The game might have ended with a 1-0 score in favor of Le Rouge, but the importance of the match goes far beyond the box score.
50 years ago, in 1967, Northern Ireland’s Glentoran FC became the Detroit Cougars. On Saturday, Glentoran and Detroit City joined together to celebrate the anniversary and the continued success of Detroit soccer with an international friendly.
“We have experienced a wide breadth of competition all around Europe,” Glentoran Chairman Stephen Henderson said to the crowd at half time. “And I can honestly say that we have never been treated better anywhere.”
In 1967, Glentoran FC were Northern Irish champions and also put on one of the most surprising performances of the 1960’s when they drew Benfica on aggregate, and in the process, became the first team to ever lose on away goals. Later that same year, Glentoran’s players and manager moved stateside with the goal of growing the game in America.
Fifty years later, before a crowd of more than 5,000 people, that goal was realized.
“I told our guys that we probably wouldn’t be playing in Keyworth Stadium in front of 6,000 fans if it wasn’t for the ’67 Cougars,” Detroit City Head Coach Ben Pirmann said after the match. “It’s incredible what these guys did to trail blaze for us and it’s great to see them come back.”
One particular Glentoran supporter returned to the United States after watching the ’67 Cougars, and it was an experience he admitted was surreal. “It’s nice to see them back here after all these years, you don’t imagine it’s going to happen.”
But it did, and even if the sheer spectacle and sentimentality of it all wasn’t enough, the two fan bases were treated to an excellent game of soccer.
“The 90-minute match is probably secondary to all the other great events this weekend,” Pirmann said. “But our guys put it on the line and I think that was to give back to what has happened over the last fifty years.”
The first half consisted of the two clubs feeling each other out, with no extremely dangerous scoring chances, though Detroit City’s Shawn Lawson created chances both on the wing and down the middle.
After a visit from the local wildlife, the second half picked up the pace and both teams had multiple scoring chances. Glentoran had a couple of chances that Detroit City goalkeeper Colin Miller just managed to snuff out, including diving at John McGuigan’s feet to secure the ball and end the midfielder’s run through the DCFC defense.
With just around ten minutes to go, Detroit City unleased a flurry of chances, including Jeff Adkins nutmegging a sliding defender, before Tyler Moorman drew a penalty. The penalty was stuffed by Glentoran’s Dwayne Nelson. Nelson could not hold Le Rouge out much longer however, as a trio of chances in the 86th minute ended with Moorman blasting a shot from distance off the post and crossbar, into the back of the net. Moorman’s goal gave DCFC the 1-0 lead, which would be enough to get the win.
Despite the match being about much more than the result, Pirmann was nonetheless pleased with the process that led to it.
“We put a good product out there today,” Pirmann said. “But we have to use this result as a catapult to our next match.”
That next match will come next Friday against Grand Rapids, but for now, Pirmann and DCFC are happy to linger in the beauty of Saturday’s tribute to Detroit’s first pro soccer club.