The Pittsburgh Riverhounds will host a big match against the Charlotte Independence on Saturday, but it won’t be the biggest soccer match in the city this weekend by a long shot.
The U.S. women’s national team will host Costa Rica in an international friendly at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon, and with over 41,000 tickets sold, they expect to set USWNT and Pittsburgh records.
The Riverhounds don’t seem to mind.
“That’s a good sign for soccer in Pittsburgh,” said team owner Tuffy Shallenberger.
The Riverhounds hope that the national team’s presence – along with a successful Riverhounds team on the pitch – could help boost the club’s attendance at Highmark Stadium.
“Pittsburgh is all about winning,” Shallenberger said. “If we keep winning, I think the fans will follow.”
The Hounds have won two straight and sit in sixth place in the USL’s Eastern Conference with a 9-8-4 record, while leading the league in goals and points scored.
But the Riverhounds organization goes way beyond the professional side. They also have an under-23 development squad and an academy program that has teams for boys and girls ages 14 through 17.
Several of those players got to meet one of their heroes on Friday, as they attended a ceremony for national team defender and Pittsburgh-area native Meghan Klingenberg.
“Hats off to Meghan for taking the time and helping to promote the sport,” Shallenberger said. “And she has helped promote it, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Riverhounds’ academy teams have been successful, especially the girls teams. The under-15 squad won their third consecutive national title in July and the under-17 squad came up just short, losing in the finals.
Might there be another Klingenberg in Pittsburgh’s soccer future amongst the players in the Riverhounds academy?
“You can always hope,” Shallenberger said. “There’s not too many (players) like her, but they’re all striving for it. That’s the goal.”
With the success of Klingenberg and the Riverhounds on the pitch and the national team at the box office, has Pittsburgh seen a soccer renaissance? Mayor Bill Peduto thinks so.
“Soccer is a growing sport in this region,” he said. “It’s at the point now where Pittsburgh has the potential to have a professional team of the caliber that other cities have.”
The Riverhounds play in the minor-league USL, while nearby Columbus, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. have Major League Soccer franchises.
“The Riverhounds do a great job,” Peduto added. “It’s time to start maybe looking at expanding that stadium.”
“That’s music to my ears,” Shallenberger said of the mayor’s idea to add seats to the two-year old facility. “(Saturday) might be one of the biggest crowds in the history of the stadium. There’s no doubt we have momentum, we just have to keep it going.”
The Riverhounds have already sold over 4,000 tickets for Saturday’s match against Charlotte, which kicks off at 7:00 p.m. Limited seats are still available.
Photo credit: Brian Mitchell