Major League Soccer is finally coming to metro Detroit. For one game, at least.
The Columbus Crew, which won the MLS Cup in 2020, will visit Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck at 7:30 p.m. April 19 to play Detroit City Football Club in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Tickets are available at tickets.detcityfc.com. The game will be broadcast online via the ESPN-Plus streaming service.
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DCFC, in its first year as a fully professional team, joined the USL Championship league this season. Le Rouge has a win, a loss and two draws in conference play and advanced in the U.S. Open with a 3-0 win over the Michigan Stars on Tuesday. It was DCFC’s first action in the annual tournament since 2019, with the 2020 and 2021 iterations canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The winner of the tournament receives $300,000, with the runners-up receiving $100,000 and the top team from each non-MLS division receiving $25,000. With a win over Columbus, DCFC would need five more wins for the title.
The Crew entered Saturday with two wins, one loss and two draws in MLS action, good for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The game against DCFC will be their first in this year’s U.S. Open Cup. Their highest finish in the tournament, which is named for their founder, came in 2002, when they beat the L.A. Galaxy. The Crew, an inaugural member of the MLS in 1996, nearly moved to Austin, Texas, for the 2019 season, but intervention by Ohio lawmakers led to the sale of the franchise to a group led by the Haslem family, who also own the Cleveland Browns of the NFL.
No non-MLS team has won the U.S. Open Cup since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999, though the Charleston Battery advanced to the final in 2008. MLS’ Atlanta United is the defending U.S. Open Cup champion, beating Minnesota United in the 2019 final. Atlanta enters the field in the third round as well, taking on Chattanooga FC on April 20.
DCFC is coming off a Fall 2021 championship in the NISA, in which it beat the LA Force for the title. This year features the 107th edition of the U.S. Open Cup, which is open to all pro and amateur teams affiliated with U.S. Soccer.
Two Detroit-area teams have made the U.S. Open Cup final previously, with Holley Carburetor losing in 1927 in a game played on the University of Detroit (later Detroit Mercy) campus, and Detroit Chrysler making it in 1941.
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Detroit was considered a front-runner for an MLS franchise at the onset of that league’s most-recent expansion round beginning in 2018, with Cleveland Cavaliers owner (and Michigan State alumnus) Dan Gilbert, Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and the Ford family joining forces for a bid for a franchise that would have played its games at Ford Field.
At the time, DCFC was a semi-pro squad that had gone from playing its games at Cass Tech’s football stadium — dubbed “Estadio Cass-teca,” a play on Estadio Azteca, the inhospitable home of the Mexican national team in Mexico City — to a refurbished Keyworth in 2016.
The MLS was eager to expand to Detroit when Gilbert planned a 23,000-seat soccer stadium on the site of the halted Wayne County Jail construction site. But when he and Gores pivoted to Ford Field, MLS balked at sharing another NFL stadium, despite record attendance for games in Seattle’s and Atlanta’s NFL venues.
MLS commissioner Don Garber signaled the league’s displeasure with Detroit’s plan to share a stadium with the Fords’ Detroit Lions soon after.
“That was a gateway location to the city of Detroit,” Garber said in May 2018 after announcing an expansion franchise in Cincinnati. “A great ownership group with Dan Gilbert, the Pistons family with Tom Gores and a market that we’re excited about.
“There’s a lot of exciting things going on, but you got to have good facilities. We’ve learned over the last 20 years that facilities matter, location matters and they have a great location, but ensuring that the facility works for their fans long-term — not just short-term — is a necessity for us. That’s where they are for us.”
At the time, Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville and Sacramento were named expansion finalists for 2020. FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC have since joined the league, with additional teams in Austin (as part of an agreement to nix Columbus’ proposed move there), Miami and Charlotte. St. Louis will join in 2023, becoming the league’s 30th team, and Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego are mounting expansion candidacies, with Vegas considered a favorite.