Hounds have home in ’Burgh

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds minor league soccer team, founded in 1999, has always flown under the radar in the Steel City mostly because the team bounced around from stadium to stadium or took years off altogether. Well, that’s no longer the case as the club has begun playing in the 3,500-capacity Highmark Stadium in downtown Pittsburgh.

The team plays in the United Soccer League Pro Division which is two levels below Major League Soccer in the US soccer pyramid, but it has a plan to get within reach of MLS status in 10 years. More seats are set to be installed after this season bringing capacity to around 6,000. The club states that the stadium could be expanded to 18,000 which is about the average attendance for an MLS club.

It remains to be seen if MLS status is realistically achievable – especially as the league aggressively expands outside of this region – but it’s nice to have an established professional soccer venue in the area.

If you want to check out the team’s new digs this summer, the Riverhounds are at home June 15 and 23 as well as July 4, 6, 17 and 20. Tickets start at $9.50.

The English Premier League club Stoke City, based in the East Liverpool sister-city of Stoke-on-Trent, has been busy during the early off-season. Virtually unknown on the global stage when it was promoted to the Premier League on the last day of the 2007-08 season, the Potters, who once moonlighted in Cleveland under the name Stokers in the old North American Soccer League in the late ’60s, have made life a little more difficult for the popular teams in England through their direct and aggressive (and some say boring) style. Manager Tony Pulis was responsible for that anti-football revolution which peaked with the club booking their first FA Cup final in 2011. It has been stagnation since and Pulis was pushed out following the regular season close a few weeks ago.

The Potters hired much maligned manager Mark Hughes to take over with the intent of making the team a little less of a chore to watch. Fans in the United States will get a preview of the remade team in late July when it plays preseason matches against Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas. Last summer, Stoke City played exhibition matches in Columbus, Kansas City and Orlando.

A lot of U.S. soccer fans are saying the USA should refrain from ever playing a game in Cleveland Browns Stadium ever again after Belgium came away with a 4-2 victory over the Americans on May 29. While the result was bad for the USA, a solid mid-week crowd of 27,720 showed up (with the Indians playing at the same time). Belgium, believe it or not, boasts some of the best players in the world right now and it should not be surprising that the very inconsistent USA defense could not handle the skill at times. The bottom line is it wasn’t the fans’ fault. I’m not sure when Browns Stadium will be used for international soccer again (the last time before this was a women’s friendly featuring the USA and Germany in 2010), but it’s the one large outdoor NFL stadium in the region that the United States Soccer Federation feels comfortable about the field size. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are not on that map.

It’s interesting to see former Columbus Crew player Robbie Rogers emerge as the first openly gay male to play a team sport in North America when he made his debut with the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 26. During his time with the Crew (2007-2011), Rogers was an erratic headache for the club. At times he would look like a top international talent that could break down a defender at any time and display attractive ball skills while doing so. Somewhere along the line, he lost his way and developed a bad habit of presenting dreadful crosses which left a lot of the fan base angry and frustrated about his declining skill set. Needless to say very few in Columbus batted an eye when he was shipped to Leeds United in England in 2012. Far fewer even suspected his Feb. 15 announcement about his sexuality.