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Riverhounds ready to christen new Pittsburgh stadium, rebound from rough season

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Riverhounds at a glance

Season: 14th

League: USL Pro

Preseason practice opens: Monday

Site for practices and home games: Highmark Stadium, Station Square

Season opener: April 6 at Richmond Kickers

Home opener: April 13 vs. Harrisburg City Islanders

Other prominent home games: July 4 vs. Charlotte Eagles (view of Pittsburgh fireworks from stadium seats), Aug. 17 vs. Richmond Kickers (regular season finale)

Tickets: 800-298-7308, ext. 1, or via Ticketmaster through Riverhounds.com

Prices: $9.50-$15

Top returning players: GK Hunter Gilstrap, MF/D Rich Costanzo, D Sterling Flunder

Top newcomers: F Jhonny Arteaga (New York Red Bulls), MF Michael Seamon (Seattle Sounders F)

Sunday, March 10, 2013, 11:39 p.m.
 

Rich Costanzo was 13 when the Riverhounds began play in 1999. A future all-American high school and Division I national champion college soccer player, he recalls attending a Riverhounds game or two as a young teen.

“I remember them playing at Bethel Park High School at the time and going to some games,” said Costanzo, a Thomas Jefferson High School alum who's now a defender for the Riverhounds.

“But it makes the team a lot more credible playing in a beautiful professional stadium compared to a high school stadium. The team's come a long way, and they're driving it in the right direction and trying to do what's best for soccer in western PA.”

The Riverhounds open preseason practice Monday at the new Highmark Stadium in Station Square. Its a seminal moment for a franchise that's gone from renting various high school stadiums to having a highly-visible $10.2 million facility to call their own. The 3,500-seat stadium on the banks of the Monongahela River has reinvigorated and re-energized the organization from top to bottom. Better yet, it has made the Riverhounds an attractive option for free agent players.

Some of the premier available talent in the USL Pro league has found its way to Pittsburgh over this past offseason. It's no coincidence that many did so, in part, because of the state-of-the-art facility.

“That definitely helps,” said Costanzo, who's in his second season with the Riverhounds and has played professionally since 2009. “You want to feel like you're part of a professional team — and the stadium's probably the biggest indicator.

“You don't want to go play in a high school stadium. (Highmark Stadium) was definitely a selling factor for incoming guys. We're going to have this nice stadium here, play our games in the city, draw more fans, selling out games already. It's exciting for the team and for soccer in Pittsburgh.”

Coming off a 4-15-5 season that coach Justin Evans acknowledges was “a train wreck,” roughly half the roster was turned over. No fewer than three former Major League Soccer players were brought in.

“We set out to inject some new blood and a new mentality, and we've gone out and done that,” Evans said. “We've made this a very formidable team.

“We targeted six players we wanted to get — and we obtained all six of those players.”

Among the newcomers is forward Jhonny Arteaga, who last season played for the New York Red Bulls after being the USL Pro's leading scorer in 2011.

Other prominent additions include midfielders Michael Seamon (formerly of the MLS Seattle Sounders FC), Ryan Kinne (an ex-New England Revolution player) and Alfonso Motagalvan and defenders Andrew Mashall and Anthony Vazquez.

“All across the board we've bolstered our lineup,” Evans said.

Among the prominent holdovers are goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap — who recently signed a two-year contract extension — defender Sterling Flunder and midfielder Jason Kutney. The oldest player on the team at 31, Kutney has been associated with the Riverhounds since 2006 and also serves as CEO and director of youth development.

Local products on the roster include goalkeeper Greg Blum (Ambridge High School), midfielder Stefan Lundberg (Kiski Area), defender Michael Seth (Baldwin) and Costanzo. Evans, who was on the Riverhounds' original 1999 team, is a Peters Township native who played at Penn State.

“We've upgraded the entire team,” Evans added. “I look for us to be very, very tough to score on as well as a very exciting attacking-minded team this year with our strikers. We have the look of a team that's going to score a lot of goals for the fans in Pittsburgh.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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