By Richard Nightingale
For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee…
Firstly, a confession. I am an “America’s Guest”. Must have been twenty years since I last paid to attend and watch a Soccer game. Nearly collapsed when I had to fork over $8 to park and $17 for a seat. Next weekend I will be a guest of Adidas, the sports brand and Manchester United for the derby at Old Trafford. And I won’t be paying for parking or a ticket! All joking aside, having missed the game in Harrisburg last week, I was determined to make a game in person this season.
It tuned into a night of reflection for me and I will get to that shortly.
So, I was in the stands in Melbourne, FL to watch Pittsburgh earn a well-deserved win against Orlando. Pittsburgh was the better team from the first whistle, organized and every player contributed. Good team effort. Kudos to Coach Brandt for his preparation and teams tactics.
Anthony Pulis, the Orlando coach can have no complaints and while Orlando controlled long passages of play, as he acknowledged in his post game comments they “had no killer instinct”. They were a young team with two veterans, Neal and Heath who had both left the game by the start of the second half. Cox worked hard up front, but outside of that Orlando were frustrating in their ineptness and lack of imagination on the ball in the last third. It was a good night to catch them and Pittsburgh to their credit took advantage.
Walsh opened his account for Pittsburgh. Looked busy and grew in confidence after he scored. There was a missed offside call leading up to the goal. Linesman was five yards behind the play and guilty. Regardless, Walsh finished well. As Orlando pushed late for the equalizer, Hertzog found himself on a breakaway and beat Ridgers in the Orlando goal to seal the away victory. Anthony Pulis proved that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as his tactics mirrored those of father, Tony at West Brom in the EPL. Lack of ambition and far too conservative. Orlando players looked like they had a leash on all game, scared to make mistakes and young Anthony must surely face the axe if he fails to get Orlando into the playoffs. Then again, how important is the USL title to OCSC?
In my opinion any coach that doesn’t get his team into the USL playoffs should be fired.
Eight teams out of fourteen qualify. Pittsburgh have four games remaining, and out of those twelve possible points will get a draw at Bethlehem and a win in one of their two games against Cincinnati at Highmark Stadium. Will get beat at Charlotte. Four points out of a possible twelve and will finish third from bottom, only above Montreal and Toronto.
Brandt may or may not be the coach in 2017 that depends on who owns the club. There is a storm brewing and an interesting off season in the works. Driving back to Jacksonville, FL after the game I had 148 miles to reflect and ponder on this season, the USL and the future of professional soccer in the City of Champions. Having being spared the worst of the tropical storm earlier in the week, the rain was lashing down and I drove with my emergency break lights on as the visibility was so bad. Probably a relevant analogy to the season Pittsburgh have had?
Peering out the windscreen I wondered what the “Vision” for The Pittsburgh Riverhounds is? If the USL asked, what would the ownership say? A vision is really an optimal, desired future state of what any organization wants to achieve over time. Then the corporate employee in me wondered what the “Mission” of The Pittsburgh Riverhounds is? Why the organization exists and what it does, whom it does it for and how it does what it does. Does anybody reading this blog know?
The Roman philosopher Senca said “To the person who does not know where he wants to go there is no favorable wind”. Is Pittsburgh treading water and have a finger in the dyke?
“Success” and that needs to be defined, a “North Star” identified, is about having the humility to admit that you don’t have all the answers and creating an environment in which the COMMUNITY can meaningfully contribute to finding the answer. Just look at the folks coming out the woodwork on the Mon Goals EPL podcasts; these supporters groups who clearly embrace, love the game.
Sean Penn, the actor once said “There is a lot of mediocrity being celebrated, and a lot of wonderful stuff being ignored and discouraged”.
Know your Purpose, deal with the Reality and then Adapt.
It’s pretty black and white. Aspire to the MLS or operate an organization that fields teams at all levels of the Soccer pyramid from Youth to Professional (non MLS). Either has to be funded and have the local community as a life blood. You’re path is Sacramento or Richmond. Decide and put the levers, fundamentals in place to be successful and not just exist.
Pittsburgh is a jewel in the sports world and Soccer needs to take its place.
Orlando City Soccer Club personify the journey. They decided that having built an exceptional USL club, they wanted the MLS. Unfortunately the focus on their USL team has diminished, but that was their choice. Regardless of if your “end game” is the USL or MLS then you must have many of the same levers in place to establish and then sustain success. And it’s not rocket science. Steelers, Penguins and Pirates have been to that BBQ.
There cannot be another season like 2016, more of the same “highs and lows” that have characterized the Pittsburgh Riverhounds franchise coming on two decades.
The opportunity and responsibility is too great.