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Thomas Jefferson graduate Costanzo values role as Riverhounds' captain

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Riverhounds' defender Rich Costanzo signs autographs on the field at Highmark Stadium on the city's South Side after playing Antigua Barracuda FC on Sunday, June 23, 2013. Costanzo was named a team captain in just his second season with the team.

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In their first season with a permanent home in Pittsburgh, it's fitting that the Riverhounds' on-field leader is a hometown product.

Rich Costanzo, a 2004 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, has served as the Hounds' captain this season while appearing on defense in all 15 of the team's USL Pro games, 14 as a starter.

The 27-year-old has had success wearing the captain's armband before. As a senior in 2008, he captained Maryland to its third NCAA championship before entering the professional ranks.

He joined the Riverhounds in 2012, and in just his second season, he was chosen for the captaincy in a vote by the players.

“I was excited and humbled that those guys — the current guys and the new guys coming in — voted for me to be the captain,” Costanzo said.

“It's something that I take very seriously, and I'm trying to lead the team as best I can.”

Hounds coach Justin Evans also is a Pittsburgh-area native, and though he chose to leave the voting on the team's captain to the players — not a standard practice in professional soccer — the result ended up being the same as if he had selected a captain himself.

“The guys voted after the preseason, and while it wasn't unanimous, it was definitely a majority pick,” Evans said. “(Costanzo) being from Pittsburgh, he brings that mentality of coming every day to work and never taking a game or a play off. I think it's good that everyone sort of looked at him and saw that, and that's certainly the way the coaching staff sees him.”

Costanzo's usual spot in the lineup as an outside defender is a change from his days at Maryland when he played a midfield role. After professional stops in Minnesota (2009) and Rochester (2010-11), he's settled in as a defender for the Riverhounds. He has been on the field for all but 69 minutes of a possible 1,350 in the team's 15 league matches this season.

Having players on defense with experience moving forward has provided a boost to the Hounds' attack, and it was Costanzo who brought the early spark with a run that set up Darren Amoo's opening goal in the team's last game, a 4-1 win over Antigua.

“If you look across our back line, the majority of players have (played forward or midfield before),” Evans said. “Richie's a vocal player and helps our communication in the back, and that's pretty important to be able to connect with those passes moving out of the back.”

Being a communicator is one of Costanzo's biggest assets, whether it's talking to the coaches, teammates or officials during a match. As the communication within the Hounds' lineup has improved, so has their performance, and the two-month unbeaten run is a direct result.

The Hounds' captain remembers going to games at Bethel Park High School as a fan during the team's early years. And though the distance the team has moved from the South Hills to South Side is only a few miles, the distance the franchise has come from those years is immeasurable.

“There's no comparison. I went to watch games at Bethel Park, and when you're young, it's hard to really believe they're professional players when you're watching them at a high school facility,” Costanzo said.

“That kids can come see us in a nice stadium, playing good soccer, it makes the team a lot more credible, and it's good to be a part of that.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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