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Riverhounds drawing attention from MLS

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Gary Smith, 42, of Sewickley celebrates with the rest of the Steel Army as he waves a flag bearing the Pittsburgh Riverhounds colors after the team scored a goal against the Wilmington Hammerheads on Sunday, July 21, 2013, at Highmark Stadium in the South Side.

Is Pittsburgh in line to become the home of an MLS franchise?

The owners and management of the Riverhounds, who play in third-division USL Pro, have made no secret of their long-term goal to join the top league in U.S. soccer, but that goal might be easier to reach after MLS commissioner Don Garber announced Wednesday that the league intends to add four teams by 2020.

Riverhounds CEO Jason Kutney was in Kansas City, Kan., on Wednesday for the USL Pro Board of Governors meetings and other events held in conjunction with the MLS All-Star Game, and his take from the trip was that the Hounds have garnered some national attention.

“(U.S. Soccer Federation president) Sunil Gulati gave a speech on the state of the pro leagues, and he mentioned Pittsburgh as one of the great success stories of 2013,” Kutney said.

“I think, for us, we really need to stay true to the course we laid out and look to expand our seating (at Highmark Stadium) to 6,000 or 7,000. If we can fill the stadium, then that would put us in very serious consideration.”

Orlando City, another USL Pro franchise, is considered a leading candidate to be one of the new MLS teams, but securing a soccer-specific stadium — something the MLS is heavily trending toward for all its teams — is proving to be troublesome. The team is trying to move out of the 77-year-old Florida Citrus Bowl, but the state legislature recently killed a bill that would have provided funding assistance.

“Having a plan for a soccer-specific facility is big for the MLS,” MLS spokesperson Dan Courtemanche said. “Everyone has been extremely impressed with the Riverhounds organization and their new stadium on the waterfront.”

“We know what Orlando is going through. We got tangled up in those (government) vines here when we started,” Kutney said. “At the end of the day, it was much smarter for us to venture out and build our stadium privately, and we've been blown away by the number of people complimenting it out of the blue.”

Though Pittsburgh probably ranks behind Orlando and larger markets such as Miami, Atlanta and Minneapolis, in the running, much could change. Likewise, the 2020 expansion may not be the league's last, which gives the Hounds a chance to continue growing at their own speed.

“Over the 20 years since the MLS started, Pittsburgh has come up many times as a potential for expansion,” Courtemanche said.

Note: The Riverhounds signed amateur players Tyler McCarthy (California, Pa./Pine-Richland) and Steven Munn (Sewickley Academy).

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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