The Riverhounds will finally face some outside competition against a pair of league rivals this week when they host Indy Eleven at Highmark Stadium at high Noon on Tuesday, then travel Friday for a friendly in Northern Virginia, when they face Loudoun United FC.
Another fun topic to tackle in this week’s edition of the Pulse of Pittsburgh Soccer, taking a closer look around the professional soccer ranks in the U.S., as there are more and more players from Pittsburgh area college soccer programs earning pro contracts.
Last week, Matthew caught up with Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley, filing a pair of articles as the veteran gaffer believes that last year’s team success is irrelavant as he prepares his team for 2024 and also pointed out the importance that the team’s veterans will have during the preseason with getting new players to buy into the Hounds’ system. Lilley also shared some interesting perspective on some of the key players who left Pittsburgh after contracts expired, pointing out that the team was very much in the running and tried to re-sign Albert Dikwa. The Hounds’ leading scorer in 2023 and the league’s Player of the Year, Dikwa, signed with expansion club, Rhode Island FC.
Colton had a chance to catch up with both Danny Griffin and Robbie Mertz. as the experienced players who have played in Lilley’s system for some time are prepared to lead the way in keeping the Hounds’ winning culture intact as they begin facing competition in the preseason.
ICYMI: I caught up with Danny Griffin & Robbie Mertz to get a veteran's perspective on @RiverhoundsSC camp so far.
— Colton Coreschi (@cjcoreschi) February 5, 2024
Both Matthew and Colton will be at Highmark, and also look for a follow-up edition of Sounding Off on Soccer podcast to come later in the week, with special guests.
Lilley mentioned that the club doesn’t have as many non-roster invitees as they may have had in past seasons, but that’s partially the case for two reasons. For one thing, the Hounds already have 19 players signed to the roster, so there are fewer open spots up for grabs this preseason. Additionally, a few players on the non-roster invitee list haven’t made it into the United States/Pittsburgh yet, as Colton Coreschi reported that one of the most intriguing prospects on the initial list, as Kazaiah Sterling, wasn’t with the team as of Thursday afternoon.
Multiplicity reigns as more Pittsburgh college soccer standouts are making their mark in the Pro ranks
It’s not only preseason for the Riverhounds, but also in Major League Soccer (MLS) and in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), where many from Pittsburgh will be keeping close tabs on some former Pitt, Duquesne and other players with connections to Pittsburgh.
Among those players include:
Valentin Noël, who is beginning his second season with Austin FC. In 2023, Noel played with Austin’s MLS Next Pro squad, alongside former Pitt teammate and current Riverhounds’ midfielder, Jackson Walti, where Austin FC II won the MLS Next Pro Cup.
Austin Head Coach Josh Wolff confirmed that some of the reserve players, including Noël, who were on last year’s Next PRO Cup title team while others are getting an audition this preseason. Noël scored in Austin’s scrimmage last week in Florida vs FC Cincinnati.
“I’m proud,” said Noël after getting his first minutes with Austin FC last season.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a while and getting a chance to play at a special stadium with a special atmosphere was a big moment of pride. I have close ones and family that have been following me on my path and it’s not an easy path but it’s only the beginning. It’s one step out of plenty of other ones but I’m extremely happy for the opportunity.”
Austin FC selected Noël in the first round of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft with the 20th overall pick.
Former Pitt standout, Jasper Löffelsend broke through to becoming a steady part of Real Salt Lake’s squad in 2022 and 2023. In his rookie campaign, he contributed five assists, complimented by his first career goal on July 30, 2022 against San Jose. Throughout his tenure at RSL, he delivered seven assists and scored a pair of goals in 51 regular-season appearances and showcased versatility by playing several positions for the Claret and Cobalt, including outside back and defensive midfielder.
Before the start of 2024 preseason, Löffelsend was acquired by the Colorado Rapids. Through the early part of the preseason schedule, Löffelsend has been part of the club’s rotation, primarily getting the nod in the second half of friendlies thus far.
Another former Panthers who has been earning his stripes with Real Salt Lake, is Bertin Jacquesson, who enters his second season with the MLS club. In 2023, Jacquesson split time between RSL’s MLS Next Pro club, where he showed his scoring punch with a brace against Portland Timbers 2 in July, but also made 10 appearances (with four starts) for the senior club.
Two of this year’s local collegiate talent who were selected in the MLS SuperDraft, are currently also training with their respective clubs: Jayden Da (Duquesne — Columbus Crew) and Filip Mirkovic (Pitt – Orlando City FC)
In addition, we’ll be keeping close tabs on the first two Pitt women’s soccer players who have joined NWSL squads during their respective preseason camps, Landy Mertz and Amanda West.
Mertz is with North Carolina Courage, while West, Pitt’s all-time leading scorer, is with Houston Dash.
First day of training in the books 📚 pic.twitter.com/8Aco7SsQHe
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) February 2, 2024
Pittsburgh-area already has a few players who have made a splash in Women’s professional soccer, namely Meghan Klingenberg (Pine-Richland, North Carolina, World Cup winner) and Veronica Latsko (Peters Twp, Virginia, Houston Dash/OL Reign).
Interestingly, all three men’s Division I local programs have a least one former player in the professional ranks when you account for Neco Brett (Memphis 901 FC) and Devon ‘Speedy’ Williams (Colorado Springs FC) still playing in the USL Championship.
There are more players to note who are in additional professional ranks from Pittsburgh schools.
The Riverhounds’ roster includes Edward Kizza and Walti, while the following former Panthers are also under contracts with clubs:
- Shane Weidt, Sacramento Republic FC
- Robby Dambrot, Loudoun United FC (after stints with Riverhounds, Indy Eleven)
- Pierre Mané, Lexington SC
- Bryce Washington, North Carolina FC
- Nico Campuzano, Lexington SC
- Mohammed Abualnadi, Al-Hussein (Jordan)
- Joe van der Sar, Koninklijke HFC (Netherlands)
- Yanis Leerman, Loudoun United FC
Another player who has made a name for himself with North Carolina FC, is former Point Park University standout, Max Flick, who’s made 67 appearances and scored three goals with the club during its run in USL League One, from 2021-23. To stay on top of his game after graduating from Point Park in 2015, Flick also played with local NPSL clubs, Fort Pitt Regiment and Pittsburgh Hotspurs.
Recently, North Carolina FC featured Flick in this profile, highlighting how he earned a spot on the team’s roster after an open tryout in 2021.
While West and Mertz were the first Pitt women’s soccer players who were drafted by NWSL clubs this winter, there are a number of former Pitt women’s players who have signed and played professional soccer this past year. These players include:
- Athalie Palomo, Tigres (UANL – Mexico)
- Hailey Davidson, Mallbacken IF (Elitettan – Sweden)
- Dixon Veltri, Maccabi Emek Hefer WFC (IWPL – Israel)
- Amaia Pena, Athletic Club Femenino (Liga F – Mexico)
- Hollie Olding, Charlton Athletic W.F.C. (Women’s Championship – England)
- Juliana Vazquez – Puerto Rico Sol (Liga Puerto Rico)
— Barclays Women’s Championship (@BarclaysWC) December 7, 2023
RIVERHOUNDS PRESEASON SCHEDULE
Tues. 6 Indy Eleven 12 p.m.
Fri. 9 Loudoun United FC 1 p.m.
Sun. 18 West Virginia 2 p.m.
Sat. 24 Pitt 4 p.m.
Sat. 2 Louisville City FC 1 p.m.