and assistant coach for Lansing United who plays for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the United Soccer League, Professional Division, a Division III Professional League, and leading scorer Matt Brown, who hails from England and is a forward for Coleshill Township Football Club, a semi-professional football league in the English football league system.
“It’s kinda cool to see the whole spiel of the soccer career and how much experience they have,” Bennett said. “The style of play and how they practice is pretty cool because they’re very professional, and once they get on the field it’s all business, which is cool to see.”
Building a Culture
For current college players, the NPSL is a learning experience. For professional athletes, it can be a means of continuing a dream.
Josh Rogers, captain of DCFC, suffered a broken foot during his junior season at MSU and missed 11 games. He continued to play during his senior year, helping the team to a 2008 Big Ten regular season and tournament championship. After graduation, his chance at continuing to play competitive soccer seemed to end with his college eligibility — until MSU associate head coach Kylie Stannard called.
Stannard, the inaugural coach of DCFC in 2012, recruited Rogers to join the Detroit-based soccer team which plays at Cass Tech High School. Rogers jumped at the opportunity.
“I didn’t know much about it, I didn’t have really high expectations. I just wanted to play soccer again,” Rogers said.
Other than Pirmann and Rogers, the DCFC roster includes former MSU athletes midfielder Cyrus Saydee, who played from 2008-2011, and midfielder Spencer Thompson, who played from 2007-10. The roster also includes Ryan Thelen and Brent McIntosh.
“I was teammates with Cyrus Saydee for one year, Spencer Thompson for two years, and Josh Rogers for four years,” Pirmann said. “Not only do I have the chance to coach them this summer, but I would call some of those guys my friends and people that I trust.”
In Detroit, Rogers finds a growing soccer culture. The visitors’ stands at Cass Tech High School’s football field, where DCFC plays, is packed every game by the Northern Guard Supporters, a team of fans who travel to most of DCFC’s games.
Clad in red — or rouge, a reference to the city of Detroit and DCFC’s nickname Le Rouge — clothing and Viking helmets, the Northern Guard Supporters are borderline riotous in their game chants — waving flags, beating drums, deploying smoke bombs and giving the team a huge boost.
“Traditionally we’re the twelfth man,” Big Vytau, a Northern Guard Supporters member and former MSU student, said.
Vytau was present at last Friday’s game against MSFC in Dearborn Heights, which ended in a 2-1 defeat for DCFC. “The way they play when we’re here and when we’re not here, it makes a marked difference. At least I hope so, because we love them and we hope they love us too.”
Rogers said the supporters play a major role in advancing the football club.
“Those people, they’re not there just to go to a soccer game; they’re not there just to do something on a Friday night,” Rogers said. “They’re there to support this club, propel the club to higher levels. I think this year we’ve reached 3,400-3,500 people packed into little Cass Tech. It’s amazing.”
Referencing the World Cup, Rogers said he has seen crowds at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit during the USA games against Germany and Portugal. Rogers said the interest in the World Cup trickles down to the lower-division soccer leagues.
“You have every kind of different culture in that area looking for a soccer team to support, and those guys live and bring it,” Rogers said. “After games, we go to the bars with (fans.) They know what they’re talking about with soccer. It’s not just us saying ‘hey, did you see that game?’ They know about soccer, they understand the game. And it’s amazing to see.”