It’s been a monumental season for Steel City FC’s senior men’s team, as they completed its 12-game regular season without a loss, finishing atop the National Premier Soccer League’s (NPSL) Midwest Region Great Lakes Conference standings.
Now, the team, which represents Steel City FC’s larger organization which rebranded from Pittsburgh Hotspurs in the offseason, are very excited and ready to take another big step forward on Saturday when they host their first-ever home playoff match.
“It’s been an unbelievable season so far. We have most guys back from last year. Coach (Dan) Brower has put us through good training sessions. Has us playing well and getting us ready for each match,” veteran midfielder, Nicky Kolarac said.
“It’s been a fun year and the boys are loving it.”
The reward for Steel City FC’s regular season success now comes with hosting Great Lakes Conference Final against rival Cleveland SC at Founders Field (in Indiana Township) on Saturday night (5:30 p.m. kickoff).
Game-day eve — Men's team vs @SoccerCLE in the Great Lakes Conference Final TOMORROW, Saturday, 7/15!
— Steel City FC (@SteelCityFC) July 14, 2023
Brower’s group brings together a mix of current college players, recent college graduates and a few older veterans who’ve taken on leadership roles with the club. Among the veterans, the team features two 30-something leaders, Kolarac and Rami Bensasi, who are key figures in helping steer the club toward new heights, while some of the younger players, still playing collegiately, including Pitt’s Michael Sullivan and Eben McIntyre and Duquesne’s Anthony DiFalco and Tate Mohney, are making big contributions too. Leading the team with five goals each are Mohney and former Seneca Valley standout, Nathan Prex. Defender Justin Kopay was recognized as a member of the NPSL Team of the Month for June.
“We have good mix with this group. We all get along very well,”Kolarac added pointing to the club’s chemistry has grown in recent years.
“We have everyone back from previous years, and that really has helped. Everyone’s more mature. I don’t think another team in this league goes through sessions like we do. We’re putting in three, four sessions a week.”
Kolarac also added that there’s something special about the group, as many players are using the relatively short NPSL campaign as an important showcase for them to develop as players while also contributing to being part of building a winning culture.
“Lot of guys have aspirations to do well with this group, and then their colleges, and possibly go on and play pro,” Kolarac, who has the most professional playing experience on the club, having played a few years with the Riverhounds and in Major Indoor Soccer League too.
“I believe we have quite a few guys that can actually make it if they stick with their work effort, with their touches and staying fit. It’s possible.”
This year, in two regular season matches, Steel City FC defeated its rivals from Northeast Ohio in their first match, at Founders Field, then the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in Berea, OH, in the regular season finale.
While growing as a team and becoming more comfortable playing together, since its inception in 2019, the club has yet to win a playoff match, coming up short in the previous two years to Saturday’s opponents, Cleveland SC.
Since the start of the 2021 season, Steel City/Hotspurs and Cleveland SC have faced each other nine times, with Cleveland holding the 5-3-1 edge, but that includes a Cleveland three-match sweep in 2021. Since that time, the Pittsburgh side has won three of the last six matches played since 2022.
“They’re familiar with us, and we know them. We know what we’re going to get with them, but it’s always a good match. They have some vets as we do too,” Kolarac said.
“There’s definitely a hunger with this group. We’ve been knocked out by Cleveland each year. Hopefully in the playoffs, we’ll come through this time.”
In their previous clash with Cleveland on Founders Field, Mohney, DiFalco, and former Duquesne standout Ryan Landry found the back of the net.
In addition to playing for a chance to win the Great Lakes Conference, Steel City FC will also be looking to advance in the NPSL’s Midwest Region playoffs and NPSL’s National Tournament.
While the club has also put itself in very good position to earn a berth in the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup proper tournament by reaching the Conference Final, they will be assured of a spot in the Open Cup with a victory on Saturday.
There’s a lot at stake for Steel City FC on Saturday but they’ve earned some advantages heading into the match. .
As opposed to previous seasons, by virtue of their outstanding regular season, Steel City FC will be hosting the Conference Final on home turf and had few extra days rest, while Cleveland had to play midweek, when they defeated Michigan Rangers, 1-0, on the road in Grand Rapids, MI, in a rain soaked match with multiple delays, to advance to the final.
Rain or shine, Julian Pellegrini's match-winning goal under the pouring rain in Grand Rapids was unforgettable! 🌧⚡️
— Cleveland SC (@SoccerCLE) July 13, 2023
“The Rest is crucial. They played midweek, now they have to come to us. It’s very important. Especially for guys like me, who could use a few extra days rest,” Kolarac explained, and added that he’s looking forward to a great atmosphere at Founders Field.
“Having a playoff game at Founders is going to be unbelievable. The crowd is going to be good. If you’ve never been, I would suggest coming to this game. Fans are really close the action and will get to see some really good soccer played. Hopefully it’s packed. It’s loud. We’ll play some great footy for people to watch.
If you can’t make it out to Founders, there will also be a Live Stream of the match available:
— National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) (@NPSLSoccer) July 14, 2023
Interview with Nicky Kolarac (Steel City FC)
Kolarac joins the pod to share more about his team’s success this season and the excitement leading up to Saturday’s big match.
Steel City FC 2023 NPSL Roster
First representing the Hotspurs crest, the club’s entry into the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) began in 2019, picking up the mantle as Southwestern Pennsylvania’s lone club in the Fourth Division league.
Look for more coverage to come this week as Pittsburgh Soccer Now will have more on the squad and will be previewing and covering the Great Lakes Conference Final at Founders Field on July 15.