'It means everything': Detroit City FC exits U.S. Open Cup run with more than memories
Hamtramck — The fans filtered out of the stadium. Around half the players from both clubs had made their way back into the locker room.
Detroit City FC midfielder Michael Bryant, however, sat down at midfield of Keyworth Stadium and gazed at the goal where Louisville City FC finished off a U.S. Open Cup win, 1-1 via penalty kicks (4-2), over DCFC on Tuesday night in the round of 32.
In a match where Le Rouge created twice the amount of dangerous chances against USL Championship-leading Louisville, to lose like that — on a "flip of the coin," DCFC captain Stephen Carroll said — well, "it's tough to take."
But in a season in which Detroit City has been doubted by so many and lived up to the challenge thus far, there's plenty to take away from a USOC run — the deepest in club history — that saw DCFC defeat an MLS side in memorable fashion and challenge their league's best.
"It means everything, doesn't it? I mean, we've got some quality players here and we see it week in and week out, and other teams are finding it now as we play more teams," James said. "We've got to make sure we keep them in the good habits of working very hard and our quality will show through, which it did tonight, I feel."
Top DCFC scorers Antoine Hoppenot, Maxi Rodriguez and Pato Botello-Faz all made their first appearances since suffering injuries on April 30 against New York Red Bulls II, and DCFC was without a crucial member of its back line in Matt Lewis.
Filling in for Lewis, Bryant was the highest-rated player of the match for either team with a game score of 8.9, per FotMob.com.
James added that the heightened stakes of the last two Cup games, plus the effort from players in new roles, will benefit his club when the going gets tough during the USL Championship season.
"It does (give you confidence), because you look for positives in every performance, and you have to take positives from defeats," James said. "You've got to remember what it feels like a little bit and remember what work you put in in the game to try to repeat the good things and have a better feeling at the end of it."
Louisville City will travel to Keyworth on Aug. 20 for the first league matchup between the two squads. While Carroll noted that league games typically play out differently than Cup games, he anticipates his team will be up for the challenge the second time around.
"That's just the way we play," Carroll said. "We kind of felt like we were in this game the whole game. We just kept driving and kept pushing, making them play a game they didn't want to play. We knew we were mentally more tough than them to keep our physicality going.
"Even when we lose, we still make it difficult for people. So, I feel like we've got their respect after this game, and we'll see them in a couple weeks for round two."
Following Tuesday's loss, Carroll lamented the end of the Cup run, where every match means more and every bounce of the ball matters.
"Everyone loves it. Every game is a Cup final. Everyone loves to play for it all," Carroll said. "It's just a different kind of energy, different feel than just a regular league game. ... I wish there was more of them."
And while that may be the case, Tuesday's loss was not the end of DCFC's challenge to continue making the doubters look silly.
"It's Detroit, we always have to prove someone wrong," Carroll said. "There's a slogan, 'Detroit vs. Everybody,' and it seems to be, every week, everyone wants to beat us. ... No one expected us to do anything, and we're just steamrolling through people.
"People don't expect much out of us until they play us, and we've just got to prove them wrong, at the end of the day."
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.