'Utility guy' Michael Bryant's versatility shines through with Detroit City FC
It's just moments following a 4-2 win over Loudoun United FC.
The postgame mood feels like a draw and everyone is admitting the match could have easily been a loss. But after a handful of questions, the corner of Trevor James’ mouth finally start to work upward into a smile.
The Detroit City FC manager is talking about his Swiss Army knife, Michael Bryant.
Four days earlier, in a high-stakes, 120-minute U.S. Open Cup match against USL Championship-leading Louisville City FC, Bryant played on the back line at center back and finished as FotMob.com’s highest-rated player.
In the match against Loudoun this past Saturday, the one where Bryant drew James’ postgame admiration, he was playing as an attacking midfielder and scored. And then on Wednesday night against Miami FC, there was Bryant, again anchoring the back line in the absence of Detroit City’s captain, Stephen Carroll.
He was named Man of the Match.
“The thing with Michael is I’ll say to him I don’t know what your best position is. And I’ll ask him, ‘What is your best position?’” James said. “And he’s not sure himself.”
At the professional level, this is not a common conundrum.
“Some of the guys on the team are kinda shocked that I can do all the roles on the field,” Bryant said, laughing.
This past offseason, Bryant stepped out of his comfort zone and took a chance on joining DCFC in its rise to the USL Championship, a level he’s never played at before. He’s an easygoing guy. So, even without a defined role, there were “no nerves,” he said, when moving to Detroit. In the early going, he wasn’t playing much — which he was just fine with. His time would come.
A native of Portola Hills, California, he very much has that SoCal vibe. While his recent contributions on the pitch have garnered much attention, it's his energy in the locker room that teammates have come to love him for.
Backup goalkeeper Ryan Shellow, Bryant's roommate on the road and soon-to-be roommate at home, said that players with his attitude are "super important."
“I've been on teams where we haven't had enough of those guys and it just gets down quick," Shellow said. "Even if you are overall a happier guy, it's hard to come in every day and be that face of happiness. Having guys like Michael — and there's more of them, too…it's big. It's so important for the locker room to be right before you step on the field.
"Michael is a big part of it with that team."
Oddly enough, Bryant didn’t play any of the positions he does now until after his freshman year of high school. To that point, he’d played goalkeeper. But he was bored and wanted to go score goals.
He became a forward and slowly worked his way back to midfielder, then to defender. He played all over the place with the Cal United Strikers, a NISA club that played against DCFC multiple times in Bryant’s tenure. His versatility caught James’ eye.
“Trevor had an idea of who I was,” Bryant said. “He reached out and was like, ‘Hey, what do you think about joining Detroit? He mentioned, ‘I love that you can play anywhere,’ so I had an idea (of how he would use me) already.”
Though his minutes were sparse at first, his teammates now are wondering what they’d do without him.
“He’s been incredible,” said Antoine Hoppenot, another first-year DCFC player, after Saturday’s win over Loudoun. “He’s kind of our utility guy right now. He’s playing center back, he’s playing 10 (attacking midfielder), he’s playing wingback, he’s playing a little bit of everything. He’s playing well everywhere, so it’s tough to find him a spot where he’s going to stay.
“It’s huge to have a guy like that.”
Bryant is just eight appearances into his career with Detroit City and is already a fan favorite. One might think it has something to do with his production — his three goals in USL Championship play are tied for second on the team — but they’d be wrong. This fanfare started in the offseason, over his facial hair.
He sports a thick, dark mustache that is perfectly manicured. Fans “roasted” him for it when he was a visiting player — “They said some of the funniest things, man,” he said — but it’s now become his “trademark look.”
Through DCFC’s fourth match of the season on April 2, Bryant’s 27th birthday, he’d played just 24 minutes. And when he arrived at Keyworth Stadium, he looked out to a sea of thousands of fake mustaches taped to the supporters’ faces in celebration.
“That was hilarious. I looked out into the crowd and I see 10-year-olds, 5-year-olds with little fake mustaches. It’s pretty funny,” Bryant said. “All these fans, they have your back, no matter what. I think that’s kind of a really special thing."
Bryant embodies DCFC’s culture. His team-first attitude stands out, of course, but he’s routinely gone out of his way to be more involved, like when he showed up at the women’s team’s opening match to serve as a Northern Guard capo. Megaphone in hand, he led the supporter section in chants, with that trademark mustache hanging over a beaming smile.
And maybe most importantly, Bryant’s laid-back nature doesn’t exclude him from having a chip on his shoulder — a darn-near prerequisite for lacing up in rouge and gold at this point.
DCFC retained just a handful of players from last year’s NISA squad when it made the jump to the USL Championship, and among the newbies and carryovers alike were plenty of NISA players who’d never played at DCFC’s current level.
When other USL Championship fanbases started to dub Detroit City “The NISA All-Stars” online, they all took notice. Bryant thought it was funny.
“I knew I could play at this level. I played against MLS teams, I’ve played against USL teams prior to all of this, and I’ve seen the level. And I knew the NISA All-Stars could get it done,” he said, quoting the moniker unprompted.
“We definitely joke about (the nickname) a lot. I think all of our guys on our team had a chip on their shoulder or they’re always turned down at some point, or told they’re not good enough at some point.”
As if his recent play wasn't a contribution to his work ethic, how's this: Bryant’s favorite off-day hobby is going to the gym. “Trevor always makes fun of me” for that, he said.
He likes to play video games with his friends back in California. When he’s not playing "Call of Duty," he’s playing co-op seasons on "FIFA 22." His go-to teams are France, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. He also loves the beach, but admitted he hasn’t yet found one in Detroit that lives up to his SoCal standards. He’s close to finishing a degree in business with a focus in marketing through University of Michigan-Flint.
But as for Bryant’s favorite position and best on the field, James will continue trying to get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, the gaffer sure does appreciate the flexibility.
“I said, ‘If we played a cup final tomorrow, where would you be, your best position?’ And his answer would be, ‘Wherever you need me, coach,'" James said.
“It’s great to have him.”
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.