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Steel City FC kick off season today against Hershey FC

Steel City FC
Today is the day! Steel City FC kicks off their season against Hershey FC in the club's fifth WPSL season. Photo courtesy of Steel City FC.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — For some teams, a rivalry is just one match.

However, this season, for Steel City FC, there will always be a battle for Pennsylvania. Steel City FC, which features in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, is gearing up for yet another season. In the club’s fifth season, Steel City FC boasts a schedule that will feature the club against all Pennsylvania teams.

The newly renovated Conference — named the Mid-Atlantic Keystone Division — sees Steel City FC taking on Hershey F.C., Lehigh Valley Tempest, Penn Fusion SA and Torch FC. Last year, Pittsburgh took on teams from Ohio and Indiana.

Jorden Thornton, entering her fourth year with Steel City FC, said that she never had a rivalry like this. She grew up in Culloden, West Virginia before attending college at Duquesne University. Now, as Pittsburgh is her adopted home, she’s embraced the all-Pennsylvania conference.

“Playing against these teams that are also from Pennsylvania is us wanting to prove that we are the best in Pennsylvania,” Thornton said. “I never really had that rivalry growing up in West Virginia. My team was just pretty good and soccer wasn’t really that big. We had good teams out-of-state, but that’s not an in-state rivalry. We had some big rivalries with the out-of-state teams last year.”

Thornton says that the new Pennsylvania teams are a testament to how the league is growing.

“I’m sure all of the US Women will see and know that they’re making change in the right direction,” Thornton said.

No doubt about Passion

Thornton said the team is small right now, but mighty.

Steel City FC is naming new players that are joining the squad, while plenty of last year’s athletes are making a return. Thornton says that the best part about the squad is the passion the players have.

“I know we have some trouble getting girls to continue to play,” Thornton said. “The ones that want to are so passionate about it. That’s what makes Steel City, and every other team in the WPSL, so exciting to be on. All of the girls that are committed to Steel City really want to be there.”

Thornton acknowledged that even though the team hasn’t had a long time to get ready, they are jelling together well. That team chemistry was put to test when Steel City FC hosted a friendly against what Thornton called a “really young team.”

“We had only had one practice and it was the first time we played together, and it was already coming together,” Thornton said.

However, Thornton and the players won’t take credit for that. Instead, they direct the applause for early chemistry and progress to second-year head coach Tom “Tommo” Ovenden.

“I think that speaks to him as a coach,” Thornton said. “It was cool to see how his coaching style can be enacted so quickly.”

“Still the same Tommo”

As mentioned, Ovenden is opening up his second season with the team.

This year, tryouts were a little different. Normally, Steel City FC hosts a tryout in December and then will hold one in later winter or early spring. However, the league contacted the club and said that option was no longer available. So, instead of sticking with one tryout, Steel City FC enacted a new tryout process. Like college recruiting, players sent videos of themselves to the club.

With new and returning players mixing together, Thornton said that Ovenden hasn’t completely flipped from last year’s script. He is essentially “still the same Tommo.”

“He’s just a great guy and coach to be around,” Thornton said. “He wants everyone to be a little crafty and not be afraid to make mistakes. He tells us that we’ll tweak things when it comes along, but we’ll fix it to make it all go together.”

Meanwhile, Thornton said that as a returning player, she’s always happy to guide younger players joining the team. However, she has noticed new and young players stepping in with their own leadership qualities.

“We’re supposed to get the best of each college around the Pittsburgh area and girls that live here but go to school somewhere else,” Thornton said. “Just because someone has been on the team for so long doesn’t outright make them the leader. The girls that come in bring their own factor to the game. It’s exciting that nobody is the leader, per say, but it’s a collective team effort of picking people up and making a whole team.”

Gearing up for a long June

Players picking each other up and helping them keep motivated will come in handy during the month of June. Aside from today’s season opener against Hershey F.C., Steel City FC will play every single regular-season match in the month of June.

Thornton, who is a couple of years removed from college, said that it almost feels like she’s a kid again, but in a different body.

“You get used to college when you have two games a week, or maybe one,” she explained. “You’re home for a weekend and then you’re away. It’s almost the same in this. I’m not the oldest one on the team, but I do feel how challenging it is having games every weekend. It’s a challenge to push it into one month.”

However, Thornton is grateful that the season isn’t spread out.

“It helps us move it along and figure out what our style is,” Thornton said. “On the downside, it doesn’t give us a lot of time to be comfortable with each other. There are good things and bad things about it being a short season in general.”

Being comfortable with each other will be key, too. Plenty of players are coming from their college teams, which means they all have different coaches who play various styles of soccer. However, Thornton said that she sees players eager to learn a new style under Ovenden.

“We’re all there to learn and grown as players,” Thornton said. “The girls are so open to learn and ask questions. We realize that no player will play the game. We help each other grow through it and figure it out. That’s what brings the team together ultimately. You’re not just saying, ‘Figure it out for yourself.’ You all want to help each other be the best we can be.”

“It makes for a good team environment when you want to see the player next to you be as good as they can be.”

The Schedule

As mentioned, Steel City FC kicks off their season today against Hershey F.C.

Today’s match begins at 4 p.m. and will take place at Hershey High School. In addition to this match, there will be four more away matches. Each team will play each other in a home-away scheduled format.

Meanwhile, Steel City FC’s home opener will take place on June 1 against Hershey. Steel City FC features at the Ellis School in the Shadyside neighborhood. The home opener will begin at 2 p.m.

The sport of soccer is Rachael Kriger's area of expertise. Kriger covers Steel City FC for Pittsburgh Soccer Now and provides various columns, with occasional work with Pitt Women's Soccer. Elsewhere, Kriger is the co-managing editor of Last Word on Soccer and the social media coordinator and lead Liga MX Femenil writer for Equalizer Soccer. She is a member of the official NWSL Media Association and the North American Soccer Reporters, serving as the NASR's Vice President after two years in the role of Communications Director.

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