2020 has obviously been a tough year. COVID-19 created an unprecedented situation that had the world on lockdown for months. In the midst of preparing for our 2nd season in the NPSL, tryouts were postponed and the season ultimately canceled.
Yet, on June 8th, the City of Pittsburgh finally received the green light to begin returning to some form of normality — which for us was bringing together a group of young, talented footballers simply looking to train, get back into shape and hopefully prepare for their fall seasons.
Fast forward six weeks to the beginning of the NPSL Members Cup — a league tournament to provide some much-needed competition for teams from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Erie, and Buffalo — this tournament presented an opportunity for the team’s players and staff to momentarily forget the pandemic related stresses and get back to playing the game we all love. (Marikaye aside: can’t go without saying, everyone did a great job doing their part following the new norm of safety protocols.)
Game 1: 7.25.2020 vs Cleveland SC
Friday, July 25th saw our young Hotspurs squad, led by NPSL sole veteran Nicky Kolarac (St. Francis University), facing off against last year’s Conference winners and National finalists, Cleveland SC. Despite being new to the league, we all knew the challenge that Cleveland would pose with a group of players who had been together for years and who bring a wealth of experience and ability to the pitch. Regardless, we went into the game with full faith in our ability as a collective as well as individuals and looked to cause an upset.
On a baking hot evening, the game kicked off and as expected, Cleveland looked to assert their dominance on proceedings. After a shaky start, we settled into the game and despite doing a lot of defending we managed the first half well. Keeper Domenic Nascimben (Duquesne University) made a couple of worldy saves to keep Cleveland off the score sheet whilst we looked dangerous on the counter. Our closest chance of the half came when 17-year-old Gabe Norris, making his NPSL debut crashed a 30-yard drive off the bar.
The second half began and the pattern changed. Cleveland still posed a threat but we got a foothold in the game and with the heat taking its toll, the game became more open as fatigue began to set in.
We created some decent chances and took a well-earned lead through Nate Dragisich (Duquesne University). Seemingly looking to protect our lead, we dropped deeper as Cleveland piled on the pressure — which resulted in Cleveland scoring 2 goals – one from a set-piece and then a beauty of a half volley.
With 10 minutes to go and all subs used, cramp set in for a couple of players but the boys dug in and showed immense character to push for the equalizer. In the 96th minute, shortly after a lung-bursting 70-yard recovery run to make a goal-saving tackle, Michael Sullivan climbed into the stands to retrieve a ball before launching a long throw into the box. It was cleared outside the area, quickly retrieved by Dragisich who leathered an unbelievable left-footed strike, on the swivel into the top corner with time expiring on the clock. An amazing moment that capped off a fantastic performance from the Duquesne wonderkid, as well as a remarkable team effort.
Game 2: 7.29.2020 vs Erie Commodores
Wednesday came around and the team traveled back to Erie, still riding high on the confidence from Friday’s result to take on the Erie Commodores. We knew that we had a chance to take home the trophy if we put in a good performance, as well as a favorable result in the Cleveland/Buffalo game.
We started fast, with Nicky Kolarac opening the scoring 45 seconds in after a perfectly weighted ball from Tate Mohney (Elizabethtown University). Erie responded well, getting back into the game and creating some decent chances but just missing the needed finishing touch. We created some good chances of our own and as the second half was coming to a close, we scored 2 excellent, quick goals through Tate Mohney and Nate Dos Santos (Marshall University).
We went into half time 3-0 up and feeling good. However, Erie came out strong in the second half and threatened our goal on a number of occasions. 15 minutes into the second half, we started to settle and take control of the game. The boys looked after the ball for longer periods of the game, managed the transitions well, and looked dangerous going forward. Over the final 30 minutes, a number of our young players came on and made extremely positive contributions. Knowing that goal difference could well become a decisive factor in the race for the trophy, we pushed for a fourth and came close on a few occasions but the game ended at 3-0. Another excellent performance from the boys which put us in a great position.
The Decider: FC Buffalo vs Cleveland SC
Some 5 hours following our game, after a lengthy delay for lightning, both teams down to 10 men, Cleveland pushed for a 4th goal of their own whilst 3-1 up against Buffalo. Cleveland had scored twice in the last 5 minutes to give themselves a fighting chance of lifting the trophy and it looked like they would steal it at the death when a long ball dropped to a Cleveland player inside the box. Luckily for us, in the 10th free-kick in as many minutes, followed by the final whistle a minute or so later, handing us the trophy on goal difference!
I would like to say a massive congratulations to all the boys, from the full squad who have trained brilliantly throughout the summer, to the lads playing in Erie — every single player has contributed to a fantastic summer, culminating with the first trophy in Pittsburgh Hotspurs Men’s First Team history.
I would also like to extend my thanks to everyone who made it possible for us to put this program together. Club Director Tommo and newly appointed GM Marikaye DeTemple have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to allow us to get back to doing what we love.
Finally, a huge thank you to Dan Yates and the rest of the coaching staff for their efforts throughout this unusual season. We’ve had to adapt to a number of new situations and challenges but the support of the coaching staff has made it much easier to manage and contributed massively to a really enjoyable season.
2020 Summer Roster:
|Last Name||First Name||Hometown|
|Alese||Lucas||New Bethlehem, PA|
|Burlovic||Denis||Bosnia & Herzegovina|
|Dos Santos||Nathan||Toronto, Canada|
|Faint||James||Kingsley, Cheshire, England|
|Flick||Max||Beaver Falls, PA|
|Nichols||Liam||Allison Park, PA|
|Norris||Gabriel||Natrona Heights, PA|
|Rondinelli||Nathaniel||Karns City, PA|
|Schlessinger||Nathan||Harrison City, PA|
|Yuricha||Caleb||North Huntingdon, PA|