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.

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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.

Kerr and Vincent Team Up Tactically

The dynamic duo of Rob Vincent and Kevin Kerr have become the talk of the town as the pair see their names littered across the USL statistical leaderboards. Vincent leads the league in a plethora of categories, including goals (9) and points (22), while Kerr trails his teammate in the points race with his 5 goals and 5 assists. The two have formed a seamless connection as they go deeper into their third season together. This formidable connection isn’t all owed to experience however. Their new positions out on the wings in Mark Steffens’s system has given them the freedom to push forward and find each other in goal scoring situations.

Kerr and Vincent, who are traditional central midfielders, have relished this opportunity to work in the attacking zone under their new head coach.

“I’m loving every minute of it,” said Kerr. “I’m playing the highest I ever have in my career. I feel at home out there.”

Although they have played occasionally out wide in their careers, the tandem still had to make the proper preseason preparations for their new roles. Vincent particularly had to condition himself for the increase in running required for operating on the flank.

“It’s a different type of running. In the central of the park everything’s kind of short, maybe 5 or 10 yards, but on the outside you’re making 60-yard runs up and down. It was a big transition to make. Luckily, the preseason allowed me to build that fitness base.”

Vincent also looked back to his homeland for inspiration on how to play his position. He studied Premier League talents like Eden Hazard so he can best utilize his right foot on the left. Emulating the type of positions the Chelsea winger takes up on the field and movement he makes with the ball has been helpful Vincent claims.

Vincent wants to cut back inside so he can get a shot off on his favorite right boot. He has been successful so far in finding those areas within the box where he can score goals. The Englishman has tripled his goal total from last season.

Kerr meanwhile has deferred to Vincent’s rampant goal scoring, preferring to be the playmaker that sends his teammate on goal. The Scotsman had made his contributions recently by finding Vincent on crosses and through balls.

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Kerr has found acres of space on the right hand side throughout the season leading to his fair share of goals as well, including a hat trick against Harrisburg opening night.

“All season I’ve tried to stay as wide as possible,” said Kerr. “This sometimes means that there might be a six to ten minute spell where I won’t see the ball. The key is to stay disciplined and remain out wide so the one or two times I do get the ball, I’m in some great space and can get into dangerous positions.”

This cross-field partnership that Kerr and Vincent have created is a major part of why Kerr has been so open. Vincent will control play on the left forcing the defense to shift over. At that point Vincent will play a switching ball over the defense that finds Kerr in space. The defense now already out of position will have lost track of Vincent who has cut into the box to be an available target for Kerr.

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The British roots that both Kerr and Vincent share have contributed to the success of their partnership. Both possess the ability to play long balls over the defense, which is considered a staple of the British style of play.

“I know that Bobby can hit that long one,” said Kerr, “so every time he gets the ball I’m running down that line to see if he can hit me over the top.”

“Maybe that comes with our time playing back in Europe,” said Vincent. “If you’re playing a lot of short passes it becomes very predictable and easy to defend against. When you can hit that long ball every now and again it certainly catches teams off guard.”

Steffens also deserves a fair share of the credit for allowing Kerr and Vincent’s skill sets to flourish in his attack minded system. The free flowing play that Steffens seeks gives the two every chance to get forward and interchange with each other.

“The shackles are off,” said Kerr. “Goals have been flying in.”

The duo has also found times within games to pinch into the middle because of the constant interchanging of positions under Steffens. Together they have been able to combine their advanced roles with their defensive capabilities developed during their time as central midfielders to press high and create turnovers in dangerous areas.

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The next step for both Kerr and Vincent is to get the rest of the team on the same wavelength they operate on. If they can do this then Vincent believes the Riverhounds can reach their full potential.

“Two players working on the same page is good, but if we could have 6 or 7 on the front foot then it would be so much better.”