Roster rebuilds are part of life in the lower divisions of the soccer pyramid in the United States. Players normally move regularly from team to team, wherever they can get the best deal; deals are rarely long term. So it is for Detroit City FC. Coming off a successful transition from the somewhat iffy status of NISA into the relative stability of the USL Championship in 2022, Le Rouge put together a team that closely resembled the all-conquering force that dominated the division 3 designated NISA. Coach and General Manager Trevor James took the core of the NISA champions and added a number of top players from around NISA and one or two Championship players to form a team that made the playoffs at the first attempt, shocking a lot of naysayers around the league.
Those performances in 2022 opened some eyes. Now, the club is looking to take the next step forward and compete in the upper echelons of the Championship in 2023. That step will be taken without a few key players from last year who have either elected to depart or who have not be re-signed in hopes of recruiting upgrades. Among those who have left are forward Antoine Hoppenot and left wing-back Deklan Wynne. Hoppenot has signed for Hartford Athletic in a move to be closer to family on the East Coast. Hartford’s other attraction is new coach Tab Ramos, who led the US U-20 men’s national team to three straight quarterfinal appearances in the World Cup at that age level. Hoppenot’s assists and veteran savvy came in quite handy for DCFC in 2022. That offensive production will be sorely missed.
Wynne’s departure will hurt on both sides of the ball. The left wing-back provided more than goals and assists. He also locked down his side of the field defensively, providing wide cover for the three central defenders. His work levels and ability to win and keep possession will be missed. His performances with DCFC did not go unnoticed as he was recalled to the New Zealand national team after an absence of several years. He was capped during the fall internationals against Australia, the only DCFC player to experience international football in 2022. He has signed with the Charleston Battery for 2023. Both Wynne and Hoppenot will make appearances at Keyworth this year in their new uniforms.
Filling two of the eleven starting positions will be a challenge for James. He will also have to replace a number of players who provided much needed depth. Forwards Francis Atuahene and Pato Botello Faz were not re-signed. Atuahene rarely started and his appearances off the bench did not provide the required offensive spark. Having once been a highly rated NCAA player at the University of Michigan, he didn’t carry that over into the pros and has dropped through the leagues from #4 overall pick in MLS to being released by DCFC. Pato Botello Faz was popular among the City faithful as a hard working forward who left no ball unchallenged. He just didn’t score enough goals in his minutes played to justify a new contract. It is the harsh reality of a striker’s life that goals are how they are judged. James will now be scouring the country for more firepower.
Midfielder Brad Dunwell endured an injury-plagued 2022 and also was not retained. Two players who were on loan with DCFC also returned to the clubs: forward Macky Diop and defender Karl Ouimette. Ouimette contributed greatly to an injury-depleted back line. Diop didn’t add much in the way of attacking threat. Reserve goalkeeper Ryan Shellow, who had a shutout in Colorado Springs in his only appearance, is out of contract.
James has only just started to fill in the roster gaps. So far, just two midfielders have joined the remaining players. Midfielders Skoge Simonsen and Richard Ballard have signed from within the Championship. Simonsen is a Norwegian who spent last year with Loudon United. The 24 year old led Loudon in assists and chances created last year after a solid college career at St. John’s and SMU. Ballard, 28, is a product of the Louisville City system who spent the last two years with Miami. He probably attracted James’ eye with the assist that deprived DCFC of two points during Le Rouge’s visit to Miami in 2022.
DCFC has ensured that the solid spine of the team will return in 2023. Goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher, defenders Stephen Carroll, Matt Lewis, and Devon Amoo-Mensah have all signed new deals. Amoo-Mensah is working his way back from a serious knee injury and no date has been set for his return to full action. He was missed during the second half of the season. Maxi Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Diop will be back in midfield. Yazeed Mathews and Connor Rutz will be part of the attack. Utility man Michael Bryant, a fan favorite due to his contributions at several position due to the injury crisis in 2022, has also been re-signed. Reserves like Cy Goddard and player-coach Richard Foster remain under contract, too.
To take the next step in contention for trophies, James and his staff have to find more firepower up front. DCFC has to have a more consistent threat to the opposition goal, especially at home. During the second half of the season, visiting teams had figured out his tactics and were able to counter them effectively, leading to a lot of points dropped at Keyworth. DCFC was among the league leaders in drawn matches. Those have to be turned into wins for the team to contend. Given the vociferous support at Keyworth, the venerable stadium has to become a fortress. There are just seven weeks until the opening game of 2023, a visit to San Diego on March 11. DCFC will play in El Paso before opening the home portion of the schedule against Indy Eleven on March 25. No doubt the Northern Guard and the rest of the City faithful are preparing to give the team a warm welcome to the new campaign.