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Preview: Friendly confines of Founders Field provide home field advantage for Steel City FC as they begin NPSL playoffs

Steel City FC men’s team finished the NPSL regular season at the top of the Great Lakes Conference standings (7-0-3, 24 points) tied with Akron City FC — but taking the tiebreaker thanks to beating ACFC in May, 2-1. As they did a year ago, the defending conference tournament champs will now have home field advantage through the conference finals, as they begin their quest for a repeat by taking on Flower City Union FC, at Founders Field on Wednesday (6:30 p.m. kickoff).

In recent years, first as Pittsburgh Hotspurs, and now as Steel City FC, the club has created a festive, lively atmosphere at the field that has plenty of history, most recently serving as the host field for University of Pittsburgh men’s and women’s soccer teams prior to Ambrose Urbanic Field being built — and has been the home of the Pittsburgh Harlequins Rugby Football Club

The Field is located in Cheswick, PA – just northeast of downtown Pittsburgh. The facility features 250,000 square feet of natural grass with 1,500 spectator bleacher seats, concessions, 2 video towers, LED scoreboards, as well as supplementary fields adjacent to the facility.

Founders Field annually hosts regional and national Rugby events with past events including USA Rugby Women’s College DI & II National Championship, USA Rugby Men’s DIAA Quarterfinals & Semifinals, Girls High School National Rugby Championship, American Ultimate Disc League games and Midwest Championship for Gaelic Rugby Football.

And in the past couple of decades, it’s also become a home for the beautiful game, with various clubs and school teams using the field for training and competition.

After Pitt Stadium made way for the Peterson Events Center on Pitt’s campus, Pitt’s soccer teams chose to play their home games at Founders, from 2000-2010, before Ambrose Urbanic Field was built.

Since 2015, Steel City FC has transformed Founders Field into their own friendly confines.

And, you read that right, the field is 100 percent natural. That’s right — games on the field are played on grass, which, strange to say, is a very rare for soccer teams and clubs based in Western Pennsylvania to train and play their games on the real stuff.

“Having a playoff games at Founders. It’s 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,” Steel City’s veteran midfielder, Nicky Kolarac, told Pittsburgh Soccer Now ahead of last year’s playoff matches.”

“Hopefully it’s packed. It’s loud.  We’ll play some great footy for people to watch.”

The momentum from last season’s men’s team NPSL playoff run, culminated in the Great Lakes Conference final, after beating Cleveland SC, 2-0, overcome its historical obstacle for the first time in the playoffs, the Steel City boys lifted the Great Lakes Conference cup on their home turf, with a large crowd in attendance.

Founders Field Photo Gallery

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They have their work cut out for them though, as Flower City Union will provide a bigger challenge than you might expect.

Steel City men’s Head Coach Dan Brower told Pittsburgh Soccer Now over the weekend the he knows that his squad will be facing a much improved Flower City Union side.  The club, which competed and won NISA postseason tournament last year, has now moved down to NPSL, and it’s been a season of adjustment. 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.

In their first two meetings early in season, Steel City handled the newcomers with a pair of fairly comfortable wins (winning 3-0 in Rochester on May 11 and 5-0 at Founders Field a week later).

Since those meetings, which left Flower City with an 0-2-0 start to the season, the Rochester, NY based club, managed by Jordan Sullivan, who directed Flower City during its NISA Cinderella playoff run a year ago, has continued to get better against Great Lakes Conference competition, posting a 5-4-1 record, including all five wins coming in its last eight matches.

“We have much more to do and will be tested mid-week for sure (vs Flower City Union). They’ve picked up points in six of their last eight matches and just had a huge win against Cleveland SC (Saturday night) to put them into the playoffs,” Brower stated.

“They are a much different and more confident group than the one we faced at the beginning of the year and will prove to be a very difficult test. I ask that our club’s members show up in full force on Wednesday to support our boys!”

No longer on the hunt, but the defending champs, who are being hunted, Steel City FC has transitioned this season more from its veteran players to its younger core.

Among the holdover veterans include team captain Nicky Kolarac, Ryan Mertz and defender Nolan Hutter, a now four-year club veteran, former Robert Morris University athlete, and McKees Rocks native.

Much of the younger core includes players from Duquesne, Robert Morris and Pitt all on the squad, plus numerous others who are from Pittsburgh, but playing collegiately elsewhere.

After the club captured the Great Lakes Conference title last season, midfielder Gabe Norris, who went to nearby Highland High School, played his academy with the Hotspurs (before they became Steel City) and was captain of Robert Morris men’s team, may have said it best about how special it is for him and his teammates to play and have success for this club.

“I keep saying, this is what happens when you bring all the talent in Pittsburgh together,” Norris exclaimed.

For a look at this year’s full NPSL squad, you can click here.

There’s no doubt, Steel City will lean on its home field advantage to ignite another postseason run and look to keep their unbeaten season going.

Founders Field crowds are lively and packed mainly because of the atmophere that the club has created from the ground up, with many of its youth academy members coming out in full force to support the club.

Crowd members at Founders are often geared up in Steel City attire with a healthy contingent of those players from every age group within the club in attendance.

Steel City puts forth an effort that inspires 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 who made the game-day roster when they played in the Open Cup, and also are among Academy players who train with the first team throughout the summer.

When the men qualified for the Open Cup, and hosted Michigan in the first round in April, losing 1-0, they did move the match to Pitt’s Ambrose Urbanic Field, to accomodate the large crowd and match’s broadcast capabilities, but the fans and atmosphere that was created at Founders Field carried over to pack the house in Oakland on that night.

“We truly created a family here at Steel City,” Kolarac said following the club’s debut Open Cup experience.

“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.”

Now, with home field advantage in the NPSL playoffs, Steel City are ready to keep playing at a high level at their friendly confines at Founders Field.

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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