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A Thousand Goals and Counting: Riverhounds’ caretaker Gene Klein had a huge hand in cementing ‘A Storied Franchise’

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC were staring at a two goal deficit for the third straight match after the 35th minute, with their grip on first place slipping away in front of a sellout crowd on Saturday.

A historical late first-half goal sparked a comeback that we haven’t seen at Highmark Stadium since May 31, 2015, as the Hounds came surging back to grab an epic 4-2 victory against Memphis 901 FC.

PSN’s Mark Goodman provided the terrific match report, plus Ed Thompson was on hand to capture the lasting images from a memorable night at Highmark Stadium.

Riverhounds score 1000th goal in epic 4-2 win

It’s been anything but an ordinary week for Pittsburgh soccer.

That’s because so many who have followed the sport closely have heavy hearts following the passing of Gene Klein last week, who was one of the trailblazers for the Riverhounds franchise and was ever-present during the organization’s 23-plus years of existence.

Pittsburgh soccer icon Gene Klein passes away after battle with cancer

Memorial tributes pour in from Pittsburgh soccer community for Gene Klein, Riverhounds, WPIAL Hall of Famer

At both last Wednesday’s and Saturday’s matches at Highmark Stadium, the club paid tribute to Klein.

And there will also be a tribute to Klein’s life on Tuesday.

‘A Storied Franchise’ Bags One Thousand Goals

Amidst the excitement of the Riverhounds’ come-from-behind win against Memphis 901, brought one quote that stood out the most.

It came from Joe Farrell, who scored the monumental 1000th goal in team history, somehow finding the ball in an absolute scrum in front of the net late in the first half.

Yeah, the goal was anything but beautiful, and was fittingly scored by a defender who’s known for picking out balls in the box and scoring timely goals.

“It’s amazing,” Farrell said.

“This is such a storied franchise. So many great players have walked through these halls and walked on this pitch and worn our colors. Just to get one small goal that happened to be the thousandth is truly amazing.”

Hearing those words for a second made me stop.

Did he say ‘Such a Storied’ franchise and the Riverhounds in the same sentence?

But, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed appropriate that someone with some experience, knowledge and history in the USL Championship, and is a Pennsylvania native who grew up learning and being around the game as part of a family that has soccer blood in its veins, would have this perspective.

Farrell’s father, Pat Farrell is a Philadelphia soccer icon who was associated with the La Salle men’s soccer program for 45 years, as a player and coach — where he spent 29 seasons as the program’s Head Coach.

Joe has four siblings: Colleen, a 2005 La Salle graduate and women’s soccer player; Meghan, a 2007 Princeton graduate who played women’s soccer; Patrick, a 2009 Princeton graduate who also played men’s soccer.

Ironically, the Farrell family came out to Highmark in full force on Saturday.

It was Joe, the youngest, who graduated in 2016, as was the only sibling who played for his father, as a four-time all-region standout for the Explorers men’s soccer team.

The goal took on special meaning for the franchise, but also for Farrell.

“What was great about it was not only was it the 1,000th goal in Riverhounds history,” Farrell stated after the match.

“But it was in front of 30 of my family members.”

If anyone on the roster understands the impact and legacy of the USL Championship and the Riverhounds SC franchise (outside of Pittsburgh area native Robbie Mertz, of course), it would be Farrell.

Pittsburgh, your storied pro soccer franchise, which has stood the test of time, in more than 23 years, have now scored one thousand goals — and counting.

Let that sink in.

Gene Klein Helped Keep the Hounds’ Ship Afloat 

Since 1999, so much has happened in the American soccer landscape.  There have been many changes, and the Riverhounds franchise somehow withstood numerous pitfalls and came close to becoming extinct on several occasions.

When it came time to dive into the history of soccer in the Pittsburgh region, and really learn about the plight of the Riverhounds’ organization, especially in the 2000s and early 2010s, Gene Klein became my primary go-to person when writing my book, Miracle on the Mon. The former history teacher and boys soccer coach at Quaker Valley High School was instrumental in lending his time and assisting me with getting all the facts straight while adding to a compelling narrative.

Each time the Riverhounds organization faced challenges, Gene Klein was around to help keep the ship afloat.

“Gene was a special guy,” Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley, also a Pennsylvania native who met Klein in the late 1990s when coming to Pittsburgh to help with youth clinics in Sewickley, stated last Wednesday.

“I always saw Gene as a big part of what they did here in Pittsburgh. Not only for all the hats he wore and how many lives he touched.  You’re not going to find anyone here who wasn’t touched by Gene in some way. What he did to start the (Riverhounds Development) Academy, he was a big influence.  John Rotz and Scotty Gibson, he brought them in 12 years ago. He put them on these projects, and said ‘let’s get the academy started’. All these building blocks that were here.  That’s the foundation which I walked into when I got here (in 2018).  A lot of those things, Gene played a big part. First as part of the coaching staff, then as General Manager (and Technical Director).  He was always supportive from the time I got here, and would always check in and if there was ever anything we needed, he was there.”

In 2007, the Riverhounds decided to take what many might call a ‘Gap Year’ now. It was a chance for Klein, who was the team’s Head Coach and Technical Director at the time, to hit the reset button to take a step back and take a more holistic approach to building the soccer club, with one of the biggest changes coming in the way of starting the Academy.

This wasn’t exactly an immediate cure, and certainly brought more challenges, but Klein was a key figure in helping the organization stay on course through the ups and downs.  Klein shared a number of stories with me about many obstacles, from buses breaking down and barely having enough meal money on road trips to feed players.

One-by-one, many of the franchises that were staples and competitors of the Riverhounds for much of the past 20 years, are now gone.

  • Wilmington Hammerheads
  • Dayton Dutch Lions
  • Lilley’s former club, Rochester Rhinos
  • Harrisburg City Islanders

And yet, only the Hounds and Charleston Battery remain.

As Joey Farrell scored the club’s 1,000th goal into the back of the net on Saturday, somewhere Gene Klein had to be smiling, as the Riverhounds Soccer Club further cemented its status as a storied franchise.

“It’s a huge loss.  I am going to miss him. He was a special one for this organization. I often think that if he wasn’t around to caretake for this organization, it might have folded.”

Look for more Hounds coverage this week as we’ll be back with another edition of Hounds Notebook, plus preview the Tampa match, and more.  

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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