Connect with us

Steel City FC

Steel City FC ‘buzzing to get after’ US Open Cup debut despite turmoil at top of US Soccer ladder

Since the end of its unprecedented 2023 National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) campaign, when they captured its first-ever Great Lakes Division championship and made a run to the Midwest Region Final, Steel City FC senior men’s squad has been preparing for another first — competing in the proper edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.

Steel City are one of eight NPSL clubs who earned an automatic bid to the Nation’s longest running ‘Open’ knockout competition, and they are expected to join a field that includes 13 amateur clubs, 19 fellow clubs from US Soccer’s Fourth Division (11 from USL League Two and seven others from NPSL), plus an unknown number of potential Division III (NISA and potentially MLS Next Pro), along with 24 USL Championship (US Second Division) teams including the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.

Yet, at the top of it all, the past two-plus months have provided a period of uncertainty, as Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer have been mired in a near daily struggle to dictate what the top tier league’s participation will be for the 2024 tournament as it has 26 eligible clubs (Canadian clubs cannot participate), including defending champion Houston Dynamo.

In late December, things began to rear an ugly head when MLS announced they would not be sending its top teams into the Open Cup in 2024. USSF quickly responded, citing Federation by-laws, by denying MLS’ attempt to get out of participating in the Open Cup.

As part of the process for determining all of the teams in the tournament field, U.S. Soccer has already held qualifying rounds for amateur teams (played in late 2023), with the First Round of the tournament slated to begin March 19-21, with Steel City FC ready and poised to host  — if the draw would fall their way — a first round match at Pitt’s Ambrose Urbanic Field.

However, the back-and-forth battle between MLS and U.S. Soccer has caused a delay for all of the other tournament participants to learn what the final tournament format will be, how the schedule may be altered and who their first-round opponent(s) may be.

The last round of news has come from’s Jeff Carlislie, who initially confirmed Monday that Arthur Matteson resigned as USSF’s Open Cup Committee chair, pointing out that the Open Cup was in ‘Grave Danger’.   Later in the day, it was also reported that sources from U.S. Soccer confirmed that the remaining subcommittee has approved a ‘preliminary plan’. 

“It’s super disappointing, because this is the exciting story that we’re trying to tell here. A lot of the reason why we’re doing what we’ve done, and gone down the path was we have as a club, is to be a part of this.  So, it’s definitely an interesting time,” Tom Overden, Director and Owner of Steel City FC told Pittsburgh Soccer Now in an exclusive interview.


“There’s still more to play out, from a political perspective. Whatever happens here is a big moment for the game, here in the (United) States.  There are a lot of places throughout the country that will be impacted,” Ovenden said.

“There are a lot of lawyers, advisors, and that, in the background,  but we’re going to have to be ready to pivot, for sure.”

“This competition predates all of us.  MLS, the other leagues, going all the way down the list,” Ed Ellsworth, Steel City FC Coach, added in the same interview session.

“This competition is the heart of who we are, as a U.S. soccer community. It’s literally the most democratic competition in the country.  It is a real inflection point in U.S. Soccer’s history. Who’s going to dictate the future?  We can have discussions like pro/rel (promotion vs relegation), the system that we have now, and that’s fine. That’s the path that MLS has taken.  But, having a closed system, where only MLS dictates the rules to U.S. Soccer,  That’s a different discussion, and I don’t think that’s right.”

The club’s approach in the Winter months has been to facilitate ongoing training and workout sessions for the core of the squad who will most likely be on its Open Cup roster, and the most likely 18 to get penciled into the lineup card when they do kickoff in the first round.

“We’re buzzing and ready to go,” Nicky Kolarac, one of the club’s true veterans, and one of the few who have competed in the Open Cup before, with teams like the Michigan Bucks and Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

“We’re getting out at least three times a week, with coach (Dan) Brower and the boys, getting ready for the tournament. Obviously, it’s a big step forward for the club. We’re excited to be in it.  And for me, individually, this will be my third or fourth time in it, and I don’t know how many more chances I’ll get to do it. It’s awesome and we’re looking forward to it.”

Overden confirmed that there ‘hasn’t been a ton’ of communication from U.S. Soccer in recent months.

“We’re just trying to work on getting a stadium that meets criteria, and that kind of stuff, but have been connecting with other owners, and directors that are in the same boat.” Ovenden confided.

“I’ve asked them, hey, is it normal that we haven’t heard (anything) by now?  And, they’re like, yeah, something’s up. We would have normally known by now, who we’d be playing.”

Overden, Ellsworth and Kolarac also confirmed that with numerous players from the 2023 NPSL season roster still training and part of current college soccer programs, they’ve been able to bring a number of their top Academy prospects into the squad to prepare for the tournament, and ultimately provide highest possible competition opportunities.

“That’s been one of the exciting things about this for us as we’ve been building this model for our club,” Overden stated, then quipped.

“You want to see these lads going against the quote-unquote pros. We’re truly going to have a fusion of people with really bad mustaches, like Nicky (Kolarac) and some lads with drawn-on mustaches.”

No matter who is part of Steel City FC’s final 18 for the Open Cup, the club’s officials, coaches and senior players are aligned  as one.

“The system is the system, whether they’re eight or 38,” Ellsworth boasted.

“That has helped, that you’re not creating a new language. You’re not creating a new environment. All we’re doing is building on principles that have been key tenets of the club to begin with.”

The Open Cup roster still may include three or four college players, but most of the Division I enrolled players won’t be able to compete in this tournament.

“We’re lucky to have a good group of older guys, along with a good group of academy kids,” Kolarac said.

“There’s been at least 18 academy players who have been training with us.  They have all been great — willing to learn and working hard. They’ve impressed me and they’ve impressed the coaching staff as well.  The 18 (final roster) should be a good little mix of some of the older guys, with some of the Academy players.  It should be fun to play with them.”

Steel City FC are not alone as most of the amateur clubs, the NPSL and League Two teams often will scramble to piece together their rosters.

The US Open Open Cup typically begins its first round pitting the lower division and amateur clubs in regional draws against each other, with opportunity to advance to play against professional clubs in the second and third rounds. Since the Open Cup committee aims to not schedule teams from the same leagues against each other in the first round, that likely rules out the other seven NPSL entries, including West Chester (PA) United.

Consensus among Steel City FC brass is that the most likely opponents in the first round will be either Cristos FC (Maryland) or Vereinigung Erzgebirge (Warminister, PA).

With every intention to advance, Steel City FC have their sights set on their ultimate goal of facing the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, in what would amount to an extremely rare Pittsburgh Derby pitting two Western PA clubs in the Open Cup.

“It’s full steam ahead. Coaches have been putting together some incredible sessions.  At end of day, there’s a lot of excitement. 10s, 11s, 12s, 13s walking on field seeing the guys, Asking them, who are they playing?” Ellsworth.

“There’s a lot of excitement from within the club.  Lot of people asking, when and where we’ll be playing,”



Will be uploaded soon 

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).

Glory on the Grass

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

Subscribe to PGH Soccer Now

Enter your email address to subscribe to PGH Soccer Now and receive notifications of new posts by email.

More in Steel City FC