By Richard Nightingale
Crossing The Rubicon
Julius Caesar ahead of his army, decided to cross the Rubicon river on the outskirts of Rome in 49BC, signaling his intent and uttered the words “alea iacta est”.
“The die is cast”.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds organization now face a similar decision as the 2016 draws down about who and what they want to be when they grow up. Sixteen years on, after multiple ownership changes and playing at various venues, this club now stands before it’s own “Rubicon”.
Can Pittsburgh break the shackles of mediocrity and do they have the ambition?
Saturday’s fighting performance, a 2 – 1 win over Bethlehem Steel should be applauded after the fiasco in Montreal on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh got back to the basics and delivered a much needed win in front of home fans. They went to the well with Hertzog and Kerr to summon up the three points. This was a fixture that would have been viewed as “winnable” when the schedule came out, but this season has been a wild roller coaster and nothing can be taken for granted. There wasn’t a lot of real quality from either side on Saturday, but it was all about the result. Period. Eight games to play, including the Keystone Derby at Harrisburg will provide “proof of life” or perpetuate the fans frustration and skepticism. Personally, I only see Pittsburgh picking up points at home against Wilmington, away at Harrisburg and Orlando. Outside of that, a drought.
Bigger picture, The USL is evolving and Pittsburgh is getting left behind.
Mike Ashley, the owner of Newcastle United once told me that where a club finishes in the EPL is directly proportionate to the investment made. That holds true for the USL. And by investment I’m not just talking about player’s salaries. It’s about the club structure both on and off the field.
As soccer fans, I would ask you to take a blank piece of paper, sit at your kitchen table and write down what your “perfect soccer club” would have. You are the owner, starting a club from scratch. This exercise is exactly what Phil Rawlins; the owner of Orlando City FC did when he realized he couldn’t take the Austin Aztex of the USL any further. Phil told me he sat at his kitchen table one night with his wife Kay and a couple of advisors to put a plan on paper for the “perfect club”. He didn’t want to have any baggage to hinder him and everything was geared towards securing an MLS franchise.
A new beginning.
Mike Ashley also told me that in the EPL there is not room for Millionaires. If you are not a Billionaire then stay home. Perhaps its time for Pittsburgh to seek investors to make that leap in the USL; what about the Rooney family?
Clearly after 16 years the wheel is broken. Winning does cure a lot of things, especially in such a great sports city as Pittsburgh, but there comes a point in time when like Caesar you have to think differently and change the status quo.
Go big or go home? Sacramento, Cincinnati, and Louisville amongst others have all decided to make the crossing. The bar is raised and expectations of fans are also.
Professional Soccer in Pittsburgh is at a dangerous intersection and while wins such as Saturday provide a brief reprieve there has to be new thinking and I would suggest new branding of the club in the off season.
Pittsburgh FC or FC Pittsburgh perhaps, known as ‘The Hounds’.
A serious time for reflection, honesty and leadership.
Until then “alea iacta est”.
* I will be on the podcast Sunday, August 21st to recap the Rochester Rhino’s game.