Getting the Opportunity: Pittsburgh Hotspurs
Like most large cities toward the eastern side of the country, Pittsburgh has a long history of soccer. Heidelberg and Castle Shannon were National Amateur Cup finalists in the 1930's. The Pittsburgh Strassers were among the founding NASL members in its 1946 incarnation. The fifties saw Heidelberg win an Open Cup. Soccer's popularity may have waned mid-century, but upon its resurgence through the 1980's and 1990's, Pittsburgh got itself in the game again. In 1988, the Pittsburgh Hotspurs were founded. Fast forward to 2019 and they are embarking on their first season with an adult soccer team in the NPSL.
The NPSL had lost the Fort Pitt Regiment for the season when PA West Soccer released that they would not be playing in 2019. After learning of this decision, the league put out a call to try to fill the gap left by the exiting team and Club Director Tom "Tommo" Ovenden felt obliged to take the chance. It may be slightly ahead of his business plan, but "when you get the opportunities, you just got to take them," he said. It had been an idea that he wanted to explore in order to pave the way for the youth sides and get an adult team at the top.
To move this ball forward, the team has shifted the focus of Tom Campbell, the Youth Development Phase Boys Team Leader, to also include the responsibility of Head Coach of their Adult Men's Team in the NPSL. Campbell has been coaching in the Pittsburgh area since 2013 and has been with the Hotspurs since 2017. "It had to be someone we knew," Ovenden explains. "We got a certain style through youth and want to carry it forward to the first team." Further emphasizing the continued development of their players, he elaborated that their NPSL Head Coach needed to understand the team's values along with the player and personality traits that are important.
The Pittsburgh Hotspurs intend to have close to twenty percent of their team be from within their organization this year with the goal of reaching fifty percent by 2023. In Ovenden's eyes, this is only the beginning as the Hotspurs set an example for other clubs in Pittsburgh and around the country. He hopes that "more and more and more clubs grow their program and start adult teams creating an exciting base for the game in America."
College prepares a person for many things, but when it comes to player development it is a "wasted four or five years. The current system doesn't help players," explains Ovenden. When he was 16 and 17 years old, he was playing on adult teams in England which got him used to the speed of the game and helped his improvement. After an injury took him out of play, he started to coach which, in time, led him to Pittsburgh. Seeing the lack of development options, the Pittsburgh Hotspurs began as a way to increase the level of play for local youth and the club is steeped in coaching experience. The club is so focused on the game that even their Marketing and Operations Director, Marikaye DeTemple, comes with coaching experience.
As this season is beginning to ramp up, Ovenden continues to remind of the importance of what he is trying to accomplish, "We want to be competitive but make sure we stick to our style and principles and put on a good show for families that believe in us." They would like to make a realistic push for the playoffs by next year. Tryouts will be held later this spring and their season begins with away match on May 25 against the 2018 Midwest Region East Conference leading Erie Commodores FC.
Some in Pittsburgh may see them as taking up a desired spot in the community with the adult team. He explains that people aren't sure if Pittsburgh is large enough to handle more than a team or two. At this Ovenden is very direct, "It’s important to get our point across: This is the beginning of other clubs joining and raising the level. Whether youth club or church or pub team just get a team together and get out there."
- Andrew Rittenhouse