Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup 2020 – Second Round Qualifier
Steel FC vs Tartan Devils Oak Avalon
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA | Sunday, October 20 | 7 p.m.
Follow Pittsburgh Soccer Now’s Coverage with updates from John Krysinsky on Twitter ( @pghsoccerscribe )
There’s a lot of soccer going on in and around the Greater Pittsburgh region — high school playoffs, colleges are coming down to the wire, the Riverhounds SC are having an unprecedented season and on the verge of playoffs, and yet on Sunday we have an added bonus to the Pittsburgh soccer palette.
Taking the stage will be a very rare showdown in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Second Round of qualifying between two Pittsburgh-based amateur teams: Tartan Devils Oak Avalon and Steel FC.
Both clubs compete in the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League (GPSL).
The match is slated for Sunday evening at 7 p.m. at the most appropriate venue, the mecca for Pittsburgh soccer, Highmark Stadium.
Adding to the festivities and atmosphere on Sunday, the Riverhounds SC’s supporter group Steel Army will be hosting a watch party at Highmark Stadium as the Hounds play on the road in its final regular season match (kickoff at 5:30 p.m.) with either a lot on the line (first place in the Eastern Conference) or nothing (if they’ve already clinched due to Saturday’s results) — as outlined in Mark Goodman‘s Riverhounds SC Notebook on Friday.
Everything will come together on Sunday for a big day for local soccer in Pittsburgh.
The U.S. Open Cup has been around for more than 100 years. During this time, Western Pennsylvania has been well-represented through the years. There have been times when Pittsburgh area teams have even won the tournament outright in the days when it was mostly amateur based. You can read more about the early history of Pittsburgh soccer and some of those Open Cup champions on our history page.
STEEL FC CHALLENGING TARTAN DEVILS’ STRONGHOLD
In recent years, as well chronicled here on Pittsburgh Soccer Now (and our predecessor site Pittsburgh Soccer Report), the Tartan Devils have emerged as the first amateur club from the region since the heyday of the legendary Harmarville Hurricanes to make a dent, and have a modicum of success in the proper U.S. Open Cup tournament.
The Tartan Devils have also been the top squad in the GPSL now for six years running,
The new kids on the block this year are Steel FC.
Prior to both teams’s first-round matches, we chronicled each club.
“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.
Kalas feels this is the deepest squad since the Tartan Devils began their run in dominating the GPSL.
“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 prior to the first round match. “Everyone knows their roles, we’re really deep.”
What has really helped the Tartan Devils this season has been the addition of former Riverhounds and DC United midfielder Rob Vincent.
Kalas raved about Vincent’s contributions this season, but also can rely on a deep roster, as the Devils got the job done in the first round of qualifying without Vincent and a few other key players.
The Devils had some serious competition from Steel FC this season in GPSL,
The Open Cup newbies had an excellent league campaign, but also entered Open Cup 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 in 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.”
Steel FC have a few notable names on its roster too — as they added former Riverhound Anthony Virgara prior to the qualifier, who contributed to the Open Cup win as well as midfielder Nicky Kolarac, who didn’t play in September.
Strong showings in first-round of qualifying in September have set up the showdown at Highmark on Sunday.
In its debut in Open Cup play, Steel FC rolled to a 3-1 win, beating Germantown City FC at Shady Side Academy.
The Tartan Devils had to travel to Maryland and after two previous opening round losses in qualifying for the 2018 and 2019 tournaments, they won 3-2 against Baltimore-based Steel Pulse FC to advance to this second round match-up.
Both squads didn’t feel like they were at full strength in the first round, but being home and on a Sunday, they’ll each likely have a full complement of players to choose from in selecting line-ups.
PREVIOUS CLASHES THIS YEAR
The two league foes squared off twice this season in the GPSL.
The first match was a tight contest, with the Tartan Devils winning as a penalty kick was the difference.
The second meeting came in the GPSL final on October 6.
As expected between two evenly matched teams on a slick field, things were tight throughout. The first half was rather uneventful as neither team created much and it was a sort of feeling out.
The contest remained scoreless in the first half, but things started to open up a bit more in the 2nd half, and spell of brilliance from Tartan Devils top attackers led a 1-0 advantage.
Travis MacKenzie got on the ball on the right flank. He slipped a through ball to Stephen Okai who drew a few defenders before playing a clever back heel to Dan Braun to initiate a give-and go.
The next pass found Rob Vincent just inside the top of the box — and you can guess what happens next.
It was a vintage Vincent shot into the side netting.
After that, the Tartan Devils absorbed pressure the rest of the way.
No clear chances came for either team until our Marcelo Casas made a run in the 85th minute to get in behind Steel FC’s backline to slip a ball across to Travis MacKenzie for the finish.
Tartan Devils’ keeper Winter Fondi, coming off a solid four year career at Robert Morris, played mistake free on a wet night to stop any half chances created by Steel FC.
Relatively new to the GPSL’s Premier League, Steel FC finished its 2019 league campaign with a record of 11 wins, 3 draws, and 2 loses. Both loses came at the hands of the Tartan Devils, as Steel FC finished in second in the regular season, and in the post-season tournament.
The teams leading scorer on the year was both Matthew David Bischoff and Lewis Osborne, both with 8 goals. The teams leading assist leader was Bischoff with 8. Brendan Birmingham kept 4 clean-sheets over the season.
Sunday’s meeting will provide Steel FC some opportunity to avenge their previous defeats against the six-time GPSL champs.
FINAL TAKES ON SUNDAY’S SHOWDOWN
Having already battled twice this season in tight contests, and having finished 1-2 in the GPSL, each side has nothing but respect for each other.
Brian Luchini on the Tartan Devils:
“The Tartan Devils are a strong squad. They have been through this process before with some success and are looking to take another step forward. Their roster speaks for itself with past professional players and quality amateur guys. They are a dominant force in the GPSL and for good reason. Their previous experience in this Cup also helps,” Luchini said. “I’d say the identity of their team is absorbing pressure and then releasing it with a well coordinated counter-attack. Additionally, their composure in critical situations is apparent. There is not much panic on that team and that’s what makes them hard to beat. Regardless of the score, minute, or personnel on the field, they play a complete game. We look forward to giving them a real challenge on Sunday and may the best Pittsburgh team win.”
Andy Kalas on Steel FC:
“Having played Steel five times over the past 18 months, we’re both pretty familiar with each other. They’ve added a few of the top guys in Pittsburgh for this match, so that will give them some additional firepower,” Kalas said. “They have a big, physical back line that doesn’t give up anything easy, and crafty midfielders who can really connect passes. With dangerous guys all over the field, it’s hard to focus on one aspect to slow down. They like to press the issue and make you pay for any mistake in your defensive end. We’ll have to play our game for 90-minutes to earn our 6th win against them.