Jason Kutney‘s been a fixture on the Pittsburgh soccer scene since his days as a player with the Duquesne University men’s soccer program in the early 2000s.
Now, he’s branching out on the national youth soccer scene.
Last week, the Riverhounds announced that Kutney will be taking on an appointment as Commissioner of the Boys Elite Clubs National League (ECNL).
“This is a great opportunity for Jason to step into a major role in youth soccer,” Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC owner Tuffy Shallenberger said. “We have worked with Jason on this and feel great about the direction of our Academy with our growth, his continued involvement and big projects on our horizon.”
Kutney will remain in Pittsburgh, maintaining an involvement with the Riverhounds SC organization.
“I am extremely excited for the challenges that lie ahead with the Boys ECNL,” Kutney said. “I have always been a Riverhound and that will not change. The Academy is headed in a great direction and that will continue. I am thankful for the opportunity to remain a part of this club while tackling new tasks alongside some amazing leadership within the Elite Clubs National League.”
Kutney helped design and launch the Riverhounds Academy in 2007 as a training-only platform to assist in the technical development of young players in western Pennsylvania. He started coaching within the Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA) upon the formation of the competitive team platform in 2012-13. He’s most recently served as Sporting Director for the organization, overseeing the Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA) since its inception.
Kutney currently coaches the RDA 04, 03 and 00/01 ECNL girls teams and will continue in this capacity, as he stated in an interview with Pittsburgh Soccer Now, that he’ll begin official full-time responsibilities for the growing youth league on March 1.
“This is a great opportunity to make a national influence, to make the jump, test the waters and try to make a positive impact with a growing league,” Kutney said.
As Kutney takes on various challenges attached with helping a newly formed National boys youth soccer organization as it grows, he said there were no concerns about conflicts of interest while he stays involved with the Hounds organization. In addition, he feels that this is also a great opportunity for some of the additional RDA staff that he’s worked closely with over the years to take on bigger roles in leading the Academy.
“The Academy is in good hands with Scott Gibson, John Rotz, Bryan Cartwright. This will be a chance for them to branch out, take on more responsibilities too,” Kutney added.
Among tasks Kutney will be charged with for the Boys ECNL is creating a an entity that can accomplish what the Girls ECNL has done in the past decade, in providing a league that provides players with increased exposure and opportunities to play before college coaches.
Kutney said that the US Development Academies at the highest levels of youth soccer are set up to prepare and develop players for the United States National teams, but everything below there’s still a lot less organization — and many players that deserve better opportunities for exposure, primarily to colleges.
“What about the other 99 percent?” Kutney stated. “Most of the kids will not be playing for the National teams, and be focused on going to college. Right now, there are so many options for college coaches. Not every market provides opportunities for young players to get exposure at the highest level possible. This is relatively new on the boys side, but what they’ve (ECNL) done on the girls side has been to provide direct channels to college coaches.”
Kutney acknowledged that this is an initiative that ‘just won’t happen overnight’, as his initial focus is to see the Boys ECNL focus build up and get stronger within each region.
“Each region is so diverse, but many face the same challenges,,” Kutney said. “It’s a lot. We’ll want to work on getting more corporate and financial support to help the organization grow, and I will do my part, using my connections and resources to help players have more opportunities for exposure.”
Many of the kids Kutney currently coaches weren’t even born when he began his soccer journey in Pittsburgh at Duquesne.
A native of Freehold, New Jersey, Kutney’s professional playing career began with the Hounds’ USL Old Guard rivals, Charleston Battery, where he made 38 appearances, scored three goals in two seasons. Kutney would return to Pittsburgh, where he spent the majority of his professional playing career with Riverhounds SC from 2008 through 2013.
Once he returned to Pittsburgh, Kutney was determined to stay involved in the game beyond his playing years, getting involved with the club’s ownership group, spearheading the start up of the Development Academy and other facets of club operations. Even for a while, he was the club’s Chief Executive Officer.
JASON KUTNEY PHOTO GALLERY
When Highmark Stadium opened, it was Kutney who became the go-to face of the franchise as he was serving as the team’s CEO and also training and playing with the team (he made his final three appearances for the club that year) in the inaugural season in Highmark Stadium.
After his playing career came to a close, and after the start of the Highmark Stadium era, the Hounds organization hit a rough patch — as the organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, primarily as a result of cost overruns with Highmark Stadium. When the dust cleared, ownership of both the club and Highmark Stadium transitioned fully to Shallenberger, and Kutney focused most of his time and energy on the Riverhounds Development Academy.
When Riverhounds SC head coach Bob Lilley was hired in November 2017, he cited the establishment of the Hounds Development Academy as one of the appeals to coming to Pittsburgh, and why he believed he was coming to a good situation where he could win a championship and develop a winning franchise.
“Seeing everything that’s being done with the youth here. We lacked that model in Rochester, and Jason (Kutney) and the staff here have done to grow that. The new field being put in (in Montour Run). Corporate sponsors that are on board. It’s a different Pittsburgh than five, seven, eight years ago,” Lilley boasted.
Sure enough, in year one of Lilley’s reign as coach, he partnered with Kutney to establish Pathway Program for Academy players to train with the pro team.
Serving as a link between the professional team and RDA, this initiative was created to form a structured and direct on-field developmental relationship between the two channels.
“This program is years in the making,” Kutney said. “It represents the culmination of tremendous efforts to raise the standard on our boy’s side and an overarching vision to directly link youth to pro.”
Identified “Pathway Players” began to join professional team training sessions on a rotational basis in 2018.
Among the initiatives that Kutney has taken the lead with the Riverhounds was establishing a Sub in for Gym Class program. The Hounds have done this in the past few years, as Academy coaches and some of the professional team players take on roles as ‘gym teacher’. They bring a bag of donated soccer balls, pylons and gear to leave behind, giving the schools and kids a chance to keep playing soccer.
Kutney acknowledges that a pay-to-play is a massive problem in the United States, with academies and travel programs — including the RDA — have dealt with, but he wanted to do something to expand opportunities to every kid.
“We want to make an impact and so it’s important that we devote our time and attention to smaller pools of children, initially,” Kutney said after one of the visits last year.
“Pittsburgh’s next greatest young soccer player is currently in school right now,” said Kutney, who designed the program and began discussions with various districts in late 2016. “That student might be in a school with all the resources or a school with fewer. The beauty of soccer is that you just need a ball and some motivation. The goal here is to simply offer children a chance to experience the game in a fun way, and maybe, just maybe, they want more.”
The Hounds plan to continue this program moving forward, even as Kutney spreads his wings elsewhere.
“This is what I love to do,” Kutney said. “Now I’m looking forward to keep doing this and hopefully can help Boys ECNL grow and I can keep helping many young soccer players.”