FLINT, Michigan—Michiganders are going crazy for soccer. The sport has gained traction in the mitten state as of late with international teams visiting and playing at Comerica Park in Detroit or at the ‘Big House’ in Ann Arbor. In the last year, alone, considering only the sheer numbers, the sport is surging. Selling out 42,000 and 100,000 seat stadiums respectively.
From Detroit FC gaining a cult-like following in Hamtramck’s Keyworth Stadium to the hundreds of thousands of players across the state in the American Youth Soccer Organization, all across Michigan players of all ages are kicking across grassy turfs every weekend in the spring and summer.
“I think it is funny when people discover the sports popularity here,” laughs Stevie Shard, a coach who has worn many hats for many different teams over the years including as a professional player in England until an injury sidelined him in 2004. His new mission is to use the sport he loves to also show the world the place he loves.
“I’ve been around and have lived in Genesee County for years now and for me it was very disturbing to hear people’s opinions about Flint,” Shard says. “When they speak about Flint without any personal knowledge, it’s tiring and entirely unfair.”
Shard moved to the area 14 years ago, from Manchester, England. He runs youth camps, serves as head coach for the men’s soccer team at Northwood University — and now is serving as director of operations and head coach for Genesee Football Club.
The new United Women’s Soccer League team joins the Midwest Conference, which also includes reigning national champs Grand Rapids F.C. Women. The home field for the semi-pro team is Kettering University’s historic Atwood Stadium. The team kicked off its inaugural season May 18, 2018. Games also are set for 7 p.m. June 1, 4 p.m. June 3, and 5 p.m. June 29, all at Atwood Stadium on University Avenue in Flint.
The 30 players come from all over the country including a core contingent from Genesee County.
“We have a lot talented players from this area at the intercollegiate level who are passionate about the area, the game, and equally passionate about putting Flint on the map as a soccer destination,” Shard says.