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Rise of the Rockers? Arena Soccer League, starting in ’22, wants Detroit

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Detroit once looked like a botch to get a Major League Soccer franchise, but those talks failed a few years ago amid stadium disputes. Now a professional startup league has its sights set on Motor City.

The Arena Soccer League, which officially launched this week and set to open in April 2022, has confirmed that Detroit will be part of their original 10 franchise roster.

“Our goal is to have teams in the biggest markets possible, and Detroit is sure to be on that list,” League assistant commissioner Neal Johnson told The News in an email.

“It may happen this year, but we still have a lot of details to clear.”

The Arena Soccer League has only secured two of their top 10 cities, with Chicago (the Sting) and Philadelphia (the Kixx) signing.

It’s not clear which Detroit or metropolitan venue the league is considering.

Arena football is played in a kind of ice rink with plexiglass walls. Balls from the walls are taken into account in the game. The playing field is 85 feet wide and 200 feet long.

At one time, the format drew a large following in Detroit, most notably the Detroit Rockers, who played in the National Professional Soccer League from 1999 to 2001 and called Joe Louis Arena, Cobo Arena, and The Palace at home at various times . The rockers won the championship in 1991-92 and were once owned by the Ilitches. During their peak, they would have an average of over 5,000 fans per game.

Most recently, the Detroit Ignition played from 2006 to 2009 at the Compuware Sports Arena in Plymouth as part of the Major Indoor Soccer League. They won the title in their senior year.

The Detroit Neon, later Detroit Safari, played at The Palace from 1994 to 1997 as part of the Continental Indoor Soccer League. The Detroit Lightning played one season, 1979-80, at Cobo Arena as part of the MISL.

Now the Arena Soccer League would like to add a chapter to the football history of the region.

“The short answer,” said Johnson, “is that we’re working on it.”

The region’s best-known soccer franchise right now is Detroit City FC, which plays traditional soccer at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck and attracts 6,000 fans per game.

The Arena Soccer League plans an annual player draft, a regular season schedule for 36 games for each of its 10 teams, and an all-star showcase.

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Dusty Kennedy