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McKeesport boys soccer program taking baby steps, progressing

| Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 2:11 a.m.

In a way, the McKeesport boys soccer program has been much like the Pirates, traveling a similar rocky road.

Though they are vastly different sports, neither team has been very good.

But first-year McKeesport coach Steve Pambacas hopes the Buccos' good fortune this year is a sign that the Tigers might soon travel a comparable path.

McKeesport hasn't experienced a winning season in what seems like forever.

“I am trying to teach them the game, but there's always an underlying tone of the finer points of life,” said Pambacas, a former McKeesport player who is happy to have returned to his alma mater for a chance to help the school's struggling program succeed.

He's surrounded himself mainly with other McKeesport alums -- assistants Cory Winters, Dickie Markovitz and Derek Benedict, and strength and conditioning coach Josh Volpe.

Only goalies coach Michael Brunozzi attended high school elsewhere, but he, too, has a history with Pambacas. They were teammates at La Roche College.

“I really think I've got a group of guys who cover all aspects — technical and basic skills included — that I want the players to embrace,” said Pambacas, who coached the McKeesport 7th- and 8th-grade program in 2012. “There's a lot of personality in these coaches that I hope will rub off on these guys.”

It's not so much about winning yet at McKeesport. It hasn't been for a long time, it seems. Pambacas said the team finished above.500 in his senior year in 2005, but a check of unofficial records revealed the Tigers were just 9-10-1 that year.

Regardless of the numbers, it still represents the most victories in a season for McKeesport in more than a decade. The Tigers hobbled to a 3-14 mark in 2012 under former coach Jim Poston and have won just 26 games since that 2005 campaign, an average of 3.7 victories per season.

McKeesport was off to an 0-4 start this year before Thursday night's scheduled WPIAL Section 4-AAA game at Ringgold.

“We're not expecting to make a complete turnaround in one season,” McKeesport senior stopper Ryan Jacobs said. “I think we are going to have more wins than last year, but it's going to take time. The coaching staff is looking to progress every year. I kind of wish I was a sophomore or junior because I'd like to come back and be a part of it, but that's not possible.”

Pambacas has been working to establish a better foundation for soccer in the district. Among the 17 varsity players on the Tigers' roster, 11 are underclassmen. He said he's hopeful that the younger players will embrace his routine, which has included an offseason of workouts, fund-raisers and clinics.

“We also held an outdoor tournament and an alumni game to help spark interest,” Pambacas said. “I may be biased, but I really do feel there's a different mentality with the players now. They understand the concepts I want them to have.”

McKeesport's season has gotten off to another rough start, with shutout losses of 3-0 to Belle Vernon, 6-0 to Laurel Highlands and 4-0 to West Mifflin and a 6-1 setback to Baldwin in the section opener Tuesday.

But Pambacas has been encouraged.

“That Baldwin game was not indicitive of how well we played,” he said. “We got knocked on our heels right away. Baldwin is a well-rounded program, and we found ourselves down. But we didn't take a step back. We played 40 minutes without giving up another score before they scored twice in the final 10 minutes.

“We did a good job connecting passes between midfield to defense to offense. I don't ever remember my teams, when I played here, doing that well. We never quit. I can't fault this team. They play until the end.”

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