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Riverhounds goalkeeper thriving despite limelight

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

If the Riverhounds' Hunter Gilstrap could restart his soccer career, he might not choose to become a goalkeeper — even though he's good at it.

“When we make a mistake, everyone knows it,” said Gilstrap, who is in his fourth season with the team. “(You get) dirty looks and everything else from teammates and coaches.

“When everyone else makes a mistake, they typically live to see nothing bad happen. Goals happen, no matter what, but you always feel like there is something else you could have done to keep them from happening.”

Of course, what choice does he have?

“I don't like to run as much as these guys,” he said. “I don't think anything else would have worked out for me.”

Gilstrap, though, is not second-guessing his choice of careers. He's been playing soccer since age 6; he's almost 30.

Three years ago, he was named the United Soccer League's goalkeeper of the year, and he already has recorded one shutout this season for the Riverhounds (0-1-1) — a scoreless tie against Richmond.

“Why would you want to do anything else?” he said. “It's a kid's game. If you can do it, do it as long as you can.”

Gilstrap centers his life around soccer.

In the offseason, he is an assistant on the Pitt men's team, and he joins many of his teammates as instructors in the Riverhounds' youth academy.

The offseason work complements the relatively modest USL salaries, which range from $800 to $3,000 per month, not counting bonuses for victories, starts, goals and assists.

Players live in housing provided by the team and occasionally hitch rides with teammates who own cars.

For fitness sake, Gilstrap pedals his bike around town, but he also rides the Monongahela Incline that drops him off close to his Mt. Washington home or Highmark Stadium near Station Square.

“That's a tough hill to ride a bike up,” he said. “I like to get my work done here at the field, not on the way home.”

The lifestyle doesn't bother the players.

“We can't retire off of this, but we make just enough money to live a nice life,” defender Nico Katic said.

“If you play in this kind of league, you have to love the game. Otherwise, you can't survive.”

Plus, there is the minor celebrity status some players enjoy.

“When I go back home (to Croatia), they think I'm a big shot over here, but I'm not,” Katic said.

He did say, however, that he was recognized in a local grocery store.

“A couple of ladies came up to me and asked me if I played for the Riverhounds,” he said. “I was wearing a (team) jacket, but it was an awesome feeling.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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