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Sports

Riverhounds won't field team this season

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Friday, Nov. 17, 2006

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team won't play in 2007, according to team president and managing partner John Swiatek.

The franchise has lost money the past two years and plans to take time to re-evaluate the business side of the team. It also hopes to find a title sponsor.

"We have worked hard the past two seasons to build the franchise and increase attendance at home games," Swiatek said Thursday. "The toughest hurdle has been in finding a title sponsor, such as Washington Federal Savings Bank for the Washington Wild Things Frontier League baseball team."

The Wild Things and Riverhounds are owned by Sports Facility LLC and have shared the same field the past two seasons. The rent for the field is a huge cost and having to use Wild Things employees hasn't worked out, Swiatek said.

The soccer team's average attendance was 2,200 last season. Swiatek has until June 1 to notify United Soccer Leagues if the Riverhounds are to return.

The USL is willing to give the Riverhounds the time they need, said Swiatek, who remains positive that the team will return.

He plans to keep coach Gene Klein and youth development director Csaba Feher on staff to help find a way to finance the team.

Swiatek also hasn't ruled out selling the team.

Klein doesn't want that to happen and is confident in the team's return. He was at the airport last night on his way to Florida for the league's annual meeting.

"Obviously, I am disappointed," said Klein, who led the team to an 8-6-6 record and the first round of the playoffs in his inaugural season. "We had a good nucleus coming back. I was looking forward to the season.

"But I understand the business side of things. I am sure it was a tough decision. I know this can be a viable market for soccer and that a team here can be successful. We just need to find a way to make it attractive financially."

Klein said there would still be youth clinics and contact with the local soccer community.

Steven Thompson, director of professional league operations for USL, said the league would work with the Riverhounds to ensure the reorganization project progresses.

The situation doesn't look good, according to former player David Flavius, who's been with the franchise since its inaugural season. He was unaware of yesterday's decision until a reporter informed him.

Because of the development, Flavius said he may retire. At age 34, he wouldn't be able to sit out a season and then try to return in 2008, because his body wouldn't be in game shape.

"This is a step backward," Flavius said. "It is disappointing. The Riverhounds have always been one of the top franchises. They have done so much for youth soccer. This is not good."

If the Riverhounds do return, it most likely will be at the same level, the second division, Swiatek said.

This isn't the first time an area soccer team took a year off. The Pittsburgh Spirit indoor soccer team sat out the fall of 1979 and returned in '80 after a change in ownership.

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