Midfielder Dani Evans lines up a kick. A Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and Oakland University product, Evans has served as team captain for two seasons.

Midfielder Dani Evans lines up a kick. A Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and Oakland University product, Evans has served as team captain for two seasons.

Photo provided by Quinn Bezenah

Local stars shine bright with Detroit Sun FC

By: Timothy Pontzer | Rochester Post | Published July 10, 2018


PONTIAC — When asked to describe the makeup of Detroit Sun FC, Skipper Mukhtar quickly responded with one word.

“Family,” said Mukhtar, who has served as coach of the Sun for the club’s entire two-year existence. “We have all local girls. A lot of teams in our league have girls from all over the world. With us, we try to be a true Detroit-based team.”

The group competes in the Midwest Division of the United Women’s Soccer League, which is the second division of the U.S. Soccer pyramid system.

A pro-am team, the roster has 48 total players, with 47 hailing from Michigan and 45 of those coming from metro Detroit high schools. Members must be finished with high school, and many use the team as filler during the college offseason.

“We look for the best players locally. I talk to a lot of college coaches and see who may be interested,” Mukhtar explained. “I watch a lot of college and high school games, and I know a lot of these girls since they were young and know their club and high school coaches. We want to be a team where local girls can look up to and want to play for.”

Mukhtar said the metro area is a fertile recruiting ground.

“This is the best area for youth soccer in the country. You have clubs like Jaguars, Nationals, Hawks and Vardar,” Mukhtar said. “There are many elite high school programs like Grand Blanc (High), Novi (High), (Birmingham) Marian, (Rochester Hills) Stoney Creek and so many others. It’s a hotbed for women’s soccer in the United States. It provides our backbone and the ability to play Midwest, blue-collar soccer.”

In the first season last year, Sun FC made the UWS semifinals. Two players turned professional afterward, including Stoney Creek and Bowling Green State University alum Madison Schupbach, who joined a Welsh Premier League club in late June.

“A lot of our girls get looks from scouts at the games,” Mukhtar said. “It gives them an opportunity to stay fit and play at a high level, either during or after college. Some even say it is a higher level of play than college.”

Sun FC fields a top squad and a reserve team. Dani Evans, who is a Stoney Creek and Oakland University grad, has served as captain of the first team for two seasons.

“One of the best things about playing here is the impact it has made on women’s soccer,” Evans explained. “Five years ago, there were no women semipro teams in Michigan. For a lot of us, we started with Skip, who essentially spearheaded the movement of making high-level women’s soccer accessible.”

At press time, Evans led the league in assists with eight. She said she took great pride in seeing the next generation of girls on the sidelines.

“We get the opportunity to be role models for younger players,” Evans said. “We see youth girls at all of our games, both home and away. They want to keep working on their skills so hopefully they can play college, semipro or even professional soccer.”

At 28 years old, Evans is the eldest member of the team. The average age of the club is 21.

“She’s our oldest player, but you wouldn’t know it out on the field,” Mukhtar praised. “She comes to training every day. She never misses anything. She’s a perfect role model for all of these girls. She’s an amazing person and the best female leader I’ve ever coached in my life.”

Mukhtar will helm the Warren De La Salle boys program this fall. Previously he has coached the girls at Madison Heights Lamphere and both boys and girls at Grosse Pointe North.

While at GPN, he had Justine Lynn on his roster. Now playing at Indiana University, Lynn has been a standout for Sun FC for two seasons.

“(Lynn) has played in every single game for us except one. She can always be counted on,” Mukhtar said. “She’s an outside back, but I know she’ll come up with a big goal when we need it. She’s an awesome kid who has a work (ethic) that never stops.”

A junior with the Hoosiers, Lynn has been named Academic All-Big Ten the past two seasons.

“I love how competitive the league is, especially for the summer,” Lynn said. “Playing here really helps build my confidence and keeps me in shape for my upcoming college season. I love all of the friendships I’ve made while playing, which has honestly been my favorite part.”

Rachel DeLuca agreed that the competition is high quality. A Fraser High grad currently playing at Detroit Mercy, DeLuca said she relishes her role with the team.

“It’s quite an experience and exciting moment to play for Sun FC,” DeLuca said. “There are many talented girls that come from different levels and ages. Each player has given me the opportunity to learn and comprehend the game better. Within this league, there is never an easy game. Competing at such a high level has helped me with my individual game. It has helped me to become more competitive, tactical and aided my visualization and communication on the field.”

A senior with the Titans, DeLuca was named Horizon League Defender of the Year in 2016.

“(DeLuca) is at everything. She plays on the reserve and the first team,” Mukhtar said. “She’s a soccer nut and just always wants to play. Last year, she played every game at a defensive position. This year, she played every game as an outside defender, and we moved her into the midfield a bit and she’s scoring goals.”

Sun FC tallied 29 goals in the regular season while only allowing 11. Overall, the club finished 6-2-2 to secure a playoff spot. The team will face Grand Rapids FC, last year’s league champions, in a first-round matchup at 6 p.m. July 12 at Lansing Soccer Complex.

“As a team, we learn a lot from each other on the field,” Evans said. “Our backgrounds differentiate from schools to club to age. Over the course of the summer, we gain so much experience just from the opportunity to play with different girls. We all see the game differently, but that’s what is so great. We’re able to work off and learn from one another to bring our individual games to the next level.”