Summer 2021 Recap: First Year with the Men’s (NPSL) and Women’s (WPSL) Teams
The first official year of having both a Men’s and Women’s team under the Pittsburgh Hotspurs badge is in the books.
In 2020 we were ecstatic to give players somewhere to continue to train. Although we braced ourselves for a challenging 2021 season, we can finally let that sigh of relief and relish in the excitement of all that saw us competing with both teams all summer.
Here are some of the summer 2021 highlights of our Men’s and Women’s First Team program:
Pittsburgh talent on the squads
From day one of having adult teams, we set out to offer Pittsburgh soccer players a place to play. We set a clear goal — we want 50% of our first teams made up of homegrown talent by 2023.
Of the Women’s 39 player roster, 79.50% are Pittsburgh-grown talent. Of that, 33% are/were Hotspurs homegrown players! With this the first full year in the WPSL, looking back at the Steel City FC team that Coach Tommo led and Coach Jordan helped start — 23% of the ladies carried on and continue to compete with us.
On the Men’s side, with a roster of 37 this year, 76% were Pittsburgh-area talent. 32% of those players are homegrown Arsenal and Hotspurs talent. And 30% of the players have been with us since our first season in 2019.
… and young talent!
In the final game of the season for the Women’s team, there were 8 players from our Hotspurs Academy on the 17 player roster born between 2003-2005. Five of the players were in the starting lineup! That’s 47% of the roster being Hotspurs homegrown.
Emily Cooper (2004G Blue) put up 2 goals this summer in the WPSL, competing against top collegiate and former collegiate players. Just as Coach Tommo says, ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.’ She’ll enter her senior year of high school in a few weeks.
Along with Cooper, 8 of her teammates also are headed back to high school this fall to compete while another 3 are headed into their freshman year of college.
And for the Men, 6 players are now headed back to their high school teams, with 6 others entering into their freshmen year after the NPSL summer.
The first year in the NPSL (2019) was a quick ‘hang on to your hat’ adventure as we entered the league just a few months before it began. Last year, after announcing the Women’s team and preparing the schedules… the world changed.
So this was the first true year to see if this grand idea–to have a proper club and development pathway from Academy to First Teams, in one cohesive environment, supported by the Pittsburgh community–was going to work.
Fans. Sponsors. Volunteers. Everyone showed up.
Individuals and organizations invested in our athletes/future from our Membership Club (names you saw that made up our jersey skyline) to along our sideline and logos on the jersey. Of the 15+ sponsors, some had no tie to the soccer community before this season. Others are long-standing partners in wanting to see Pittsburgh soccer grow. Without this support, our First Team program wouldn’t be possible!
Aside: Many of our First Team athletes are young professionals and collegiate players. In an effort to keep costs as manageable as possible, the First Teams secure sponsors, hold fundraisers, and seek community support. Then, to continue the circle of giving a full pathway for our academy players, they provide scholarships to academy players in hopes to help players continue their journey towards the First Team one day!
Also, it’s pretty cool to have fans to play in front of. There’s room to go to sell out Founders Field — and with the support we had from you all this summer, we’re sure it’s going to happen!
Men’s First Playoff Appearance
In that first 2019 season, the Men had quite a few close games but disappointingly ended at the bottom of the Rust Belt Conference with a 1-7-2 record and ranked 83rd in the league out of 91 teams…
In 2020, playing in the Members Cup, the Men earned the Championship after going 1-0-1 along with Cleveland SC but beating them out on goal differential. It was an encouraging step in the right direction in a very unique season.
This year, the Men’s team made a bit more of a challenge to be recognized as a contender in the league. Again with quite a few close games, the boys went 8-2 on the regular season to earn the club’s first playoff appearance. Ultimately, the team would end the season 8-3, however a far improvement from the first year, and ranked 11th out of the league’s 76 teams competing this year.
To note: the format for the WPSL this year did NOT include playoffs in an effort to limit extended travel while still navigating the pandemic.
Pittsburgh Women’s Derby
We want the level of soccer to rise in Pittsburgh, and having more high-level competition in the area is excellent for the women’s game. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a good ol’ rivalry in your backyard?
In the first of 2 matches with Century United–who also fields a predominantly Pittsburgh-grown roster–the win went to foe, 1-0. In the second matchup, the season’s final game for both squads, it’d be a 1-1 draw in the heated contest. Very encouraging for the outlook on the talent coming out of the area.
Building the Bridge
We’re the first soccer program in Pittsburgh to offer a full development pathway from youth to adult for both boys and girls. We take great pride in that. We also take great pride in the culture that encompasses the #hotspursway.
Last summer, as we waded back into public, our players trained for the first time in the summer months. And they liked it.
Our adult players traditionally pop in for a few months, most of that time when our academy players are in their off-season.
We don’t want the First Teams and Academy to be two separate programs. We want our Academy players to see the First Teams and aspire to to the highest levels. We want the First Team players to actually know what it is to be a part of the Hotspurs Family. So we built a bridge. FTX. The First Team Experience.
Part of the First Team players embracing a give-back to the program, they signed up to coach/participate in at least one summer training session led primarily by the First Team coaches.
We had to close and re-open the program 3 times and unfortunately, turn players away as space maxed out! Yet again, players from both Hotspurs sites and Arsenal showed how much they want to train and their obsession with the game! And each week, our First Team players were reminded how they started and meet the players that aspire to be where they are.
Looking forward – we’re headed in the right direction. The bridge between our First Teams and Academy is set. We still have some work to do to see our 50% homegrown roster, to have games sold out, to see both teams in playoff contention each year… I’m looking forward to continuing to put the pieces in place.
— Marikaye, First Teams GM