It was probably fitting that José Angulo scored the first goal for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, on his first touch, in the first game ever played at Highmark Stadium.
Angulo entered in the 70th minute of the Hounds 2-1 loss to interstate Keystone Derby rivals, Harrisburg City Islanders on April 13, 2013, and made an immediate impact.
In that moment, Angulo found himself in what would become a familiar place — on the receiving end of a brilliant Matt Dallman service. With a perfectly timed and powerful header, the Colombian-American who grew up in New Jersey, gave Pittsburgh soccer fans something to cheer about that night, and for the next two seasons.
“That first year was special,” said Angulo. “It was something new (Highmark Stadium). There was definitely a buzz in Pittsburgh at that time. The stadium was packed for most every game, and the group of us players really embraced it.”
Five seasons have since passed, and Angulo is not the young player he once was when he first stepped foot on the new field at Station Square.
Angulo returns to Pittsburgh no longer a young, talented player looking to make his mark.
Instead he’s now a savvy veteran who’s a more comfortable and complete player.
And, he comes back as a member of the opposition, maybe fittingly, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of that momentous appearance in what was the start of a special time in Angulo’s career — and for Pittsburgh soccer.
Angulo’s team, Saint Louis FC (2-0-1, 7 points), will take on the Riverhounds (1-1-1, 4 points) in a USL Eastern Conference match on Wednesday evening at Highmark Stadium (7 p.m. kickoff).
“I am really excited to get back there. It means a lot to be able to come back. It’s been a few years, but I still try to keep in touch with some of the guys, and I am really looking forward to seeing everyone.”
BREAKING OUT IN THE ‘BURGH
Angulo’s early pro career included a stint with Harrisburg in 2011 (ironically making his pro debut vs the Riverhounds). After scoring nine goals in 27 appearances with the City Islanders, he was signed by New York Red Bulls the next season, but made only one appearance with his hometown Major League Soccer team (in a friendly vs Tottenham Hotspur).
With the impending opening of Highmark Stadium, the Hounds went looking for talented players to add to the roster — and Angulo would be one of their key acquisitions heading into the 2013 campaign.
“I remember he came very late in the preseason. In fact, he didn’t play in the first game (at Richmond), and it took him a while to get going,” said Kevin Kerr, who also made his debut with the Riverhounds the same night as Angulo.
“Then Dallman sent that ball into the box, and the rest was history.”
It was in Pittsburgh where Angulo found his groove.
“I knew that if I had a chance to play regularly, I would have had a chance to score a lot of goals. It was in Pittsburgh where I finally got my chance,” added Angulo.
In his tenure with the Riverhounds, Angulo tallied 23 goals, including 15 in the 2013 season, which he also won USL Pro League MVP and was the league’s Golden Boot recipient.
Watching Angulo become a goal scoring wiz here in Pittsburgh was a treat.
“Jose was an integral part of our team, especially that year he had MVP season, won the Golden Boot,” said Mike Green, currently the longest tenured Riverhounds player.”He’s a very special player, a great guy and was good for our locker room. I’m excited to see him again.”
“He meant a lot to Pittsburgh soccer.”
Perhaps Angulo’s most memorable and spectacular goal came in a July 2013 friendly against the defending FA Cup Champions, Wigan Athletic.
After a 25 minute or so weather delay, and as much of the sellout crowd were getting back into their seats after taking cover during the storm — Angulo unleashed this strike in the opening moments of the match.
Angulo’s knack for scoring goals helped elevate the Hounds into a contender that season when they drew more than 3,000 fans for the first time since 2000.
At one point Angulo’s goal scoring barrage included a five-game streak. At the time, his 15 regular season goals (tied that season with Orlando City’s Dom Dwyer), would be USL single-season record (since has been broken).
“I’ve always said, when it rains, it pours,” added Angulo. “The feeling I had that year was every time I took a touch, every pass that was coming in my direction, that I would have a good chance to score.”
Kerr knew that if he and his teammates did the little things that year, Angulo would take care of the rest.
“That year was, along with our 2015 season, some of the most fun I had playing here in Pittsburgh,” said Kerr.
“Jose, he has such a unique skill set than other forwards. And to be fair, Monday through Friday, sometimes I wasn’t sure if he was our best player.”
“But every Saturday, every game, he did show up.”
Angulo wasn’t the only one breaking records for the Hounds that season. Roaming on the right flank, Dallman was swinging in pinpoint passes into the box with regularity, many the left-footed striker would convert into goals. Dallman would break the USL Pro assists record for a single season, with 12.
The Hounds would be beaten easily in the first round of the playoffs at eventual USL Pro champions, and MLS-bound Orlando City SC.
“I still believe that if we hadn’t fallen behind early in that match, things could have been different,” said Angulo.
“It was a bit of an unlucky way to finish a great season.”
Still, it appeared that the foundation for success had been established for Pittsburgh’s pro soccer franchise, and its biggest assets were the dynamic scoring duo of Angulo and Dallman.
Photo Courtesy USLsoccer.com
The Riverhounds would announce shortly after that successful season that Angulo and Dallman, the league’s top scoring tandem, would sign extensions with the club, which at the time had aspirations of contending for a league title.
“That’s the reason I came back. I saw how serious they were about winning here. We’re going to be one of those teams fighting for a championship in the league,” said Angulo in an October 2013 media gathering announcing the contract extensions, and the change in team and Highmark Stadium majority ownership to Tuffy Shallenberger. (from CHAMPIONSHIP ASPIRATIONS, Pittsburgh Sports Report, Oct. 30, 2013)
Despite the franchise having a new majority owner in Shallenberger, due to cost overruns from the building of Highmark Stadium, the Riverhounds would have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy prior to the start of the 2014 season.
Despite that cloud hanging over the team at the start of the season, the duo picked up right where they left off in the opening game of the campaign in a 1-1 draw against defending league champs Orlando City, as Angulo scored on an assist from Dallman.
That would be as good as things would get though for Angulo and his teammates, as the Hounds would fail to win a league game until early June.
This proved to be an especially difficult period for Angulo, as he would leave the team for a few weeks to be with his family as his father, Jose “El Perilla (The Knob)” Angulo, passed away soon thereafter.
“Sometimes, a team is going to go through its periods of ups and downs and that’s a part of it,” said Angulo.
“But it went beyond soccer. I was definitely dealing with a lot of personal issues at that time. It was rough — and ultimately family was the most important thing on my mind.”
The senior Angulo had a 10-year pro career in Colombia, playing for Club Atlético Junior.
Just like his son was the first to ever score at Highmark Stadium, he was first Colombian to ever score at the Historic Metropolitano Stadium in 1986 against Uruguay.
When he finally did return to the team in his first match back at Highmark Stadium, Angulo entered as a second half sub for a team that was still struggling to score, igniting a 3-1 Hounds win over NY Red Bulls U23 in U.S. Open Cup second round match with a goal and an assist.
After that game, when I caught up with him, Angulo reminisced about the man who taught him how to play the game — and develop that special scoring touch.
“My dad always told me, be a magnet. And just get in there, and the ball’s going to find you,” reflected Angulo on that day.
The slow start in 2014 cost Hounds Head Coach Justin Evans his job, as he was sacked shortly after the team’s next loss to Rochester.
Angulo and Dallman both battled through injuries as the Hounds, under the direction of interim coach Niko Katic, still made a valiant late season push to earn a playoff spot.
In Salt Lake City late in the season, Angulo had his final memorable moment with the Hounds.
He scored a hat-trick, all on penalties in the first half to help lead the Hounds to a convincing win that kept its faint playoff hopes alive. A couple nights later, the up-and-down season would deal Angulo another blow, as he would be injured in Sacramento.
Without a healthy Angulo, the Hounds battled hard, but would see their playoff hopes officially extinguished in the final weekend of the season.
With major organizational changes happening with the front office and coaching staff, Angulo and the Riverhounds would go separate ways in 2015, as Angulo signed with Ft. Lauderdale Strikers of North American Soccer League (NASL).
While his goal scoring production dropped a bit with the Strikers, netting a mere 13 goals in two seasons, the veteran striker never has lacked a knack for scoring goals.
“Playing in the NASL, it was a league filled with more veteran, experienced players, and I learned a lot,” said Angulo. “And now, I’m one of those guys. As a striker, I’m always looking to get forward, and score goals, but I have to do all of the little things too to help my team win. ”
The Strikers would be the only non-MLS team to advance to the U.S. Open Cup’s quarterfinals in 2016, by beating both Orlando City and D.C. United, as Angulo scored a pivotal goal in the upset of Orlando City.
There's going to be a new man leading the line for STLFC in 2017 – @j_angulo18.
Jose Angulo: All Competitive Goals & Assists 2015/16 pic.twitter.com/mFqbW2Xqp9
— James Musa's Caps (@LouLads) February 3, 2017
After two seasons in Florida, Angulo, 29, is now back in USL with St. Louis FC, who are making their first visit to Highmark Stadium since 2015. Along with former Rochester Rhino’s leading scorer Christian Volesky at forward, and a revamped central midfield and back line, Angulo finds himself part of a St. Louis FC (2-0-1, 7 points) outfit that can be a very dangerous team in the attacking third, and has the look of a strong contender in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
“They’re the most complete team we’ve seen thus far,” said Kerr, when asked about what to expect in this match.
“There were a few times they were on the ropes in the last game, but they fought back. We’ll have to find ways to exploit opportunities, but to have Jose up top. along with another top striker (Volesky), will be a big challenge for our defenders as they’ll be occupied and will have to work very hard for 90 minutes.
Angulo was penciled in Preki‘s starting eleven for the opening game of the season (a draw with Louisville City), but he may have had an even bigger impact off the bench in the second half of a comeback win against NY Red Bulls II on Saturday.
Trailing 2-1, Angulo was the man Preki turned to convert a penalty kick equalizer after Volesky was taken down in the box in the 72nd minute.
In the frantic moments that followed, Angulo redirected a header for an assist on Seth Rudolph‘s game-winner.
“I feel like I am working harder at this point than any other time in my career, being a veteran, that’s important,” said Angulo.
“Having experience, and understanding of the game really helps me more now and I feel like I am a better player than ever.”
The Riverhounds probably know better than any other team not to lose track of Angulo on Wednesday night.
Once a scorer, always a scorer.
‘El Perilla’ would be proud.