PONTIAC, Mich. – About 30 minutes north of Detroit sits a unique piece of soccer history: the Silverdome.
I had the chance to walk through every inch of the stadium this past weekend, documenting its ins and outs for a photo book I've been working on. As a soccer writer, though, I had a keen eye on the venue's soccer lore – and there is quite a bit of it – and was pleasantly surprised to find a few gems amongst the ruin.
In a VIP area on the club level of the stadium, I spotted a carton of pamphlets, all emblazoned with the MLS logo. It was a sales pitch for the league, made in 1993, encouraging potential ticket buyers in major MLS cities to send in a $75 deposit. The pamphlet suggested that the number of deposits received per city would play a "key role" in determining which cities the league awarded teams to in May 1994.
On the back of the order form in the pamphlet was a list of "Potential MLS communities." Some are obvious locks (New York/New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles) while others seem a bit more ambitious (Albequerque, Milwaukee, New Orleans.)
And there's the little detail of Portland, Ore., which hosted the AT&T MLS All-Star Game earlier this week. They're nowhere to be found.
The venue, of course, hosted group stage matches during the 1994 World Cup. I walked through the locker rooms where the US national team donned their denim kits before taking on Switzerland in that competition; the lockers themselves are incredibly utilitarian compared to the lavish digs afforded to present-day players, little more than a metal bench enclosed by a steel cage.
The US certainly weren't the only soccer team that inhabited the locker room. The NASL's Detroit Express called the Silverdome home from 1978-80, and the venue also hosted the '93 US Cup and a 2010 friendly between Italian giants AC Milan and Greek side Panathinaikos.
The goals used in that game? Those are also still at the Silverdome, awaiting pickup.
Oh, and there was one other order of soccer business I wanted to take care of: standing on the exact spot where former US legend Eric Wynalda hammered home his free kick in that group-stage game against Switzerland. Things look a bit different these days:
A spokesperson for the company that owns the Silverdome – Triple Investment Group – offered assurances to MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday that they have a long-term plan for the venue, though they aren't ready to go public with it yet. An auction earlier in the year resulted in the sale of nearly everything in the venue – the field, scoreboards, bathrooms, wiring and other equipment all sold to the highest bidder. Despite its tattered roof, the stadium remains remarkably structurally sound.
As for the future of soccer in the Detroit area? That, as well, remains to be written, though there's reason for hope with talk of a USL PRO team in the area while the city's NPSL side – Detroit City FC – enjoys strong support from the community. Just last week – less than an hour from the Silverdome itself – nearly 110,000 fans showed up for a friendly between Manchester United and Real Madrid, a new record for attendance at a match played in the US.