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View From The Booth: Enlisting in the Steel Army

I still didn’t make the Victory Selfie, but this was the week I made it official.

Yellow smoke at dusk looks mighty fine from the Paul Child Stand. - MATT GAJTKA

View From The Booth: Enlisting in the Steel Army

PITTSBURGH — Somehow, I didn’t make the Victory Selfie, but on Tuesday night I officially joined the Steel Army.

Since I started broadcasting games during the 2015 season, I’ve felt like an Army member in spirit. I believe in local soccer and I believe in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s ability to be the spearhead of that.

On top of that, I find soccer supporter culture fascinating. Not only do the best of these groups add energy and atmosphere to the matchday experience, they allow devoted fans to get some real skin in the game, committing time, talent and TIFO to their beloved club.

It’s one thing to say you’re a fan of a team, but quite another to claim the title of supporter. I wish other sports in North America would take some cues from that. Take the initiative to create your own fan culture, instead of letting the teams dictate through the scoreboard.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, I’m in!

Along with the lovely scarf and a Steel Army magnet now firmly affixed to the family fridge, I get discounts at Piper’s Pub and the Hounds team store, but I’ll let the Army’s website handle the rest of the promos.

After hanging out in the Highmark Stadium press box with John Krysinsky during the first half the Hounds’ Tuesday night U.S. Open Cup clash with Dayton Dutch Lions FC, I ambled down to the Paul Child Stand to get a real taste of the Army experience before I officially signed my life away. (The USL Championship and its broadcast partners elected to produce the second round games remotely for ESPN+, so I was officially off duty.)

Ironically, I probably won’t be able to watch another match in the east end of Highmark for the rest of 2019 — although I’d love to find a way to do a Harry Caray-style bleacher broadcast! — so I had to savor the flavor over a crisp hour on the banks of the Monongahela.

I don’t want to take credit, necessarily, but the Hounds outscored their old league rivals 3-0 while I perched myself on the aluminum.

will take credit for fellow RMU Colonial Neco Brett’s second goal shortly thereafter, his first from open play this season. That was definitely all me. You’re welcome.

If I may turn semi-serious for a moment here, the addition to the Paul Child Stand that was finished last fall has really enhanced the viewing experience. Instead of being forced to watch from just above the height of the crossbar, the discerning fan can get more perspective on the entire field, without losing much intimacy.

Can’t forget the post-match handshakes with the likes of Sammy Kahsai and Anthony Velarde. – MATT GAJTKA

The photo at the top of this post doesn’t do justice to just how tight you feel to the east goal when seated with the Army. I felt like I was jostling for space myself prior to the set pieces Dayton earned in the second half.

I also got a great appreciation for Hounds newcomer Austin Pack, who was forced to come up big a couple of times with the home side defending its lead. And then, there was Pack’s pre-penalty taunt of Jackson Dietrich, who promptly yanked his try wide left. I’m certain I wouldn’t have fully grasped the psychological warfare as much if were seated in the press area.

And then, there’s the view. With the sun setting over Mt. Washington and the Fort Pitt Tunnel, there was no place I’d have rather been at that moment.

The aftermath of Brett’s penalty. – MATT GAJTKA

And there’s no group I’d rather enjoy a second-round U.S. Open Cup match than with the Steel Army. You find out who your real friends are when the Hounds are playing a semi-pro/amateur side on a weekday evening with less than a week’s notice.

Outside of the (loud!) Robbie Mertz cheering section, this was the place to be if you wanted to feel the emotion of an event that’s catnip for diehards, but still an open secret to much of the American sporting populace.

This was the place to be if you wanted to revel in the fact that, yes, Pittsburgh does have an absolutely breathtaking soccer arena on its South Side — not a thing someone who grew up in the ’90s and early ’00s will ever take for granted.

This was also the place to be if you wanted to convince yourself that you belonged in the Steel Army. I may not be able to stand with them during (most) matches, but I hope they won’t hold that against me.

Riverhounds SC play-by-play broadcaster Matt Gajtka brings his perspective on the team throughout the season in his ‘View From The Booth’ column.

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