When you step inside Detroit Soccer District, you’ll notice it’s unlike any soccer club you might have seen before. Joseph de Verteuil, 28, wanted the building — a former auto repair shop near Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood — to feel a lot like the places where he played the game back in Brazil. The once-decrepit space is now a lively indoor-outdoor soccer hub evoking the culture of pelada, a Brazilian term for pickup soccer games played wherever people can find or improvise a field.
Verteuil got the idea for a soccer complex in Detroit in 2015 while working a job in finance and attending Wayne State University. While soccer was and is widely available throughout the suburbs, he’d found there were few places to play in Detroit. His vision, he says, was to make soccer affordable and accessible for people of all ages living in the city.
“When I was growing up, soccer wasn’t affordable,” he says. “There’s a significant financial barrier that makes no sense for a sport that just needs a ball, two goals, and some friends to play.”
Verteuil had played for several Detroit-area soccer clubs and had also traveled back and forth to Brazil, where he was born and spent his first few years before his family moved to Michigan in 1994. It was back in Brazil that his passion for soccer truly took hold.
“I used to play in this club in Brazil. There was just an outdoor field with a gate, and it was run by some top-level guys. That’s where I really learned how to play,” he says. “I wanted to mimic that. Detroit has the same landscape.”
Verteuil created a business plan, applied for a Motor City Match grant, and in August 2018, the city announced that his idea had won a $30,000 space grant to help him find a location.
He drove all around the city to find the perfect spot.
“Whatever part of the city I could go, I went,” he says. “When I told people, ‘I was in this part of the city last night,’ they said, ‘You went where?’ ”
The site he finally settled on for Detroit Soccer District needed a lot of work. On the inside, graffiti covered the walls, puddles of water and moss coated the floor, and worst of all, there was only a partial roof.
Today, some of the graffiti remains, but you’ll also find workout machines, a mini soccer field for kids, two big-screen TVs usually showing soccer matches, and two large murals by local artist John Arabo highlighting some of the sport’s greatest players.
An area outside that was once covered with a large pile of tires is now a field of turf, two nets, and bleachers surrounded by a fence. Verteuil nailed the padding on the gym’s walls himself, and says it was one of the hardest things he’s ever done.
The outside soccer field is significantly smaller than a normal-sized pitch. Instead of two teams of 11 players, teams play 5-on-5 or 7-on-7, which allows players to get more touches on the ball. That’s especially important for kids just getting comfortable with the game, Verteuil says.
Since opening, DSD has stuck to Verteuil’s original mission of making soccer affordable and accessible. It offers drop-in games for people of all ages, as well as summer camps and a youth training academy to help more kids learn the game.
Membership is $30 a month and includes pickup soccer, leagues, academy training and more. A second family member costs an additional $20 a month, and family members beyond that are $10 per month each.
DSD has also teamed up with several charter schools in the city, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department to offer discounted leagues. Verteuil is also working to bring power soccer to the area — a version of the game for people who use motorized wheelchairs.
Verteuil has several stories that make him proud of what he’s accomplished, but one stands out more than the others.
“We had five or six kids come in here, and they were like, ‘Oh, this is awesome,’” he says. “This is exactly what I envisioned. They had a training session and had a good time. That was a proud moment for me.”