Pittsburgh, Pa. — Tom Ovenden is proud of the work his Steel City FC players put in this year.
He described this season as tough. The competition completely changed, as the team was put in a new, all-Pennsylvania, conference. However, aside from the competition, Steel City FC had a rough outing from the start. For instance, they were given the wrong information by the league. Instead of hosting a tryout camp earlier in the off-season, they were forced to wait until the last minute.
It’s one of the many head-scratching issues Ovenden faced — and talked about with us.
“At the beginning of the year we got some bad communication from the league and we put our tryout too late in the day,” Ovenden explained. “We missed out on quite a lot of players. We had to do some last minute recruitment. The tail was wagging the dog a bit, and we weren’t able to get the commitment. We have the team to win the league, but we couldn’t get everyone there for all the games.”
However, the players that did show up did their part.
Ovenden had some returning players, including Jansen Jamison, Lauren Mizik and goalkeeper Jess Neill. The second-year head coach said that he saw a quick improvement from last season and this season. He had leadership help from his returning players and eagerness from the new players.
“Because of the some of the ways we played and the things we do, having the core of our players understand those concepts, everyone moved forward pretty quick,” Ovenden said. “We definitely moved through the gears a bit quicker. That was really pleasing.”
Head-turning players make a splash
Ovenden said that having veteran players back was important because they weren’t shy about getting players going. Jordan Daloisio, who also serves as the team’s general manager, featured in seven matches. Last year, she missed some time due to injury.
In goal, Neill made six appearances and made 19 saves. Ovenden commented that Neill’s distribution from out of the back was taken to a whole new level.
“All of those players were already bought into the way we play and that gets everyone else bought into the system,” Ovenden says. “It’s not similar to how a lot of the girls are playing at their colleges.”
However, it wasn’t just the veteran players that stood out to coach Ovenden. Krystyna Rytel, who hails from Pittsburgh and will compete for the University of Pittsburgh as a freshman this fall, scored two goals in four matches. Ovenden called her “outstanding.”
“Her engine to keep going the whole game is ridiculous,” he said. “She’s a really, really good player. She’s one of the main standouts for the new players.”
Meanwhile, Ovenden also complimented players that made the squad better than last year, according to the coach. Ovenden admits that despite the lack of numbers at times, this season’s squad had a better general quality throughout the season than last year.
“Madison Schwerzler, the right back, did really well and grew into the role in the year,” Ovenden said. “Laurel Carpenter was an outstanding player in the midfield. She was a very good player, so I’d love to have her back in the midfield. I thought Naomi Matthusen did well on the right. It would be good to have her back. Lauren Mizik isn’t a new player, but we’d love to continue to bring her back. Maddie Layman was an absolute outstanding player this year. She’s been with us a few years, but she’s been so good this year. She was an absolute beast in the midfield.”
— Women’s Premier Soccer League (@WPSL) May 30, 2019
Ovenden talks about all-Pennsylvania opponents
Steel City FC fared better in the standings than they did last season. However, they did miss out on the playoffs. The only team that Steel City lost twice to in the season was Penn Fusion SA. The club’s only other loss was to Torch FC.
“When we played them at home, we just gave them two early goals,” Ovenden recalls. “Then, we got it back to 4-3. I think we were 3-0 down at one point. Then we got it back to 4-3. If that game was longer or we didn’t give away those two early goals, we could’ve beat them. When we went on the road, we had a bare bones team. It was very frustrating that day.”
“We could’ve given them a better match with the players we had in the squad.”
However, there was a point where Steel City FC finished the season with three-straight victories against Torch FC and Lehigh Valley Tempest. Each club played twice against each other. Steel City FC finished the season with a 4-3-1 record and were slotted in third place.
Ovenden said that having an all-Pennsylvania conference didn’t make travel too rough.
“It wasn’t too bad, really, in regard to the travel, which is why it was more disappointing for how many players we got for our away games,” Ovenden said. “he conference is not as strong as the one we were in with Cleveland [Ambassadors], Columbus [Eagles FC] and those other guys. That was a very strong conference. We still had decent matches each time.”
“We really did have the opportunity to go to the playoffs this year.”
Looking back on this season and preparing for 2020
Ovenden is confident that he’ll be back to lead Steel City FC in 2020. He’s already looking forward to year three with Steel City FC, but reflected on his sophomore season as head coach. Coming back to the team was on his priority list.
“It was great to be back,” Ovenden said. “It was good knowing what to expect. I think it was a bit of a disappointing year because of how it ended up going. I don’t want that to happen again. But, I want to get that right going into next year, for sure. It’s just making sure we have a good market and strategy to bring in new players and get them bought into what we want to do.”
How can that happen? For starters, Ovenden said he’s going to make sure communication is right this time with the WPSL. Also, he’s hoping to have more double-header games with Hotspurs FC, the new Pittsburgh club that features in the NPSL. Ovenden also coaches for Hotspurs, along with former Steel City FC coach Tom Campbell.
“We doubled-up and had food and entertainment there,” Ovenden recalls. “We made it a night out that was more productive for the soccer lovers of Pittsburgh. It was cool teaming up with Hotspurs. I run that club as well. It has some real potential there, to use each other’s resources.”
However, Ovenden couldn’t do anything with Steel City if it wasn’t for Daloisio.
“Jordan is to thank, and all the work she’s done and support she gives the program,” Ovenden said. “She’s a brilliant general manager and really cares about the game — and developing it in Pittsburgh. It’s cool for our city to have someone like her behind women’s soccer.”
Ovenden, Daloisio and Steel City FC will be back next year and will try once again to vie for a coveted playoff spot. Be sure to follow Steel City FC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to catch up on all the offseason news and announcements.