Tartan Devils Oak Avalon came about as a creation of two local soccer teams that were hoping to come together to field a more competitive team in a local open division league.
Three years after sitting around in a local pub to form this alliance, they have become a local juggernaut in the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League (GPSL), and they’re now preparing to take part in the oldest cup competition in United States soccer – Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Tartan Devil Oak Avalon will travel to the Greater Louisville metro area on Wednesday, May 10 to take on Premier Development League side Dover City Rovers in the first round of the 2017 edition of the U.S. Open Cup.
Members of Tartan Devils Oak Avalon club never fathomed that this opportunity would come their way, but they are certain of one thing, they are proud of where they come from — and play in a way that is emblematic of Western Pennsylvania’s blue collar roots.
“We’re hard nosed. We’ll run straight through you,” said E.J. McCormick, vice captain, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon (TDOA).
“You can do all the fancy stuff. We’re going to take it and then we’re going to score — and you’re going to lose. That’s our style. It doesn’t have to be pretty — but we really are a ‘Pittsburgh’ soccer team.”
This no frills approach has been a formula for success for a group of players made up entirely of former local college standouts at schools like Pitt, Duquesne, Robert Morris, California, Geneva, Penn State and Seton Hill among others.
In 2015, they got their first taste of U.S. Open Cup qualifying competition, losing to Baltimore-based Aromas Cafe.
That first experience, driving all the way to Virginia, and having only 14 players, and having a couple injured early in the match, was tough,” said John Battersby, Club President.
“But now, have a different attitude, everyone’s really commited and excited about this opportunity that’s now in front of them.”
This past October, they finally broke through.
This time, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon were the hosts in a rematch at Rooney Field at Duquesne University, as they earned their first-ever berth in the first round of the Open Cup with a 3-1 win by overpowering Aromas Cafe FC (MD) 3-1.
The Pittsburgh-based club advanced on the strength of two Travis MacKenzie goals to win its first-ever U.S. Open Cup contest.
“It’s pretty exciting for us,” added McCormick,.
“A lot of us are 27, 28 — even some 30 or older, so we haven’t played in a meaningful, in a broader sense, games like this probably since we were in college. It’s been quite a while.”
MacKenzie, a former Duquesne University standout, who had a stint with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, usually roams near the top of the attack as part of a group that Battersby believes has talent, and all the intangibles that it takes for a team to make a run in the U.S. Open Cup.
“They’ve been successful at the (GPSL) and in other competitions, basically because they know how to win,” said Battersby.
“It may not be pretty, but when they step foot on the field, they play with a sheer determination to win.”
With a win against the Derby City Rovers (on Derby week by the way), Tartan Devils Oak Avalon would be the first amateur team from Western PA to win a U.S. Open Cup game in the modern era.
In the history of the U.S. Open Cup, two Pittsburgh teams have won the competition: Pittsburgh Morgan SC (1949) and Pittsburgh Harmarville SC (1952, 1956).
“It’s exciting to have this opportunity. We know it only takes one game, and we have goal in mind — to win and have a chance to host a game against a pro team right here in Pittsburgh,” said McCormick, eluding to a possible second round date against USL’s Louisville City FC on May 17 at Highmark Stadium.
While McCormick, Battersby and the club members would have really cherished an opportunity to play against the local USL team, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, whom they are often seen supporting at Highmark Stadium, they are equally motivated to host an Open Cup game against a pro side.
“A couple years ago we were sitting around putting this together in a bar. Now, through trial and error, we pushed it further and further. And, look, he we are in the first round proper in the same tournament with USL, NASL and MLS teams,” said McCormick.
“It’s quite an achievement. Let’s just see where it takes us.”
John Krysinsky will be following the Tartan Devils on their journey to Jeffersontown, Indiana and will provide coverage for TheCup.US and Pittsburgh Soccer Report of their first round U.S. Open Cup match with the Dover City Rovers. Thanks to the Mon Goals Podcast for their contributions to this story.