The Pittsburgh Hotspurs senior men’s team cemented themselves this season as a top-level club in the NPSL’s Rust Belt Division and now have become a perennial playoff contender in the league’s Midwest Region by earning a second consecutive postseason berth in 2022.
This Tuesday (July 19), they’ll be facing their rivals, Cleveland SC, for a fourth time this season, in the NPSL’s Midwest Region playoffs, in Berea, Ohio (7 p.m. kickoff).
The Hotspurs finished the Spring regular season with a 8-4-0 record, ending in second place in the Rust Belt Divison, a half game behind front runners Cleveland (8-3-1).
Despite finishing behind in the standings by a mere point, the Hotspurs finally showed they could defeat their emerging Rust Belt rivals twice this season, first at Founders Field on June 19, 2-1, and again, three days later in Ohio by the same score.
In the third match, Cleveland returned the favor with a 3-1 victory on July 8.
Last night @SoccerCLE had a mission to complete… they welcomed @HotspursClub in town knowing that Pittsburgh had taken the first 2 meetings. Striking early, Cleveland came out victorious winning 3-1 clinching a 2022 playoff spot.#WeAreCle#ClevelandSC@NPSLSoccer pic.twitter.com/8k4dp7okLY
— Luigi Musto (@viperg98) July 9, 2022
In 2021, the teams played three hard fought matches, but each time, Cleveland came out on top.
Unlike a year ago, when Cleveland won all three matches, the Hotspurs really feel like they’re on equal footing with their rivals.
Now they up the stakes on Tuesday in their second post season match in as many seasons.
“It’s definitely a rivalry. I don’t think Pittsburgh and Cleveland people don’t see eye-to-eye, when it comes to sports. It’s fun and good for soccer here and there as well,” Hotspurs’ veteran midfielder/winger, Nicky Kolarac said. ”
Led by Kolarac, the club’s 30 year-old venerable captain who has become a Pittsburgh soccer staple of sorts, as the club consists of a blend of some of the area’s best current and soon-to-be collegiate players along with a few wily veterans leading the way.
“We’ve had a breakthrough this year against them, beating them twice,” “We finished 2-1 versus them this year, but this playoff game this Tuesday will be massive. Hopefully we can pull it out. We’ve had some good training sessions, so we’re ready.”
Since 2019, Kolarac has been one of the mainstays for a club that has kept a lot of positive momentum building to this point.
“We are getting better each year,” Kolarac said. “The first few years, we were still searching for our identity as a club, but we are possession-based team, and we’re getting to know each other and have brought a lot more guys back, so that has helped.”
Now, the stakes are higher as they’ll meet in the first round as the Hotspurs, earning the sixth seed, will have to travel to Cleveland, the third-seed, to take on their rival one more time. In addition, if the Hotspurs could reach the Midwest Regional Finals, they could earn a berth in the first round of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.
— Nicky Kolarac (@Nicky_Flash_Jon) July 11, 2022
This year’s edition of the Hotspurs includes a mix of current college players, with many names Pittsburgh soccer fans and those who follow college soccer may be familiar with (see the full list below), along with veterans including Kolarac and Rami Bensasi.
The Hotspurs are lead by Head Coach Dan Brower, along with assistants Peter Mulhern, Tom Campbell and Mark Duffield, who have the task of putting together the squad, implementing a system that works while maximizing the use of many different players who come together for a short sprint that is the NPSL season.
Now the challenge will be beating a Cleveland team that has a lot of experience and success at this level.
“They’ve been playing together for five-six years now,” Kolarac said. “They’re kind of like our veterans, but the entire team. They play a great sytle and they’re hard to play against. They’re similiar to us. Possession, high press, that kind of stuff.
“It’s been an amazing,” Kolarac said, of the Hotspurs development of the men’s senior team from when they started in 2019, to where they are now, competing in the playoffs on a regular basis.
“This year we’re gelling. I think we can get it done, We brought people back from last year. Coach Brower has us playing a good style. We’ve beat them (Cleveland) two out of three games this year already. Hopefully on Tuesday, it’s the same result.”
INTERVIEW WITH NICKY KOLARAC ON PITTSBURGH SPORTS LIVE & ON SOUNDING OFF ON SOCCER PODCAST
On Pittsburgh Sports Live, Nicky Kolarac and John Krysinsky talk about the growth and success of the Pittsburgh Hotspurs men’s NPSL side.
For a more in-depth and longer discussion, check out the extended interview on PSN’s Sounding Off on Soccer Pod, as John and Nicky talk more about Pittsburgh soccer, his experiences playing professionally, playing with the Riverhounds and being part of the ‘Miracle on the Mon’ and much, much more.
Hotspurs 2022 Roster