In taking a look back at Pittsburgh soccer’s past decade, its probably best to point out where things stood way back in good old 2010.
We’ve already outlined the ambitious ten-year period for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
High school soccer still only had two girls classifications, and just recently moved into three boys classifications. In 2019, both boys and girls soccer now have four classifications.
Entering 2010, Pitt’s soccer teams were still playing at Founders Field, in Indianola. Where’s that? Well somewhere in the country roads and up in the hills between Fox Chapel and Harmarville, about 12 miles from Pitt’s campus in the Oakland neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh. Today, the Panthers play in a state-of-the-art soccer complete on its upper campus.
The Riverhounds Development Academy, founded in 2007, had expanded into a year-round program by the start of the decade, but would have to wait a few years before taking next steps toward fielding competitive teams and getting local players into National competitions and leagues. In 2019, the RDA current member of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) on both the boys and girls side. They’ve also expanded to build another facility (RDA East in Connellsville), and in all they currently develop about 1,300 players between the ages of 3 and 18 years old and provides identification opportunities to participate in the Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA), the highest tier within our youth system.
While the NPSL and WPSL had been founded in 2003, and 1996, respectively, and the PDL progressed since being founded in 1995, higher level soccer clubs providing playing opportunities for current and recent college players in the region were minimal. In the past decade, numerous clubs have popped up in our region that have provided these opportunities, most notably the Fort Pitt Regiment, Steel City FC, and now Pittsburgh Hotspurs fielding both men’s and women’s teams heading into the 2020 NPSL and WPSL campaigns.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup had just 40 teams enter its proper tournament, and without any amateur teams in sight from Western PA coming close to qualifying. In the past six years, there’s been a regular presence of amateur sides competing in the qualifying stages, and one side, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon, of the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League’s Premier Division, qualified for the proper tournament, and won a match in 2017.
International soccer made its return to Pittsburgh in the 2000s, with Heinz Field twice hosting matches. Once with Chelsea and Roma playing before more than 25,000 fans, and then later in the decade when the U.S. Women’s National Team came to Heinz Field, but only drew 6,386 fans on that day. In the 2010s, three matches were played at Heinz Field, with more than 34,000 in attendance for Manchester City’s 5-1 drubbing of AC Milan in 2014, then a record-breaking crowd of more than 43,000 to watch USWNT’s 8-0 rout of Costa Rica in 2015, followed up by a mid-week match in 2018 between Borussia Dortmund and Benfica, a penalty kick shootout win for Benfica.
In 2010, no Pittsburgh-based player had stepped on the World Cup stage since Aldo ‘Buff’ Donelli contributed to the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 1934 World Cup. In 2015, former Pine-Richland standout Meghan Klingenberg was an integral part of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s third World Cup victory.
So, it’s safe to say, soccer has found some momentum in the Steel City, and has provided some very memorable moments during the past decade.
Without further hesitation, here’s our look at what we remember the most — including honorable mentions, our favorite quote and the top ten moments that defined Pittsburgh soccer in the 2010s.
Hounds 2015 Open Cup run
At the time, Matt Gajtka, who was covering the Hounds in multiple roles that year and serving as the team’s play-by-play announcer, said before the third round Open Cup match between the Riverhounds and the then NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, that it could be the biggest game in the team’s history.
In the short history of Highmark Stadium, it certainly was a game that would be important because with a win the Hounds would advance to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup — hosting a Major League Soccer team for the first time.
This game between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay proved to be a hard fought battle between two teams that were coming off league wins only days before. Neither could capitalize on chances for much of the game, that was until the very late stages.
Rob Vincent was having quite a breakout season prior to this game, leading the USL in goals. Then he started to come up with some big goals in big moments, starting on this warm late May evening as the contest reached the 90th minute.
The Rowdies gave Vincent a little too much room as he broke into open space, while stumbling a bit in the middle of the field as he entered the final third. Vincent then let loose a perfectly placed shot in the lower left side of goal to lift the Hounds to a 1-0 win to help Pittsburgh advance past the (then) NASL side.
After the game, Gajtka and I acknowledged to each other that this game would go down as probably one of the biggest wins in team history, and the results of this match would set the stage for a few more “bigger” games — and even more clutch goals by Vincent to follow in the coming days — and weeks.
Up next in the fourth round — came another ‘big game’ — as this one packed Highmark Stadium to beyond full capacity, but the stakes were a bit higher. This was the first, and only time that the Hounds would host an MLS team at Highmark Stadium — the D.C. United.
Vincent scored on penalty that leveled the match. He must have made quite an impression on United coach Ben Olsen, as he would later be invited to go on trial, and eventually have his contract bought out by DCU.
Despite the loss, the game and the atmosphere it created left Pittsburgh soccer fans loving it — and craving for more.
Unfortunately, the Hounds have yet to get a return match against an MLS side at Highmark Stadium. In 2019, they did finally meet a MLS opponent, Columbus Crew, at MAPFRE Stadium, losing 2-0 in the fourth round of the Open Cup.
Wild and crazy WPIAL Finals finishes at Highmark Stadium (2013-2019)
Since 2013, the WPIAL finals have been played at Highmark — and they’ve rarely disappointed.
The crowds have been terrific, and most years, there have been more than 7,000-8,000 fans attending the games that span over the course of three days (the format expanded from two to three days in 2016 with eight classifications total).
As a sports writer, it’s always good to have as much of your story completed before games end, so that there may only be a few changes and updates to make in case anything wild happens.
In the years that Pittsburgh Soccer Report/Pittsburgh Soccer Now were covering WPIAL matches at Highmark Stadium, the final five minutes, and overtime periods provided some thrilling turn-of-events, goals and plays that altered many post-game summaries.
In all, there have been 11 golden goals scored in the seven years of WPIAL finals played at Highmark.
In 2015, in 3A final, Fox Chapel had a 1-0 lead with less than two minutes before the final whistle, only to have Canon-McMillan earn a penalty kick qualizer with a little more than a minute left in regulation, then a game-winner in the extra period.
In 2016 and 2017, again, in the boys 3A/4A (highest classification) final, North Allegheny twice scored goals late in the second half to equalizer, and then find game-winners.
In 2017 and 2018, Shady Side Academy defied the odds, beating top-seeded Quaker Valley twice with dramatic, equalizing goals in the dying seconds of the second half. In 2017 the equalizer came from a bicycle kick finish from a long throw, and the game-winner also on a similar sequence emanating from a throw-in. The 2018 win for Shady Side was clinched after a goal with 45 seconds in regulation, then goalkeeper Bruce David stopped all three PK attempts during the climatic PK shootout.
“It doesn’t happen. He needs to buy a lottery ticket,” Andrew Marshall, Quaker Valley’s coach remarked after that match. “All due respect. He’s athletic. Decisive. Confident. Made all the plays. Credit to him.”
It was another early November.
And it was another improbable WPIAL title win at Highmark Stadium.
Selfie with Mario (2014)
Before a lively crowd at Heinz Field, Manchester City trounced AC Milan, 5-1 in a group stage match of the Guinness International Champions Cup.
As the match came to a close, two fans, dressed in AC Milan traditional red and black striped home jerseys with what appeared to be wigs, broke onto the field and ran right to AC Milan’s enigmatic one, Mario Balotelli. They posed for a selfie with Balotelli, who, along with the crowd, seemed to enjoy the moment. Then Pittsburgh’s finest escorted the pair away. And that put the wrap on an eventful day of soccer at Heinz Field.
— Nawaf (@NA_B27) July 27, 2014
Mighty Amateurs: Tartan Devils Oak Avalon (2017)
Everyone loves an underdog.
The Tartan Devils became one of the darlings of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup proper tournament.
Made up of many former college players from the Pittsburgh region, the Devils advanced in qualifying, then met the Derby City Rovers in suburban Louisville in May 2017, in the first round of the Open Cup.
Trailing 1-0, the Tartan Devils hung around, and eventually wore down the younger PDL squad, and forced the match to overtime, and eventually penalty kicks.
They pulled through for the road victory, then had a chance to host Louisville City FC of USL at Highmark Stadium. While they would be completely outclassed in the second round, they showed that an amateur club from Pittsburgh can have success in the Open Cup.
Quote of the decade: Niko Katic (2014)
There have been some very well known post-game remarks from disgusted coaches that go down in sports folk lore — that many of us have heard and seen over and over again.
Some that come to mind include former NFL coach Jim Mora‘s “Playoffs!” rant or a handful of Bobby Knight tirades or masterful sarcasm of Jim Boehiem.
At Highmark Stadium, Niko Katic, a recent former player who had become the team’s interim coach after the dismissal of Justin Evans in 2014, only had this to say after his team’s disappointing 3-1 loss to league leading Richmond at the time.
“No heart. No passion. No desire to win the balls. No desire to win the tackles,” Katic said as we all stood there taking this all in on the field after the game.
“There was no desire to play for this organization and no respect for themselves, let alone the game of soccer. There are people that would do everything to play this game, be in our shoes to play the game. I’m disgusted by the effort,” said Katic.
And with that, Katic walked away.
Essentially it was his “drop the mic” moment. I was writing the game summaries for the team at the time, and didn’t use that quote, but was very tempted.
The team would pick things up following that loss, only losing once in the next seven matches and keeping its playoff hopes alive through the final weekend of that season.
Ten Moments that defined Pittsburgh soccer in the 2010s
10. Kick heard ‘Round the World (2016)
The Romeo Parkes game.
Yes — it’s hard to ignore — but this now infamous incident happened at Highmark in early May 2016 in a game between the Hounds and the team that would end up winning the USL Cup, New York Red Bulls II. Parkes, who scored earlier in the match, and was the Hounds leading scorer early that season, was sent off with a red card after an incident with Red Bulls’ Karl Ouimette.
Of course, it didn’t end there.
As the two were walking off the field, Parkes delivered a studs-first kick to Ouimette’s back, flooring the Red Bulls midfielder, where he laid on the ground for nearly 10 minutes and eventually left the field in a stretcher. Parkes, who lost control of himself, had to be restrained by some of his teammates, and even one of the Red Bulls players and fellow Jamaican countryman, Junior Flemmings.
Parkes’ contract was immediately terminated by the Hounds and he was not only banned from USL for the season, but also faced a ban from FIFA for the rest of 2016.
It was a black eye in a season that quickly spiraled out of control for the Riverhounds. While the video of the incident went viral, as many people from all corners of the globe got their first look at Highmark Stadium through an ugly incident.
Once his ban was lifted near the end of 2016, Parkes returned to El Salvador to play for the team he played for prior to being in Pittsburgh, Isidro Metapan, where he’s since scored eight goals. Parkes returned to Pittsburgh a year later, when all was forgiven — as he played two more seasons with the Riverhounds through 2018. Since the Hounds decided not to resign Parkes, the Jamaican striker has been playing with Irish Club Sligo Rovers, where he’s scored 10 goals in 28 appearances.
9. Duquesne women win Atlantic 10 and earn trip to NCAA tournament (2015)
Pittsburgh Soccer Now‘s Zac Weiss included this in his top 10 Duquesne moments on Pittsburgh Sports Now post on Monday.
It was a remarkable run for the Dukes, who needed to battle their way into the competitive Atlantic 10 tournament, earning a seventh seed.
From there, with starting keeper Kyra Murphy injured, the Dukes won three games in the A-10 tourney, with its back-up keeper, Vanessa Perdomo.
In the opening round, the Dukes upset second-seed Dayton, 3-2 in a penalty kick shootout. They would defeat LaSalle, 2-1 in the semifinal, then defeated Fordham, 2-0, in the A-10 final.
Perdomo made 29 saves which was an Atlantic 10 Championship record and was named Most Outstanding Player. Facceda, Abby Losco (Hopewell) and sophomore forward Katie O’Connor joined Perdomo on the All-Championship Team.
“It’s pretty surreal actually, I always felt that if we could get into the tournament, we could make a good run,” Duquesne women’s soccer coach Al Alvine said at the time. “From the minute we got here, the kids attitudes was fantastic. The mentality was fantastic. I couldn’t be happier for the kids — they put a lot into this season and especially a lot into this tournament. This is a tremendous reward for them”
Duquesne would travel to face #4 West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost 4-0 ending its season. The season was one where the team saved its best soccer for when it mattered most and dug in, refusing to care about it seeding, battling for each other to achieve its goals.
8. Angulo’s goal vs Wigan (2013)
As part of the inaugural season at Highmark, the Hounds went out of their way to set up a match with a European club that would be coming to the United States that summer for preseason friendlies.
After a lightning delay pushed the start of the match back about 15 minutes, Angulo didn’t waste any time striking first.
The Riverhounds leading scorer made a nice individual run on the left side and drilled a shot past Wigan goalkeeper Nicholls Lee in the 2nd minute.
“I got past a few guys, things opened up and I got it off,” said Angulo.
Wigan manager Owen Coyle knew his team may have been a little complacent but was impressed by Angulo, who would go on to win USL PRO MVP, and the Riverhounds.
“It was a great play and an unstoppable shot. They really came out, played well from the start,” said Coyle, who would later come back to the States to coach Houston Dynamo.
“The place went crazy. That’s why we came here. We needed a good experience and there’s some talented players here.”
On the other sideline, Riverhounds coach Justin Evans chuckled.
“I wish we had another lightning delay after that.”
Wigan stormed back to score four unanswered goals for the final line of 4-1. The fans (and teams) were treated to a full Zambelli fireworks show afterwards.
The Hounds have not played match against an international side since that memorable evening.
7. Pitt men host and win first-ever NCAA tournament match (2019)
Pitt’s men’s basketball team were hosting an early season game at the Peterson Events Center next door, but the buzz, and the crowd shifted about 800 yards to the North of Pitt’s Upper Campus, where the Pitt men’s soccer team were hosting the NCAA tournament before a standing-room only crowd at Ambrose Urbanic Field as part of the Peterson Sports Complex.
In year four of the Jay Vidovich era, Pitt men’s soccer reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1966 after a successful run in ACC play, and in the conference tournament when they hosted and won a match the previous week.
6. Hounds win home playoff vs Birmingham (2019)
In 2018, in a resurgent season under the direction of Bob Lilley as its head coach, the Hounds earned a third-overall seed in the USL playoffs, hosting its first-ever playoff match at Highmark Stadium, losing a heartbreaker against Bethlehem Steel FC, 2-2 (8-7) in a penalty kick shootout.
The Hounds were determined to return to this stage in 2019, and sure enough, even after a rough start to the season, they would earn a top-of-the-table finish in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference, good for home field advantage in the playoffs. They would get their chance to give Pittsburgh soccer fans a playoff win at home hosting expansion Birmingham Legion FC in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
The Hounds delivered in a big way. It wasn’t even close.
Neco Brett’s four goals broke all kinds of records en route to Pittsburgh’s 7-0 beat down of the Legion FC. It was the first playoff win for the Riverhounds since 2004 as Highmark Stadium was packed with an overflow crowd of more than 5,200 fans.
The momentum from this match carried over into the next week, when more than 6,000 fans came to Highmark, as the Hounds lost in double overtime to the defending champs, Louisville City FC.
5. Bankruptcy: “The future of pro soccer in Pittsburgh was very bleak” (2014)
At the start of the 2014 season, things took a disastrous turn for the Riverhounds’ organization.
With major overruns in costs coming from the building of Highmark Stadium, the club had no choice but to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The franchise would reorganize its structure with a new majority owner, Tuffy Shallenberger.
Shallenberger, an owner of a construction business based out of Fayette County, successfully proposed a reorganization plan before Federal Bankruptcy court, and the Riverhounds house would begin the process of getting itself in order.
The organization filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in March 2014, only one year after opening a soccer-only facility that cost nearly $10 million to complete and included many cost overruns.
By November 2014, however, Riverhounds trustees’ restructuring plans were approved by a federal judge — and the organization and its entity, Highmark Stadium were out of bankruptcy at the end of 2014.
At the time, Shallenberger, who took majority ownership of the team, expressed his thoughts and having to take action in filing for bankruptcy.
“It’s probably one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my business career,” said Shallenberger. “If we’d not made that decision the future of pro soccer in Pittsburgh was very bleak,”
It was a necessary step in the survival of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
Today, Pittsburgh’s professional soccer franchise appears to be as healthy as it’s ever been — thanks to Shallenberger’s action and ability to pull together the resources to keep the organization afloat.
“It wouldn’t be here,” said Shallenberger, who became the club’s majority owner in 2013, when asked by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in April 2019, where the Riverhounds would be today had they not filed for bankruptcy. “There was no other option at that point. It had to be done. It had to be cleaned up. We took our lumps. It was either take your lumps or professional soccer couldn’t be in Pittsburgh.”
4. Trio of Championship-pedigree coaching hires (2015-2017)
Despite Shallenberger’s efforts to keep pro soccer going in Pittsburgh, by the end of the 2017 season, the Riverhounds continued to struggle to produce a consistent winner.
That’s when Shallenberger seized the moment, as the Rochester Rhinos organization was mired in financial troubles, its coach Bob Lilley was about to be on the market looking for a job. Lilley, who had won multiple championships in the second and third tier of U.S. pro soccer, would be hired quickly after a number of circumstances worked out for the Riverhounds, including its previous coach, Dave Brandt, not having a USSF ‘A’ Coaching License, which would become a requirement for all coaches with USL clubs.
Shallenberger handed over all soccer operations into the trusted hands of Lilley, who started in November 2017 to mold the Pittsburgh Riverhounds into a winner.
The Riverhounds weren’t the only ones in town that upped the ante in terms of bringing in established coaches to turn things around.
The University of Pittsburgh made a major splash in December 2015, when announcing the hire of Jay Vidovich, who had built Wake Forest into a national powerhouse program. Prior to hiring Vidovich, Pitt had yet to win an ACC match in competition from 2013-2015.
In four years, Vidovich has completely turned around Pitt’s program, and this November, they had not only finished second in the ACC’s Coastal Division but also made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1966.
Only a month after the Hounds hired Lilley, Pitt made its second big soccer hire in two years, bringing in Randy Waldrum to help resuscitate the ailing women’s program, which had never tasted any success in more than 20 years as a program. Like Vidovich, Waldrum had won National Championships (twice at Notre Dame), and after a brief period of coaching in the pros with the Houston Dash and internationally, Waldrum returned to his roots, coaching Division I women’s soccer.
In two seasons at Pitt, Waldrum has completely overhauled the roster, and with a roster that included almost all underclassmen playing in prominent roles, the Panthers earned two ACC wins and two draws in 2019.
3. Highmark Stadium & Ambrose Urbanic Field open (2011 & 2013)
It was April 13, 2013, and it was a momentous day for Pittsburgh soccer.
That’s the day that Highmark Stadium opened, with the Hounds playing to 2-1 loss to Harrisburg City Islanders.
In a scoreless match in the 70th minute, Hounds coach, and former player and first-ever signee, Justin Evans turned to his bench to bring in Jose Angulo as his team would set up a corner kick.
Matt Dallman delivered the kick, and Angulo, in his first seconds as a Hound, delivered a pin-point header into the back of the net. Angulo would go on to have an MVP season, and Dallman would break the USL’s record for assists that season.
While Highmark Stadium’s primary tenants are the Riverhounds, it has become the mecca for all Pittsburgh soccer. In addition to the Hounds, two small colleges (Point Park University and Carlow University) call it their home, the Riverhounds Development Academy has called it home since 2013, numerous local and national tournaments (including the NCAA Division II Final Four/Championship in 2018 and 2019) have been played on the pitch with its scenic backdrop.
And there’s also the WPIAL finals, which have been played at Highmark since 2013.
There was also another new soccer facility that was built two years earlier. Ambrose Urbanic Field finally provided Pitt with a legitimate soccer facility to call its own. Both Pitt’s men’s and women’s teams would finally prosper by the end the decade, and the new facility became a major factor in helping bring new recruits to Pitt in the ultra-competitive ACC.
2. Miracle on the Mon (2015)
There will likely be hundreds and thousands of games played at Highmark Stadium, but none may ever top what we saw on May 30, 2015.
Up until that point, after three seasons, I had never felt the Highmark Stadium stands shake.
But as the Hounds mounted a furious come-from-behind effort, it felt like the stands were going to collapse.
Pressbox shaking so hard tonight I was honestly afraid it was going to tumble onto Carson Street. #riverhounds
— Chris DeVivo (@cdevivo) May 31, 2015
It was 6-5 come-from-behind win for the Riverhounds, against its interstate rivals, Harrisburg, in the first year that the two teams would be playing for the Keystone Derby Cup.
The Hounds had trailed by scores of 3-0, 4-1, 5-3 in the 88th minute, and yet still came back to win the match.
“A few minutes to go, two goals down, you’re thinking. Honestly, I don’t know what we were thinking,” chuckled Vincent.“A ctually, thinking you’re not going to come away with three points. But we showed tons of character to keep going all the way to the end.”
That’s right, they scored three goals in stoppage time for the win.
“Being down two goals with a minute to go in the game, and then tying it, then getting the winner. It was amazing. I really don’t have a lot of words for that,” said Mark Steffens, Riverhounds Head Coach at the time.
This game has been well-documented here on Pittsburgh Soccer Report/Pittsburgh Soccer Now. You can find the exhilarating details in my accounts of what transpired on that night below.
Even when FC Barcelona completed a ridiculously incredible comeback in the Champions League round-of-16, after trailing PSG 6-1 in aggregate goals, one of the participants from that match, was thinking along the same lines as anyone else who has witnessed the miracle on the Monongahela that evening.
That's probably the second greatest 6-5 comeback I've ever seen! pic.twitter.com/s7PoeB3eUj
— Rob Vincent (@RV__17) March 8, 2017
If you need to relive this magical night at Highmark — thank goodness for the stellar work from the Hounds production team, announcers and that this can live on YouTube for eternity…
So, hopefully we have many more exhilarating moments like this to look forward to in the years that come on the banks of the Mon.
1. World Cup champs USWNT, Klingenberg enjoy triumphant return to Heinz Field (2015)
The United States Women’s soccer team came to Heinz Field on Sunday, August 16, 2015, basking in the limelight after winning its third World Cup. The USWNT began its World Cup Victory Tour in the hometown of its feisty left back, Meghan Klingenberg.
They didn’t let the USWNT and Pittsburgh record crowd of 42,028 down, easily defeating Costa Rica 8-0 in an international friendly.
Pittsburgh fans were treated to a classic, overpowering U.S. performance that included a hat trick from Christen Press, two goals from Heather O’Rielly, and additional tallies from Whitney Engen, Julie (Johnston) Ertz.
But it was the hometown hero Klingenberg, who stole the show.
Klingenberg scored the first goal of the second half, in the 56th minute, after she moved to midfield from her usual outside left back position on the defensive back line, which she started and played in World Cup.
As Tobin Heath made a run to the right endline, cutting back a pass to the Gibsonia native — Klingenberg was able to put her shot past Costa Rican goalkeeper Dinna Diaz with a simple one-time finish.
After scoring the goal, an exuberant Klingenberg made a mad dash to the sideline, where she grabbed a Terrible Towel from her coach, Jill Ellis, which she waved to the delight of the crowd.
“I loved the way we scored that goal. It was a great team goal. Great build up. Tobin (Heath) played a great ball and I just tapped it in,” said Klingenberg. “When we score goals like that — that’s something special. Everyone went nuts. I think I did too. It was incredible.”
As for the towel, Klingenberg wasn’t planning on using it initially, but she had some persuasion from her coach.
“At halftime, Jill was waving a little flag and told me to be ready for it — just in case I would score,” said Klingenberg.
“She had it there — and thankfully I did get to wave it. It was a special moment. It was a special day overall.”
The Pittsburgh kid had her special ‘Pittsburgh’ moment.
Klingenberg’s goal was a culmination of her meteoric rise, built upon hard work and determination — from Pine-Richland High School to become a standout player at the University of North Carolina — and then with the U.S. Women’s National program.
Thousands of young women were at Heinz Field that day, as every single one of them were heard emphatically when Klingenberg scored, provided a glimpse that even undersized girl from Pittsburgh’s Northern suburbs could make to the top of the World stage.