Editorial (February 20, 2019) – While scanning the women’s soccer landscape, in Michigan, there is no professional team to see just yet. There is, however, a growing number of impressive women’s clubs operating at the “professional amateur” and “elite amateur” levels. The United Women’s Soccer, Midwest Conference teams have revealed their schedule this week, and there are five mitten based clubs participating.
The Midwest Conference includes the following: Expansion side AFC Ann Arbor, Detroit Sun, Grand Rapids FC, Lansing United, and Michigan Legends FC. Additionally, there are six more Michigan based teams playing regionally, in the Michigan Premier Soccer League.
Five Michigan teams to play in UWS
2019 will be the fifth season for UWS, and the third season for the Midwest Conference. Reigning UWS Midwest Conference champion, Grand Rapids FC, have already announced a handful of very talented players. Early roster announcements include—Riko Sagara, coming over from Lansing United, and the return of former Grand Valley State University and GRFC defender Clare Carlson. The Ada, Michigan native has been with the club since its inception.
Likewise, the Detroit Sun has announced the return of their 2018 captain, the UWS Offensive Player of the Year, Dani Evans. Evans earned the award by scoring three goals and assisting eight more, in her 10 appearances for the Sun. The Sun play their home games at Ultimate Soccer Arenas, a massive indoor sports complex in Pontiac, Mi. The orange clad Sun also fields a talented second team, in the MPSL.
DANI EVANS SIGNED
2018 UWS All-League 1st Team
2018 UWS Assist Champion
2018 UWS All-Midwest 1st Team
2018 UWS Midwest Offensive POY
2018 Sun Team Captain
Oakland University All-Summit 1st Team @LFCIAMichigan @DSoccerCentral @USA @UWSSoccer @OaklandWSOC pic.twitter.com/0z8PbROPF1
— Detroit Sun FC (@DetroitSunFC) January 24, 2019
2018’s fourth place finisher was the Brighton-based Michigan Legends FC. Club Director of Player Development, Kevin Oakley, shared back in late January, that his club’s UWS side had commitments from at least 25 high level collegiate players. One such player, is the 2017 Big East Freshman of the Year and Xavier University forward, Sydney Schembri. The club also brought back UWS All-American, Alia Frederick, for their 2019 UWS season.
Michigan Legends FC play their home games at the Legacy Center, a large, multi-sport athletic facility. Among the Legacy Center amenities is a 110,000 square foot field house, as well as numerous outdoor fields. One of their outdoor playing fields has recently had floodlights installed, creating the possibility for them to play their first ever outdoor match.
While Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Michigan Legends FC are now entering their third year of UWS competition, 2019 will be Lansing United’s sophomore campaign. Lansing United’s 2018 debut season was a smash success, as Coach Jason Crist’s team produced an undefeated record and a Midwest Conference Final appearance. United’s success was mirrored in the stands, as their home games had reported average attendances of above 500 fans. Two other teams in the division reported average attendances just under 300.
Lansing’s second season brings with it both high expectations, and a few new questions. United could now have new pressure on them, to match the lofty results of 2018. Additionally, Lansing United’s mens team recently changed hands and rebranded as the Lansing Ignite, in the new USL League One. Curious minds might ask, will this new arrangement have any effect on the remaining Lansing United team?
Announced in the fall of 2018, UWS welcomes AFC Ann Arbor for the 2019 season. AFC Ann Arbor hired Andy Pritchard as their first head coach, and Kristine Adams as their first general manager. The Mighty Oak more recently announced a new multi-year agreement with Concordia University, to make the 2,500 capacity Cardinal stadium, the club’s home. The brand new UWS team will kick off it’s first league campaign on May, 10, when they travel to play the Detroit Sun.
?? Home Opener: 5/17 vs @GRFCWomen
⚽️⚽️Home Double-headers with the men: 6/2 and 6/22 pic.twitter.com/vycjRUXAUr
— AFC Ann Arbor (@AFCAnnArbor) February 18, 2019
With time comes rivalry
The UWS Midwest Conference turns three in 2019. The second tier of the women’s game is still in its infancy. Creating places for top female talent to play, and continue their development is the priority, as it stands. Longevity, is, sadly, a difficult quality to come by in American Soccer. As AFC Ann Arbor enters the league, Genesee FC has quietly folded. If longevity is found, having regular contests between these in-state teams could become an entertaining feature at this level.
The Detroit Sun, and Grand Rapid FC, may produce a cross-state rivalry if given time. The Sun and GRFC have crossed paths in the postseason in both of their first two UWS seasons. In 2017, Grand Rapids FC defeated the Detroit Sun in the National Semifinal, on their way to their UWS National Championship win.
The Blues, again, thwarted the Detroit Sun in 2018, when they won after extra time, and penalty kicks, in the Midwest Conference Playoff semifinal. The Sun versus GRFC game dates, June 8 and July 7, may well foreshadow the UWS postseason, and become the highlight of the Michigan soccer calendar.