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Preview: Defending Great Lakes Champion Steel City FC kick off NPSL season against reigning NISA Cup winners, and new league entrant Flower City Union

File photo courtesy Jared Todhunter

Pittsburgh’s NPSL club, Steel City FC kick off their regular season campaign on Saturday evening with a new challenge against a club, Flower City Union, that has moved from the professional ranks (NISA) to the NPSL, as the newest team in the Great Lakes Conference.  Pittsburgh Soccer fans can watch the match live on YouTube

It’s been anything but ordinary start to the calendar year for Pittsburgh’s National Premier Soccer League club Steel City FC, as they already began competitive play with their first-ever experience playing in the first round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, losing in a tight contest to a professional side, NISA’s Michigan Stars, 1-0 at Ambrose Urbanic Field.

Steel City FC shows strength, growth despite USOC result

Even though we came up short in the final score, we did not come up short on the night. It was a celebration of what we’re about – what the club is about, what our first team is about,” Head Coach Dan Brower told PSN after that match.

“We played some good football, we were on top of the game for large stretches. We challenged a professional club today and I think we inspired some of our youngest players to see how our Steel City plays football. It was a good match and we’re proud of our boys because we trained hard for the last couple of months to get ready for such an occasion and it was really a celebration for our club and what we’re about.”

Now, Steel City FC are getting back to business as usual, fielding another very strong roster that includes a mix of numerous Pittsburgh-based current college players, talented youngsters from the Steel City academy programs along with a few cagey veterans, as they are about to embark on their first quest in league play as NPSL’s Midwest Region Great Lakes Conference Champions (6 p.m. — at Rochester Community Sports Complex).

Among the veterans include team captain Nicky Kolarac, Ryan Mertz, Keaton Jennings, Rami Bensasi and defender Nolan Hutter, a now four-year club veteran, former Robert Morris University athlete, and McKees Rocks native.  There are players from Duquesne, Robert Morris and Pitt all on the squad, plus numerous others who are from Pittsburgh, but playing collegiately elsewhere.

For a look at the full squad, you can click here.

On Saturday, Steel City FC will travel to Rochester, NY to take on the newest entrants into the Great Lakes Conference, and a club that captured National Independent Soccer Association (NISA)’s 2023 Championship, Flower City Union.

Travel issues were cited as the primary reason why Flower City Union left the NISA. In a marked contrast, the soccer team won’t have to fly to the west coast and down south this year, in a much more compact, regional schedule.  The addition of Flower City to NPSL marks the return of a Rochester-based club to join the league since the Rochester Lancers last competed in the league.

Jordan Sullivan, who directed Flower City during its Cinderella playoff run, will return as head coach. As it did in its first two seasons in NISA, Flower City will call the Rochester Community Sports Complex (formerly Shalen’s Stadium — where USL Championship’s now folded Rochester Rhinos last played in 2017 and coached by current Riverhounds gaffer, Bob Lilley) home. The venue has seating for nearly 14,000 fans and includes 14 luxury suites. The facility has hosted matches for the U.S. women’s national team, Rochester Rhinos and WNY Flash.

No longer will Steel City FC be on the hunt, but they’ll now be the hunted in the Great Lakes Conference, as they set out to keep the standard high following a remarkable 2023 campaign where they didn’t lose a match until the Midwest Regional Final, when they fell to Tulsa Athletic in Extra Time.

Steel City FC’s NPSL playoff run comes to an end in extra time loss to Tulsa Athletic

Steel City finished an impressive 2023 season with 11-1-3 record.

“I am proud of this group and the season we had this year,” Nicky Kolarac, team captain said following the match.

“We truly created a family here at Steel City this Summer.  Although tonight’s game didn’t go our way, we did well to fight back and get an equalizer late. The guys showed a lot of heart and proved that this club has a bright future in competing at a high level.”

That momentum carried over into Steel City’s Open Cup appearance, when they were on the front foot for most of the match against a professional side, but couldn’t convert on some golden chances in the first half.

With nearly every crowd member at Ambrose Urbanic Field on that might geared up in Steel City attire and a healthy contingent of those players from every age group within the club in attendance, Steel City put forth an effort that will surely inspire those youngsters to join the likes of Ben Conti, Luke Fiscus, Amir Awais, and Sean Regan – four Steel City Academy products still in high school themselves who made the game-day roster for this monumental match.

So while they came up short in the Open Cup, Steel City FC assured that there is much more to come for the growth of the club and soccer in the city of Pittsburgh.

With the 2024 NPSL season kicking off on Saturday, the club is continuing to aim high, and it’s clear that the future is bright, both on the field and off of it for Steel City FC.

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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