PITTSBURGH – A few hundred fans dotted the aluminum bleachers at Chartiers Valley High School when Matt Dallman made his Pittsburgh Riverhounds debut in July 2012. Antigua Barracuda was the visitor as the United Soccer League’s two worst teams clashed on a rock solid artificial field besieged with football lines.
Much has changed since Dallman’s arrival in Western Pennsylvania. The Riverhounds’ blue-and-white uniforms have been replaced by the Steel City’s traditional black-and-gold colors. Average attendances have trebled, and scalpers have even hovered outside the club’s new Highmark Stadium.
Orlando City’s expected defection to Major League Soccer in 2015 creates a void at the top of the USL Pro standings that the Riverhounds are focused on filling. Yesterday’s announcement that star players Jose Angulo and Matt Dallman have signed two-year deals with the club is the latest signal of intent from an organization that also harbors major league ambitions.
Former New York Red Bulls striker Angulo earned the USL Pro’s Most Valuable Player award this year after leading the league with 15 goals. Dallman set a new league record with 12 assists. MLS clubs have courted both players since the Riverhounds’ season ended in August. An increased player budget has allowed the club to retain its top talent for longer stretches of the year than previously possible.
Standard USL contracts typically run for six or seven months covering a short pre-season in March, the regular season and the play-offs if applicable. Angulo and Dallman begin work this December, helping with the club’s youth academy and other promotional activities while keeping in shape for the 2014 season.
Riverhounds chief executive Jason Kutney has previously expressed his desire to attract a certain breed of player to Pittsburgh – selfless individuals that understand the importance of engaging with the community to help grow the club and the game of soccer in a football-mad region. Angulo and Dallman fit the bill.
“I really enjoy coaching,” Dallman told The Soccer Observer during yesterday’s press conference at Highmark Stadium.
“It’s a really cool feeling when you see a kid develop and you can see the direct correlation between your teaching and their improvement.”
Pittsburgh endured a slow start this year with its first win arriving at the eighth attempt. A subsequent seventh-placed finish resulted in a trip to Orlando in the first playoff round and a 5-0 thrashing from the eventual champions. The club is looking to avoid a repeat performance with pre-season preparations beginning earlier than in the past.
“We started in March this year, well behind a lot of other teams like Orlando and Charleston,” Riverhounds head coach Justin Evans told The Soccer Observer. “We’re looking to do something similar to them if we can get into a warmer climate for a 10-day stretch.
“Maybe we’ll take a smaller group of players somewhere to get some good games and make sure we get our system in place.”
Evans identified left-footed players on the left side as a key area where he is looking to strengthen his roster. Contract offers have been made to a couple of “high quality” players that have played at a high level, he said. Discussions have also taken place with the directors of player personnel from two MLS clubs this week although a formal affiliation is not forthcoming.
“It’s something we’ve entertained,” Evans said. “We’ve looked into it, but it’s not anything right now that’s completely on the horizon for us.”
Recent investment from construction magnate Tuffy Shallenberger, the majority owner of the Riverhounds and Highmark Stadium, is allowing the club to develop a new academy facility in Connellsville, Pa. that expands its reach toward central Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland. A new merchandise store is being added to Highmark Stadium, and the Riverhounds management team has hinted at further announcements in the coming weeks.
“Looking back at when I first showed up, it was like a pick-up team,” Dallman said. “The difference is night and day.
“I was invited into several camps in MLS, but I was very excited about Pittsburgh. After speaking to Tuffy and Jason, staying here just felt like the best move.”
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July 19, 2013 — SLIDESHOW: Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1 Wigan Athletic 4
July 17, 2013 — SLIDESHOW: Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0 Orlando City 0
June 8, 2013 — Pittsburgh And Toronto Tie In Feisty Interleague Tussle