We witnessed another first for Pittsburgh soccer on Wednesday.
At picturesque Highmark Stadium, and with Downtown Pittsburgh in the backdrop on a mild early February day, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds commemorated National Signing Day by staging a presentation for 19 of their Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA) players who are high school seniors, with ceremonial signings and photo ops.
You can count me in the group of folks who prefer not to be indulged with National Signing Day-type media coverage that we’ve seen in recent years for football, and to a lesser extent, basketball. I don’t intend to go out of my way to cover and follow soccer recruiting on a wide scale level.
However, that being said, it’s hard to ignore that this was milestone day for RDA — and special moment for many players and their families.
“This is a really exciting day,” said Jason Kutney, Riverhounds Academy and Youth Development Director at the beginning of the day’s festivities.
“This is what the Riverhounds Academy was built to do. Help players get to the next level.”
As a former Collegiate head coach, I understand the importance of the college selection and recruitment process not only for the players and their families, but also for the coaches and programs that they will be playing for — and for those coaches and programs like the RDA which provide opportunities for those players to develop and showcase their skills and abilities.
“They are really our products,” said Scott Gibson, Riverhounds Academy Director of Coaching, who coached the girls to a U-15 National Tournament victory in 2013, and runner-up in 2015.
“We started the Academy on a training basis in 2007, and then in 2009 with team model. This is the first team that has gone all the way through and now graduating.”
I find it hard to believe that we’ve come this far — with National Signing Day events that have spilled into our soccer culture in the U.S. — and now in Pittsburgh.
The Riverhounds have reason to celebrate as they’ve reached the next big step in the development its youth soccer program.
A sign of the times.
Prior to the establishment of the RDA, Western PA has had a few well established clubs providing youth soccer players with Cup-level and Olympic Development Programs which continue to produce their own players (i.e. Emma Hasco who led Upper St. Clair girls to PIAA Class AAA title will be heading to Penn State, has played for Beadling S.C.).
The Riverhounds realized the importance of developing an academy program with the primary interests to develop elite homegrown players and further growing the game of soccer in an area that has not traditionally been a hotbed of talent.
There’s no doubt that building this sort of program takes time, and there are still challenges that remain.
“You look at the many steps and it can be daunting,” said Kutney.
“It was especially challenging on the girls side, as it was really new. We had no history. No record.”
“But this is why we do what we do. Whether it is for a college education or potentially a professional soccer at some point.”
Ironically, it’s the girls program that has flourished. This group that includes 15 players that are college-bound, have set a pretty high standard, with successes in various national competitions.
Here’s an extended clip of my conversation with Kutney, who also goes on to talk about the overall signs of progress of soccer in Western Pennsylvania…
In all, were 15 girls and four boys players who were part of the festivities on Wednesday.
There are a few more RDA products that will be announcing commitments later, with some who are pending Ivy League commitments, which take a little bit more time.
The players who took part in Wednesday’s signing day included:
Name / College / High School / Position
Carli Chiatto / Indiana State / South Fayette / Defender
Elaina Walnoha / Cleveland State / Upper St. Clair / Def/Mid/Fwd
Emma Bruno / Baldwin Wallace / Bethel Park Goalkeeper
Jessica Boytim / Virginia Tech / Norwin / Defender
Jessica Moore / St. Francis (Pa.) / Yough / Defender
Kaitlyn Snyder / Rollins College / Linsly / Def/Mid
Marrisa Zetty / West Virginia Wesleyan / Belle Vernon / Midfielder
Maya Watkins / Hofstra / New Brighton / Mid/Fwd
Megan Herr / Rutgers / Pine Richland / Mid/Fwd
Micayla Livingston / Dayton / Norwin / Midfielder
Mikayla Mance / Virginia Tech / Yough / Forward
Moriah Wigley / Towson / Quaker Valley / Forward
Reilly McGlumphy / California (Pa.) / Peters Township / Goalkeeper
Samantha Hoinville / Brandeis / Mount Lebanon / Midfielder
Shawna Zaken / Northern Kentucky / Yough / Midfielder
Name / College / High School / Position
Benjamin Vester / Roanoke College / Morgantown / Forward
Christian Snatchko / Robert Morris / Canon McMillan / Goalkeeper
Corey Cunningham / Robert Morris / Linsly / Def/Mid
Matthew Kemerer / Chestnut Hill College / Greater Latrobe
In addition, here’s an extended clip of Gibson talking about the RDA’s early years, the impact that this group of players will have and the potential of having a Pro Women’s soccer team in Pittsburgh at some point.