Western Pennsylvania soccer showcase brings top college prospects together
There's no shortage of events that draw Division I coaches to Western Pennsylvania for sports such as football and wrestling. For soccer, on the other hand, this weekend might be a first.
The Riverhounds Academy and youth club Century United of Pittsburgh are hosting the Riverhounds Elite College Showcase, an event that will run Friday to Sunday and is intended to bring together top teams and college prospects in the under-15 through under-17 age groups.
The invitation-only event will hold games at Highmark Stadium and at Duquesne's Rooney Field, which will provide a central location to scout and recruit for coaches from 65 invited NCAA Division I programs and many other D-II and D-III schools.
“There's been a void in this area. Usually we have to hop in a car or on a plane to see these events, and teams from Pittsburgh have to do the same thing,” Penn State women's assistant coach Tim Wassell said.
“We had a girl just finish playing for us, (Canon-McMillan grad) Taylor Schram, and we want to keep those types of players in state. The talent has always been there, but it was harder to seek out. This will help bring those players together in one place.”
Teams from the Riverhounds Academy, Century United and a third Pittsburgh-area club, Allegheny Force FC, will play against top visiting clubs, including the D.C. United Academy, Cleveland United, Northern Virginia Soccer Club and two top Canadian clubs, Ontario-based Woodbridge and Ajax.
“Our players will compete against some high-caliber teams, and that's where the attention from college coaches really builds,” Riverhounds CEO Jason Kutney said. “It's tough on (college) coaches at massive tournaments because they can't get to all the fields or see every player they want. By having a smaller, invitational event at two locations, it will help them and the teams.”
Unlike larger tournaments on the club soccer circuit where teams often have to play multiple games in a day, the showcase has teams playing once a day with a few exceptions by request.
That schedule, plus the use of a pro and a D-I college facility, provides for ideal conditions for the players to be at their best.
“For their club, this is huge, and they've done such a good job of getting in touch with coaches. I like their whole setup,” Rutgers women's coach Glenn Crooks said. “It's good for each individual player to be taken care of and to find a school that's the best fit for them. I'm anxious to see their facility but more so to watch the players compete.”
The enthusiasm from the college coaches bodes well for what Kutney hopes will become an annual event.
The players and their families are being taken care of, as well. Admission is free, and some local businesses are offering deals on food and local events for the visiting teams.
Most important for the weekend is what happens on the field, as aspiring college players get a chance to shine with plenty of eyes on them.
“When you have a club program, the first responsibility is to develop each player,” Crooks said. “After that, it's putting the players in position to go to the next level, putting them in front of the right people and giving them the right opportunities.”