With the MLS and USL both recently announcing expansion plans, naturally people have been discussing the possibility of the Riverhounds eventually moving up from the USL’s second division. First of all, in case you’re new to the game in the US, we basically have two separate leagues. Major League Soccer, or MLS, is widely considered the top tier and employs most of the best talent and is home to the biggest clubs. The United Soccer League (USL) could be classified as the second tier of American soccer, but there are no official ties between the two leagues other than the MLS poaching some of the more successful USL clubs. The USL is comprised of two divisions. The First Division has teams from Montreal, Puerto Rico and everywhere else in-between. The Second division is more regional, with teams spread up and down the eastern seaboard. The USL2 was created to give clubs a chance to play high-level, professional soccer while keeping travel costs at a minimum. This is where the Riverhounds are currently competing after returning to league play in 2008…okay now that you have the basics let me give you a brief history lesson.
I haven’t been around long enough, nor do I care to get into the specifics, but the Riverhounds had been in steady decline since their inception in 1999. At the time, they were playing in the A-league, the equivalent of what is now referred to as the USL1. Eight years, four venues and numerous ownership groups later, the team was on life-support and forced to suspend play following the 2006 campaign.
Enter the current ownership group. They put together a business plan and lined up investors. Most of what was done has been kept under lock and key and will continue to be the subject of intense speculation. However, after talking to a few of them (over drinks) about the direction and goals of the club, I have never been more confident that we will one day be watching top-tier soccer in Pittsburgh!
So what makes this version of the Riverhounds any better than those who’ve previously fielded teams? Why do I feel like this franchise is going to grow and become a ‘major’ league attraction in the area?
First, they now have a long-term and seemingly sound business plan. They seem to understand the politics required to move things along and have gone out and put together a group of solid investors at both the local and national level.
Second, they have the passion that will be needed to work the endless hours to see a dream come true.
Third, the Riverhound’s Academy is top notch and attracting some of the best youth talent in the area. More importantly, they concentrate on player development over team success and work with other local youth organizations, not against them. It won’t be too many years until we see some academy players on the pro team, moving to the collegiate level or playing abroad. The academy also gives current pro players the opportunity to work year round, which keeps them employed, happy and in-town.
Last, I truly believe that the elusive stadium will be built. It’s been a topic since 1999. Many groups have tried and failed to secure the land and capital to move forward. As the franchise has been forced to move from venue to venue, they’ve lost both supporters and revenue. Once a new facility is built the club will be able to control ticketing, parking, concessions and tap into other additional revenue streams such as corporate sponsorships and hosting friendlies. The stadium is the key to establish an identity and promote long-term stability and success.
In conclusion, yes, I do believe that the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Football Club can and will continue to build on a solid foundation and eventually move into the upper tiers of American soccer. Until that glorious day when we fill the terraces in the supporter’s section, join me at the Valley to cheer on the lads. Let’s continue to get behind the team and prove to everyone that we will not go down without a fight!