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PREVIEW: Not one, but two Pittsburgh clubs begin USOC qualifying

PREVIEW: Not one, but two Pittsburgh clubs begin USOC qualifying

Preview: Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (2020 Qualifying: First Round)

Steel FC vs Germantown FC (MD) | Saturday, September 21 | 7:45 p.m. | Shady Side Academy

Tartan Devils Oak Avalon vs Steel Pulse FC (MD) | Sunday, September 22 |  2 p.m. | Troy Park, MD

*Note – Pittsburgh Soccer Now will provide on-site coverage of Steel FC’s Open Cup debut on Saturday. 

You will have to go back a long time to find two Pittsburgh-area amateur clubs competing in the same U.S. Open Cup tournament.

This weekend two amateur clubs from the same league, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon and Steel FC of the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League’s (GPSL) Premier Division, will begin their quests to make a deep run in qualifying rounds for the 2020 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.

2020 US Open Cup qualifying: Steel FC join GPSL foes Tartan Devils in 89-team field

RETURN OF THE TARTAN DEVILS

It will be a return to the qualifying stages for Tartan Devils Oak Avalon, who will try to make it back to the proper tournament for the first time since their run in 2017.

COLUMN: Determined Open Cup Underdogs @TartanDevilsFC — 'A Pittsburgh Team'

For an amateur club, the Tartan Devils are an experienced group, the five-time defending Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League champions, have competed in Open Cup qualifying and the proper tournament dating back to 2015.

In this year’s qualifying, they have to hit the road to  take on Steel Pulse FC, a club based out of Maryland.

“Every year, I keep telling myself, this is probably it, but we keep coming back,” Andy Kalas, Tartan Devils team manager and center back, said.

Kalas has found good reason to return the Tartan Devils for another crack at getting into the U.S. Open Cup proper tournament: they keep winning in GPSL and have been stronger than ever.

The Devils had some serious competition from Steel FC this season in GPSL, but wound up winning the league’s regular season title once again with the playoffs still yet to be played.

Kalas feels this is the deepest squad since the Tartan Devils began their run in dominating the GPSL. Even though some regulars will be missing for this trip, Kalas is confident that he can dip into his roster of 25 players and have a strong squad that will make the trip in this first round of qualifying.

“We’ll have 14 guys likely, and fitness shouldn’t be an issue at this point in the season. We’ve got a really good group. The nature of playing away from home in the Open Cup is tough, but we’ve been through this before,” Kalas explained. “Everyone knows their roles, we’re really deep.”

The squad is filled with guys that played collegiately, and some who’ve been in the pros including Stefan Lundberg (Burrell, H.S., Duquesne (2007-2010), Riverhounds from 2011-13) and Neil Shaffer (Beaver Area H.S. / Robert Morris / Riverhounds 2011-12, Harrisburg City Islanders 2013-15 & Indy Eleven 2016).

At the top of the attack, the Devils will rely on the trio of Lunberg, Cory Werth (Butler H.S. / Pitt) and Greg Annon (Duquesne), while Shaffer will likely be the workhorse in the central midfield.

As mentioned, the Tartan Devils will be without the services of some players, including former Riverhounds and DC United midfielder Rob Vincent, who helped lead them to another regular season title this season, as Vincent will be coaching over the weekend. Kalas raved about Vincent’s contributions this season, but is also confident that his Devils can get the job done against the Steel Pulse with the group that will make the trip.

“They’ll be young, they’ll be fast. They play in one of the most elite Amateur leagues,” Kalas said. “But, we’ve been through this before. That’s our M.O. We have been playing together for six or seven years — even more for some of us. That goes a long way and our greatest strength.”

NEW KIDS ON BLOCK: STEEL FC BRING YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE

Steel FC have risen through the GPSL ranks rather quickly, starting out in the lowest division (Miners) in 2015, but now are battling neck-for-neck with Tartan Devils for local supremacy in the Premier Division.

The Open Cup newbies enter qualifying with a mix of young and experienced players with a ton of confidence, particularly after a deep run in the 2019 USA Region One Amateur Cup final, where they lost 2-0 to Newtown Pride F.C.  Along the way, wins om the Region One tournament included beating recent National Amateur champions, FC Christos and Philadephia Lone Star.

“Beating Christos was definitely a confidence booster,” Brian Luchini, Steel FC team manager said. “Our success in that tournament showed that we can compete against some of the top (amateur) teams in the country. It only made sense for us to take the next step as a club, and take a shot at qualifying for the Open Cup.”

As mentioned, Steel FC were the one club that gave the Tartan Devils fits this season. The teams played to a 1-0 result, with the Tartan Devils coming away with a win on a penalty kick.

Steel FC’s roster includes some very familiar names on the Pittsburgh soccer scene, including a few former Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC players: Nicky Kolarac (who most recently played with Pittsburgh Hotspurs in NPSL this Summer) and Anthony Virgara (Riverhounds / Fort Pitt Regiment).

Luchini said they’ll try to build possession out of the back and keep a tight defensive shape as they’ve played a lot of 4-5-1 this season in GPSL.

“It’s hard to get everyone there and practice regularly, but we do play together each Saturday, mostly pick-up games” Luchini added. “After our success in Region One tournament, we’d like to get to that next level. Now that we’re in the Open Cup, we’re getting folks from the Pittsburgh soccer community interested in what we’re all about. We’re a club on the rise.”

Here’s a full look at the Steel FC Roster:

Steel FC Open Cup Roster

Brian Luchini – Manager; Indiana University of Pennsylvania

  • 2015-Present, Manager of Steel FC in the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League. Lead team from the Miners Division to the Premier Division in 4 years.
  • 2015 Won Miners Division. 2016 Runner Up in Championship Division. 2017 Won Championship Division. 2018 Runner Up in Premier Division. 
  • 2019 Currently sit in 2nd place in Premier Division with a record of 9 wins, 3 draws, and 1 loss. One more game remains and it will be played on 9/22 at 8pm at Larry Mills Park vs Plum. Plum needs a win to get into playoffs.
  • 2019 Managed team to a 2nd place finish in the East Region of the United States of America Soccer Association (USASA) Region One Soccer tournament. Defeated 5 time Amateur Champion, Christos FC from MD in quarter-finals. Defeated NPSL team Philadelphia Lone Star in Munhall. Runner up to Newtown Pride FC from CT.

Lamine Balde – Forward; Bethany College; Assistant Coach at W&J

  • 2013-2017 Played for National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) team Fort Pitt Regiment
  • 2017-2019 Played for NPSL team Pittsburgh Hotspurs

Brendan Birmingham – Keeper; PSU; Coaches Century United.

Matt Bischoff #2 – Captain; Midfielder; University of Pittsburgh.

Max Flick – Defender; Point Park University

  • 2015-2017 Played for NPSL team Fort Pitt Regiment
  • 2017-2019 Played for NPSL team Pittsburgh Hotspurs

Ramsay Hartley  #4 – Midfielder; Duquesne University.

Rob Heuler, #6 – Midfielder; Johns Hopkins University; Assistant Coach at Bethel Park Soccer for Varsity girls and coach at Beadling Club Soccer.

Quentin Keibler – Keeper; Eastern University

Nick Kolarac #80 – Midfielder; St. Francis University

  • 2014 Played in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) for the Philadelphia Fury
  • 2015-2016 Played in the United Soccer League (USL) for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds
  • 2016-2017 Played in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) for the indoor team St. Louis Ambush
  • 2017-2018 Played in the NPSL for the Fort Pitt Regiment
  • 2018-2019 Played in the NPSL for the Pittsburgh Hotspurs

Christian Lewandowski,#10 – Midfielder; Washington College

Alex Ligeti– Midfielder; University of Pittsburgh

  • 2018-2019 Played for NPSL team Cleveland SC

Matt McDyer #21– Defender; PSU

  • 2016-2018 Played for NPSL team Fort Pitt Regiment

Kevin Murray #8 – Defender; University of Pittsburgh

Cody Partyka #90 – Defender, Marshall University

Zach Partyka #9– Midfielder; Alderson Broaddus University

Ethan Shula, #11 – Defender; Cedarville University

Brandon Siringer #22 – *Captain; Midfielder; Marietta College

Anthony Virgara – Forward; Marshall University

  • 2014-2016 Played for USL team Pittsburgh Riverhounds
  • 2017-2018 Played for NPSL team Fort Pitt Regiment
  • 2019 Played for NPSL team Albion Soccer Club San Diego

Eric Vunovic – Defender; PSU-Behrend

  • First player in Behrend history to score over 20 goals and have over 20 assists through 4 years.

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John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the United States. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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