Carnegie Mellon Claim Sweet Sixteen Spot

Carnegie Mellon women’s soccer sped past the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division III tournament with two pacey performances against Cabrini College and SUNY-Oneonta. The Tartans advanced to the Round of 16, where they’ll face Calvin College at a time and place to be determined.

The two defenses struggled all weekend to catch up with a quick Carnegie Mellon team full of fitness. Tartan fullbacks worked the wide areas in their first round match against Cabrini and tired out the Cavaliers by halftime. With Cabrini gassed, Carnegie Mellon coach Yon Struble moved to a more direct approach. Four second half goals came from straightforward runs into the box, wrapping up a 5-0 opening act.

Oneonta matched the Tartans energy in the second round for the full 90 minutes. The high-intensity of the Red Dragons rattled the fifth-ranked team in the nation for stretches of the game and prevented Carnegie Mellon from flying around the pitch. However, once the match reached extra time, the Tartans superior conditioning proved the difference. An in-form Sienna Stritter soared past an Oneonta defender and rounded the keeper for the golden goal.

Stritter opened her tournament account a half hour into the Cabrini match on Saturday thanks to a goalkeeper error. Alivia Dietsch was caught too far out of her cage and the sophomore poked the ball into an open net.

Stritter’s second was much more legitimate and ignited the Tartans tour de force in the second half. She drove into the penalty area and lifted the shot into the top corner on 50 minutes. Cabrini was desperate to stop Carneige Mellon from running all over them and tried to implement an offside trap.

That trap failed miserably as the irresponsibly high line opened the floodgates. Morgan Kontor’s cross on 68 minutes floated to the back post, where Alli McGugan touched it home. Two goals from Nicole Winegardner rounded out the performance. Megan Bartoshuk worked her way out of the corner to provide the service for Winegardner’s powerful header on 80 minutes. A simple finish from a rebound two minutes later closed the scoring for the night.

Carnegie Mellon relied on their resilient defense on Sunday against Oneonta. The Tartans have conceded just 8 goals in 19 matches, with their second round win marking their 12th clean sheet. Their midfielders were first to most of the 50/50 balls, allowing them to keep the majority of possession in the first half. Any possible threat was instantly booted away by sweeper keeper Katie Liston.

A scrappy game looked to be heading towards penalties based on the lack of chances created by both teams. Stritter stepped up for the Tartans two minutes into extra time to quell that possibility. Her third goal in two days equaled her total from the entire regular season.

The Round of 16 will be where Carnegie Mellon’s challenge truly begins. Their 16-2 season last year ended with a Sweet Sixteen exit to John Hopkins in penalties. The speed and toughness they demonstrated over the weekend will be qualities they have to keep displaying for a potential championship run.

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Scenes on the Susquehanna

Weeds sprout from the sidelines of Harrisburg’s Skyline Sports Complex. Large patches of dry grass pepper the pitch and make the ball bounce erratically on the players. Rickety bleachers provide a view of the Susquehanna River and the State Capitol rotunda glowing in the night. There could not be a more fitting setting for an important minor league soccer derby with playoff implications.

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A defunct scoreboard on the east end of the field starts to be taken over by shrubs

City Island seemed unaware of the stakes associated with the Keystone Cup contest. There was plenty to distract them away from the play. Kids dug their feet into the beach volleyball courts while the adults filled up on bottomless drinks at “Socceritaville.” The sound of the mini-train circling the island interrupted the PA announcer’s relentless giveaway of prizes. It was half soccer, half carnival.

The Steel Army ended any chances of a fun family-friendly atmosphere when they crossed the pedestrian bridge and marched into the grounds. The battalion greeted the home crowd with a chant of, “we should be the capital, not you.” They had a much different objective than the locals trying to pleasantly enjoy their Saturday night. They came for the cup.

“When we stepped on the field and they were chanting, it helped our intensity,” said Lebo Moloto.

That intensity showed as the Riverhounds opened the first half pacing themselves to beat of the drum. Defenders went into challenges with a little more intent than their opponents while the attackers worked tirelessly to get behind Harrisburg’s back line. The traveling fans made all the noise in the park and turned the match into a home game for the Hounds.

It took only 15 minutes for trouble to find the Steel Army. A security guard came over attempting to silence their support. The group refused to back down. They adapted their songs with PG-13 language and remained as loud as ever. Not long after they were rewarded for their continued commitment.

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The Steel Army celebrates cautiously after Lebo Moloto’s opening goal

Moloto’s opening strike brought subdued celebration. The blue smoke just trickled into the sky and fan reaction to the goal was hardly outrageous. They knew it would take more than one goal to seal this unpredictable rivalry.

Then Kevin Kerr broke free right in front of his followers a minute later. The much-taunted Islanders keeper Nick Noble was the last man standing in front of the Scotsman. Kerr pushed the ball beyond him and into the net.

Pandemonium.

Kerr wasn’t just on, but over the moon after scoring the critical second goal. He wheeled over to his fan base and shot his imaginary arrow into the sea of gold. Members of the Steel Army lined up in the front row to share in the moment. The shouts were deafening and the smoke fired out of its canister this time around. Danny Earls rushed over to tackle his teammate into the boards. The rest followed shorty and huddled together knowing that the goal could be the payoff of an arduous journey.

“The Steel Army were ledge,” said Kerr. “They gave us a massive boost.”

Harrisburg refused to go away gently. They compiled most of the possession in the second half right in front of the Steel Army. The tension around the ground went up a notch when the City Islanders pulled one back on 75 minutes. A collective gasp from the whole crowd could be heard when Ken Tribbett’s header with three minutes remaining went inches wide.

The final blew whistle after what seemed an eternity for Pittsburgh. There would be no late game equalizer this time. Head coach Mark Steffens and his squad celebrated their postseason clinch. The Steel Army was jubilant over claiming the Keystone Cup over their turnpike foes. The two collided into one happy scrum at midfield. They staked their ground on foreign soil by winning the battle that will go down in Hounds’ history.

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The Steel Army raise the Keystone Cup after the Riverhounds gifted them the trophy as thanks for their dedicated support (Photo: Ian Thomson, @PghRiverhounds)

The postgame festivities soured quickly for the hosts. The Harrisburg-colored light and navy blue balloons tied to the cup were clipped off to disappear into the night. The captain Earls eventually grabbed hold of the trophy and proceeded to be swarmed by the rest of his team. They relinquished the cup to the Steel Army to do who knows what with it. Fireworks provided an unintended congratulation for the visitors.

It wasn’t a grand finale for the Hounds however. New York Red Bulls II awaits them next weekend. Even more members of the Steel Army are expected to make the trip to Red Bull Arena. Harrisburg offered a magical night, but it also increased the ceiling for the Hounds’ hope. Like the Steel Army says, where the Hounds go they will follow.

Oregon State Outlasts Defiant Duquesne

No. 12 Oregon State overcame jetlag and an unrelenting Duquesne squad to squeeze out a 3-2 victory on top the Bluff. A Dukes penalty on 89 minutes ended up being the difference, a decision that was greeted harshly by a dedicated student section backed by members of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ Steel Army. Duquesne keeper Sam Frymier did everything in his power to keep the Beavers away from a third goal, but his save bounced right back to Timmy Mueller who drove home the rebound. Beavers head coach Steve Simmons will feel lucky that his nationally-ranked team remains undefeated (4-0) on the season.

The Dukes matched any challenge Oregon State presented for most of the match. A sluggish Beavers defense missing the toughness that shut out their first three opponents also helped the underdogs stay competitive.

Talisman Jordan Jones took the initiative on 27 minutes to break open the reserved opening stages for the Pac-12 program. Jones followed up his initial shot that hit the post to finish at point blank range. Duquesne went down a minute later to equalize. Oregon State’s nightmare in defense began when they couldn’t clear away the corner allowing Colin Phillips to take the chance.

Leading goal scorer Jones completed his brace right at the start of the second half. The sophomore sent a missile into the back of Frymier’s net on 50 minutes from just inside the penalty area. The captain Phillips wouldn’t be out-staged and answered with a double of his own. Beavers keeper Nolan Wirth left his cage on 58 minutes and the Ontarian capitalized on the empty goal. Phillips continues to be the main source of offense for the Dukes contributing 4 of their 5 goals.

Oregon State started to assert their dominance in the final minutes. Frymier made a powerful save on Mueller on 84 minutes that kept the loud student crowd hopeful. That hope soured when referee Pete Lubinsky deemed that the contact on a Beavers attacker was enough to award a penalty. Mueller rescued the result to keep his team’s no. 12 ranking intact.

The match completed the first day of the Duquesne Invitational. Cleveland State edged Cornell also on a penalty that came in overtime. Oregon State will play this Sunday for the chance to take the trophy with them on the 3,000 mile flight. They face the Ivy Leaguers at 11 a.m. while Duquesne hosts Cleveland State at 3 p.m.

Women Fall Late To West Coast Opposition 

Duquesne women’s soccer couldn’t compound on a successful trip to New Jersey last weekend and lost 2-1 in overtime to UC-Santa Barbara. Mallory Hromatko’s curling strike on 97 minutes made the journey east worth while for the Gauchos.

A scoreless affair picked up with 5 minutes remaining in the second half. Pitt transfer Malea Fabean changed that when she opened the scoring for the Dukes. Santa Cruz charged right back as Chace Schornstein found the equalizer that forced Extra Time.

The loss means a developing Duquesne program drops to 4-2 on the season. They will want a quick bounce back against Cincinnati this Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

Lawrence Leads Mountaineers to Demolition of Dukes

15th ranked West Virginia Women’s Soccer outclassed Duquesne 5-0 in front of an atmospheric Morgantown crowd at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. Women’s World Cup goal scorer Ashley Lawrence proved too much for the Dukes’ defense as the Canadian’s goal and assist led her team to an impressive home debut.

Lawrence facilitated the opening goal by playing a pass that sent Kailey Utley in on goal. Utley coolly finished past Duquesne keeper Vanessa Perdomo in the third minute for her third goal of the season.

Lawrence then wrapped up the scoring during a sudden downpour that greeted the start of the second half. The junior from Toronto was able to spot Nia Gordon’s cross among the heavy rain and put the empathic stamp on the match.

The win completed a much-needed dominant weekend by the Mountaineers after beginning their season by falling to ninth ranked Virginia Tech at the Hoosier Classic in Bloomington, Indiana. West Virginia responded to that loss by defeating a tough Maryland team 1-0 on the road last Friday. The annihilation of Duquesne secured their top 15 standing before a heavyweight matchup with sixth ranked Penn State next Friday in Morgantown.

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West Virginia quickly built upon the opening goal a minute later when the freshman Gordon held off a Duquesne defender to finish Carla Portillo’s through ball.

Utley was unleashed again on the left side by Lawrence on 16 minutes, but this time the senior squared to Michaela Abam who capped off the well-worked goal.

The Mountaineer’s musket ceased firing for the first half when on 28 minutes a galloping right-sided run by Amandine Pierre-Louis led her past the Dukes’ back line. Quebec’s Pierre-Louis had plenty of time to flick into the lower left corner.

The rain combined with Mountaineers head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown resting her stars Lawrence and Women’s World Cup Young Player Award winner Kadeisha Buchanan contributed to a slower second half. Most of the West Virginia faithful persevered the weather to see out the win and sing “Country Roads” afterwards.

Duquesne suffered a reality check after spirits were high from winning the Steel City Classic last weekend. Head coach Al Alvine will struggle to find any positives from the drubbing with his team on the back foot for the full 90 minutes. One bright spot was goalkeeper Kyra Murphy who replaced Perdomo in the second half to offer some damage control. The freshman compiled on a solid Steel City Classic by making some late saves that kept the Mountaineers at five.

Preparing to Pounce

The 2015 season for Pitt Women’s Soccer began with Head Coach Greg Miller barking instructions. “Higher! Higher!” he shouted to encourage his girls to press up the field and play a fast-paced style of soccer.

This high-intensity focus shows that Miller is aware that expectations are now attached to this program. Pitt picked up their first ACC victories last season by beating Syracuse and North Carolina State back-to-back on the road. It proved that the Panthers could be competitive in the best soccer conference. Now Miller urges them forward to their next step.

Pitt Women kicked off that next step last weekend in the Steel City Classic at Duquesne University’s Rooney Field. The team impressed with their high-pressure style and produced a barrage of shots on their opponents’ goal. Saint Francis’s German goalkeeper Romina Kunze contributed to a disappointing 1-1 draw however in Pitt’s opener. Kunze recorded 26 saves after the Panthers set a program record with 31 shots on goal, failing to convert those chances into a win.

Those chances came good last Sunday when the Panthers dominated Robert Morris in a 6-0 victory. Miller reaped the rewards of his pressing as his team trapped Robert Morris in their defensive zone for the entire match. The Panthers passed the ball around the midfield quickly and fluidly. Pitt’s well-worked possession kept them in dangerous scoring positions and made the finishing practically automatic. Jarena Harmon found herself in the right spaces and notched a hat trick that started her freshman season in emphatic fashion. Pitt’s total control wasn’t enough though to win the Steel City Classic as Duquesne’s two wins saw them take the title away from their Forbes Avenue rivals.

The Panthers showed clear progress even though they couldn’t repeat as Steel City Classic champions. The biggest storyline going into the season for Pitt was how they were going to replace senior defenders Jaclyn Poucel and Riliegh McHugh who for so long were rock solid in the back line. That transition seams to be flawless so far as their replacements Seyla Perez and captain Siobhan McDonough made the all-tournament team. A fluke Saint Francis goal by Allison LaDuke was the only significant chance to get behind Perez all weekend. McDonough provided versatility in her new position on the right flank by joining the attack while still remaining strong in defense.

Miller also continues to add the talent that will integrate them into the ACC. The four-year head coach built upon a highly touted 2014 recruiting class by bringing in a group of freshmen that have instantly contributed. Harmon and Sarah Krause bring speed to the squad and along with senior Roosa Arvas make a formidable front three. Juliana Vazquez also looks to be a creative presence in the midfield that keeps the team’s fluidity.

Miller has constructed a core of young players that he hopes will close the gap between his team and the ACC powerhouses. This weekend proved that the Panthers are developing fast and prepared to take the challenge awaiting them head on. It won’t be really known if they can meet expectations until September 20th when they open ACC play against North Carolina State.

Debutants Lift Duquesne to Classic Title

Duquesne Women’s Soccer can claim to be the most captivating team of the weekend as well after 2-0 and 3-0 victories against Robert Morris and Saint Francis respectively. Freshmen Katie O’Connor and Kristen Kostopoulous efforts up front carried the Dukes to the tournament trophy on their home soil. The high school All-American O’Connor looks to be a budding star as opposing defenders found it impossible to stop her combination of speed and strength. O’Connor tallied the opening goal in the Robert Morris win and her endless energy pushed her teammate Kostopoulous towards two goals in the decisive result against Saint Francis.CNIMOSuWgAQ0F1t

The newcomers will have their first real collegiate test next Sunday when they battle FIFA Women’s World Cup Young Player Award winner Kadeisha Buchanan and her West Virginia defense in Morgantown.

Pub Perfect

Pittsburgh’s amateur circuit crowned its champions last Sunday as the GPSL finals took place at La Roche College. In the top flight Premier Division, one team fought to keep their longstanding unblemished streak intact. Tartan Devils FC, the pub team of soccer sanctuary Piper’s, edged the Plum Mustangs 2-1 thanks to an EJ McCormick golden goal in Extra Time. The victory marked back-to-back titles for the club while remaining undefeated throughout it all. These Tartan Devils have built a period of success unmatched in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

“Two years ago was when this squad came together, so it’s been great to be successful throughout that time,” said player-coach Andy Kalas.

Kalas with the help of pub resources constructed a team that could dominate their opponents both technically and physically. “We’ve brought in some new players while having that consistent core that’s played together for years,” said Kalas.

Most members of TDFC competed with each other collegiately and that rapport proved the difference in the Premier Division final. The combination of EJ McCormick and Travis Mackenzie was vital to both goals in the match. McCormick’s cross found Mackenzie, which the former Duquesne midfielder smashed home to open for the Devils in the first half. Mackenzie reciprocated in Extra Time by producing the pass that allowed Pitt alum McCormick to slip through the defense and score the decisive goal.

What adds to this achievement of invincibility is that it’s shared with the tight-knit community that exists around Piper’s Pub. Family and friends provided a cheering section that helped give the Devils the extra energy needed to push for the winning goal. The players welcoming pub godfather Tony Jamie into the team picture was a touching moment that wrapped up the day nicely. Pints will overflow at Piper’s during the trophy celebration on Monday.

The Tartan Devils will look forward to their next challenge once the party ends. The club has already registered for 2016 US Open Cup qualifying with matches beginning in the fall. TDFC will hope to take their local domination onto the national stage. Even after winning back-to-back GPSL titles without a single loss, the best has may yet to come.

Croatian Club Creates Community

In the lower Championship Division, HNK Croatia Pittsburgh defeated Sporting Club of Pgh Enosi 3-2. The Croatian club put on a performance reminiscent of the national team. Midfield creativity opened up chances for some Mandžukić-like finishing by forward Nick Claudio, who netted an impressive hat trick.

11760287_382938348581886_7295420058888734591_nHNK Croatia carries on a proud tradition of Croatian football within the city while wearing the signature red and white checkered jerseys. Pittsburgh boasts a large Croatian population and this club works to unite some of them.

“A lot of us are from all over the area, but this team keeps us together,” said captain Marko Urlić.

Kling Can Carry Pittsburgh Soccer Into Future

There’s no hiding that bringing the MLS to Pittsburgh is the ultimate ambition for the local soccer community. There’s also no hiding the logistical hill to climb in order to make it happen. Either a new 20,000-seat stadium or a transition to Heinz Field will be required. Attendance at Riverhounds matches hasn’t been consistent enough to prove though that investing in a MLS franchise would be a viable business venture. The question then becomes how to energize the fans in a way that brings them out in droves and captures the league’s attention. Women’s soccer might be the answer.

Women’s soccer within the city is currently experiencing success from the top down. Meghan Klingenberg captivated her hometown by showing her world-class talent as a fullback on her way to winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup. More than 30,000 packed into Heinz Field on August 16th for the USWNT’s celebratory friendly against Costa Rica will prove the reach of her inspiration.

Klingenberg hasn’t advanced the women’s game in Pittsburgh solely on her own however. Even the amateur and youth levels make strides to build the sport towards a bigger future. Steel City FC has gained a cult following in the Women’s Premier Soccer League. The girls’ teams of the Riverhounds Development Academy have also won several regional and national competitions. Klingenberg’s achievement will skyrocket the popularity of soccer among young girls in the area. Steel City FC developed the framework to help expand that interest. Perhaps it’s time to bridge the two sides together.

The United States’ top flight women’s league, the NWSL, will most likely want to piggy back on the attention the Women’s World Cup received and start expanding. Pittsburgh would be a great choice considering everything I mentioned above. The city needs very little to accommodate a NWSL franchise. Steel City FC can be brought into the fold since they already nailed the name and logo. A couple thousand seats added to Highmark Stadium would make it of comparable size to other NWSL grounds. A partnership with the Riverhounds (something that President Richard Nightingale already spoke about) could give the development academy a direct route to the professional game. Introducing Klingenberg as the marquee signing would be the last step in making this franchise appealing to local fans. This could be the city’s avenue to the MLS.

A few NWSL clubs such as the Portland Thorns and Houston Dash formed as branch offs from their MLS counterparts. Pittsburgh has a chance to do it the opposite way. This new team would hardly struggle to sell tickets if it featured an athlete that this city now adores. A packed Highmark Stadium with the beautiful downtown skyline on display for national television certainly could capture MLS commissioner Don Garber’s eye. The Riverhounds and this NWSL franchise could work hand-in-hand to create the desired soccer market to be considered for MLS expansion.

Major roadblocks still stand in the way of the MLS coming to Pittsburgh, but embracing the NWSL first could be a big leap forward in accomplishing that goal. A women’s professional team would increase attendance and revenue while helping the local soccer scene gain national recognition. If it all lines up perfectly then 30,000 at Heinz for a soccer match could become a weekly occasion.