Unique soccer offering focused on competing, Clawson and community

By: Timothy Pontzer | Royal Oak Review | Published July 20, 2018

 Oakland County  Football Club’s John Waller heads up the field July 12 at Clawson Stadium. The OCFC was established  in 2014.

Oakland County Football Club’s John Waller heads up the field July 12 at Clawson Stadium. The OCFC was established in 2014.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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CLAWSON — On a warm summer evening, the only soccer team in the state that is partially owned by its fan base takes the turf field at Clawson Stadium.

Established in 2014, Oakland County Football Club models itself after many successful organizations in Europe and South America, allowing those in the stands to own a slice of the squad.

A semipro team, OCFC offered those interested an opportunity to buy into a “Supporter’s Trust.” Co-owner Nicolino Morana said the response was very positive, with over 100 fans earning shares that collectively represent a 10-percent stake.

“It’s something that is unique for us both in the state and the American sports model overall,” Morana explained before a practice in Clawson July 12. “It is a great way to connect with our fans, and build pride and a literal equity in the club. It increases club awareness. We communicate with them on a daily basis, and they vote on jerseys, fan scarf designs, what concessions are offered, in-game entertainment and who sits on our board.”

A 2007 graduate of Sterling Heights High, Morana said the team plans to offer opportunities to join the trust once again this offseason. He is pleased with the progress of the program.

“I’m really proud of our growth. The hardest part of amateur soccer nationwide is sustainability,” Morana said. “Of course, you want a great product on the field, but you also want people to show up. The hard part is getting fans to the game. We offer a family-friendly, community event, and it’s been great to see the support here in Clawson and from the entire area.”

This is OCFC’s first season at the home of the Trojans after previously playing at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and at Royal Oak High.

“Stoney Creek was great. They have a really nice field there,” Morana explained. “Unfortunately, we were stuck in a spot where we were a little too far north. There’s nothing wrong with Rochester, but we wanted more of a central location. After moving to Royal Oak, we saw an uptick in attendance. Royal Oak had to undergo construction so we had to move again.”

While playing at Royal Oak, the club held training sessions in Clawson. The familiarity and location made the public park’s stadium a natural choice.

“Clawson has been great to us in so many ways. They welcomed us with open arms,” Morana said. “The stadium offers a really cool atmosphere. The community is really tight knit and everyone knows everything that is going on in the city.”

The team averages nearly 500 fans a match, over 150 more than when it first started. Along with fellow co-owners Theo Foutris and Ben Rode, Morana has welcomed in various local youth soccer teams, nonprofit organizations and groups that help aspects of the community like special needs children and shelters.

“We don’t want it to feel corporate. We want our club to have a very grass-roots feel,” Morana said. “While some teams may focus just on winning games or what occurs on the field, we feel it is very important to give back to the community and those around us.”

Comprising amateur players, the roster features many former prep stars who have continued their soccer careers in college. Each member is unpaid, but is provided with the opportunity to compete at a high level and stay in shape during the NCAA offseason.

A 2015 graduate of Birmingham Brother Rice, Robbie Cort is an outside midfielder at Michigan State University. Currently OCFC’s leading scorer with six goals, Cort said he liked representing the club on and off the pitch before his senior year in East Lansing.

“Being on this team has been a lot of fun,” Cort said. “A lot of summers have been a struggle for me to stay healthy and keep my fitness up, but I’ve had good luck and a good time here. We get a decent crowd, and we do a lot of really cool things with the community with camps and clinics.”

Travis Harrington graduated from Utica Eisenhower in 2015 before heading off to Oakland University. Now a senior with the Golden Grizzlies, Harrington has spent the last two summers with OCFC.

“The top things for me here are the environment and community feel,” Harrington said. “We have a close-knit family here on the pitch and in the crowd. I live pretty close, so it’s very cool to have friends and family make it to most of my games. Clawson doesn’t have a team like us, so being here allows for us to represent this great place while allowing people from here and all over the region to come together.”

Morana’s brother, Mario, serves as team captain. A 2011 Sterling Heights alum who went on to play at Marygrove College, Mario Morana suits up at outside midfielder of OCFC.

“The competition and league is pretty high,” Mario Morana said. “With a lot of Division 1 players getting primed for their seasons, you can see the intensity on the field and even in practices. We all play to the 90th minute as hard as possible, which you don’t see in a lot of leagues.”

While he has already finished his time at Marygrove, Mario Morana uses his time with OCFC as a chance to keep playing the sport he loves.

“It’s interesting, because we have a mix of guys like me that are out of college and essentially aren’t playing for anything, and then you have guys that are obviously getting ready to go back to school,” the team captain said. “But we all come together as this great team that offers the community a lot. It’s an environment where you can bring nieces, nephews and anyone from the family at any age to have a good time.”

The group will have its final home game of the 2018 season when it hosts Carpathia FC at 7 PM July 21 at Clawson Stadium. The club currently competes in the Midwest Conference of the United Premier Soccer League.

At press time, OCFC held a 4-6 overall record and missed qualifying for a playoff berth.

“This league is great. Our No. 1 goal is to stay sustainable,” Nicolino Morana said. “We want to grow attendance, grow the trust and break the mark of one thousand fans at a game. Eventually down the road, we’d like to talk to the city and make some alterations to the stadium, and maybe one day build our own field when we get bigger investors on board. We want to compete with the best of the best in our state, but in order to get there, you just have to work on the little things.”

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