The Riverhounds are one of the most rewarding teams in the USL to follow. Formed in 1999, the Riverhounds may be young compared to other sports franchises (especially those in the east), but the team has quickly become a premier talent in the league.
In the team’s earliest years, owners and staff made their intentions clear: one day, the Riverhounds would compete in the top-tier North American soccer competition. The team was primed to join the MLS’s expansion efforts of the past decade but has since been left off the list of new franchises that will join on in 2022 and 2023.
The MLS’s decision not to include the Riverhounds has received mixed reactions from fans. Some felt the league’s decision to onboard new franchises sullied the soccer traditions already established in North America, while others didn’t mind keeping things the way they’ve been.
Though the MLS and USL won’t be budging on the Riverhounds status anytime soon, there are five solid arguments as to why the city of Pittsburgh is ready for the soccer big leagues.
The Riverhounds Are Ready
At the moment, most soccer pundits and analysts spend their time covering the MLS, putting out MLS betting odds, and offering expert picks from teams in the Western and Eastern Conferences. Though the USL receives less attention from pundits and sportsbooks alike, this doesn’t reflect the quality of play in the league—especially not on the part of Riverhounds SC.
The team’s record has steadily improved, with a second-place league finish in 2019 and a 5th place finish in 2020. The Riverhounds have also bolstered their roster with multiple players who have played in MLS or have been MLS SuperDraft selections, including Tommy Williamson and defender Mekeil Williams
Pittsburgh Fans Love Sports—Soccer Included
Those alive back in the 70s remember the glory days in Pittsburgh. At one point, the city was known as ‘City of Champions’, after the Pirates (MLB), Penguins (NHL), and Steelers (NFL) won multiple championships throughout the decade.
There may be fewer championship titles to pass around today (with the exception of 2009), but the sporting spirit continues throughout the city. The Riverhounds receive plenty of love from local fans, while soccer stars from the city are also praised often. Pittsburgh has grown talents like World Cup champion Meghan Klingenberg and MLS star Marvell Wynne II.
The Infrastructure Exists
One of the biggest demands for incoming franchises joining the MLS, including St. Louis City SC and Charlotte FC, is meeting infrastructural demands. In addition to staff and training grounds, franchises have had to commit to major stadium constructions or improvements.
The Riverhounds home at Highmark Stadium is already an MLS-caliber location. Located in Station Square, the grounds are specifically designed to host soccer matches. At the moment, capacity is limited to 3,500 spectators but could be expanded with space for 18,500 viewers (according to some).
This would make the stadium larger than existing MLS homefields, including the Colorado Rapids and Inter Miami CF.
Pittsburgh > Sacramento
The MLS’s expansion plans have been based around the goal of building out the league to a total of 30 teams, 15 in each conference. Obviously, this requires some thoughtful consideration, as there can’t be a lopsided number of teams in each conference.
That being said, the MLS has announced its plans to expand the league to 30 teams by adding another franchise in Sacramento. The decision misses the mark on a few considerations. First is climate; Pittsburgh may be cold in winter, but Sacramento is outright unlivable in summer.
Second, Sacramento doesn’t have the same degree of sporting culture as Pittsburgh. The city only hosts one major league team, the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise, which has struggled since it touched down in 1985.
USL Needs More Recognition
Many soccer fans were hopeful the MLS would consider a relegation system similar to the Premier League and other European club formats. This hasn’t been the case, which means no matter how dominant the Riverhounds are in the USL, they’ll never earn a promotion to the MLS.
In vice versa, unworthy franchises won’t be relegated to the USL. Not only does this miss the mark in terms of promoting competition, but it also disregards the strength of certain teams in the USL—Riverhounds included.