Left, David Dwaihy of Grosse Pointe Woods is part owner of Detroit City Football Club’s Le Rouge team. Right, pressure is applied to Le Rouge’s Zach Myers as he dribbles the ball down the field. Fans called the North Guard fill the stands and line the fence. Photos by Ann L. Fouty and Tom Bedell
June 13, 2013Traveling through Europe, David Dwaihy discovered the topic of soccer was one he and his fellow travelers could connect and converse about — enthusiastically.
Settled on his home turf, soccer remains the topic he thoroughly enjoys discussing.
"This is an accessible sport," he said. "You don't need much to play. It's pure. It's really prevalent with youth. It's easy to learn and the rules are not overly complicated. At the higher level you see athleticism and skill. It's fast paced but with skill and intensity."
Dwaihy began playing soccer as a youth, securing a spot on Grosse Pointe North High School's varsity team for four years and he said he had a "good career" at Kalamazoo College. Now 32 and living in Grosse Pointe Woods with his wife, Meghan, and 11-month-old daughter, Lyla, Dwaihy keeps his feet in the mix as both part owner and a midfield player in Detroit City Football Club's Le Rouge team.
"My job is simple — to be an ambassador. I'm the only one (of the five partners) who enjoys the games because I'm on the bench. Most weeks I suit up and am in the mix. I'm happy to be a part of it," he said from his University Liggett School classroom, where he teaches high school math. He also coaches ULS varsity girls' soccer. "This is the first thing in (my) life that is altruistic, of being part of something from the ground level, standing by the product. It's pure and good."
The two-year old Le Rouge team is part of a fourth-tier, minor league soccer team playing in the National Premier Soccer League's Midwest Great Lakes Conference, along with teams from Zanesville, Ohio, Erie, Pa., Cleveland, Buffalo, N.Y. and FC Sparta from Berkley. Both Zanesville and FC Sparta are new to the schedule this year.
Le Rouge's roster lists Division 1 college players, who, Dwaihy said, play to keep their skills sharp between seasons. Other players are from Division 2 and 3 colleges, as well as recent college graduates and Dwaihy who says he's on the older end. Michigan State University assistant soccer coach Ben Pirmann and Adil Salmoni, who Dwaihy calls the "soccer whisperer" because of his prowess of the game, guide the team that suits 18 per game.
The first Le Rouge 2013 game was May 12 a 5-1 trouncing of Sparta. In game two, Cleveland went down 2-1; game three Zanesville fell 2-0; and game four was played in the rain with FC Sparta going down 4-1.
Le Rouge remains undefeated. Sunday's game the Erie Admirals were out played 3-0 before a crowd of 1,000.
Le Rouge plays 12 regular season games plus two friendly matches with teams not in the league, the Windsor Stars and the Columbus Crew Super 20s.
With the home field at Cass Tech High School, the stands fill with supporters, who call themselves the Northern Guard and are wrapped in the team's colors of maroon and gold.
"They are all chanting, singing," Dwaihy said of the avid fans. "They are good at policing themselves. There is no alienating. These are guys who like to have fun and are good at not crossing the line. They are passionate and supportive. They don't boo, don't do anything less than urging us on. The guys on the team have respect for them. They (fans) are creating an atmosphere for competitive soccer and on the other side raising money for the Wounded Warriors."
The Northern Guard started Hooligans for Heroes to support soldiers and their families via the Wounded Warrior Project. Hooligans was started when Le Rouge supporter Chris Monroe related back home how his fellow servicemen in Afghanistan had been wounded. Now the Hooligans initiate fundraisers supporting the Wounded Warrior Project that provides services to injured military members as they transition into civilian life.
"There's a lot of good stuff going on behind the scenes," Dwaihy said.
But the Northern Guard's main focus is to exuberantly support the 40 members of Le Rouge, a name that acknowledges the area's French heritage. In fact, the team is all about Detroit, named by Sean Mann, an owner and founder of DCFC.
"Sean wanted (the name) Detroit City as a European connection. It's clear that we will play in the city and represent the city. The (team) logo is the city's Spirit of Detroit. The maroon and gold goes with the French heritage," Dwaihy said.
DCFC was born from Mann's idea of bringing neighborhoods together to play soccer. The first summer, Dwaihy said, 11 co-ed, recreational teams organized based on neighborhoods and played on Belle Isle.
"My first brush was he invited me to the Hubbard Farms (neighborhood team)," he said.
In the four years the neighborhood clubs drew 1,000 players from all over the city and Mann took this as a sign — there was enough interest to offer a higher caliber of the sport and have a financially strong and enthusiastic fan base. With partners Todd Kropp, Alex Wright and Ben Steffans, Mann and Dwaihy bought a franchise in the National Premiere Soccer League, creating DCFC.
"They decided to make a go of it. They hadn't played (soccer) in this area growing up so they brought me in. I was the soccer guy of the five. They were the brains. We met weekly for a whole year. There were lengthy discussions of what we should call ourselves and colors."
Le Rouge kicked off in the spring of 2012 and has steadily grown in popularity with an average of 1,500 supporters per game (2012 statistic).
"The guys just want to continue to play at a higher level, and they are addicted to playing in front of a big crowd," Dwaihy said. "For me, it has been an amazing introduction to the city. It has been rewarding to get through that big barrier and be a part of something big and positive in the city. The second goal is to be part of something cool and special in the city."
It's pretty special when Le Rouge is on the top of the league in a game that is played by more athletes and watched by more people than any other sport in the world.