As Klingenberg, Thorns Start Pro Season, What Does Future Hold For Women’s Pro Soccer in Pittsburgh?

While much attention for Women’s soccer has recently been about equal pay — and the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil this summer, many top players are keeping busy with pro clubs in various leagues including local favorite and U.S. Women’s National Team mainstay – Meghan Klingenberg.

If you weren’t aware, Klingenberg was part of a three-team trade in the offseason that included Alex Morgan going to the new Orlando franchise.  While Morgan’s move to expansion Orlando Pride made the most headlines, Klingenberg was sent to the Portland Thorns, an established National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team that is now in its fourth season.

Klingenberg made her debut with the Thorns on Saturday, playing before a lively, season-opening record crowd of 16,073 — as Portland defeated Morgan’s Orlando 2-1, on the strength of two assists from another USWNT mainstay, Tobin Heath.

The Gibsonia native’s only contribution to the stat sheet, other than playing the full 90+ minutes, was that she picked up a yellow card late in the match.

The NWSL has been in existence since 2012, and has grown to 10 teams.  Many of the franchises, like the Thorns, much like their WNBA counterparts, are sister franchises of Major League Soccer teams.  The Thorns won the first NWSL title and like the men’s Portland Timbers, have been leaders in attendance in an area that has a passionate soccer fan base.

Despite a strong turnout last August that brought more than 40,000 fans to Heinz Field for an international Women’s soccer match between USWNT and Costa Rica, a top division Women’s pro soccer franchise is still not likely to be a fixture in Pittsburgh anytime soon, although there’s some sentiment for it in the wake of more and more top level female players coming from our region.

Factors that have hampered the growth of a strong professional women’s league in the United States include high operating costs due to travel costs and distances, the lack of TV rights and sponsorship contracts and the corresponding lack of funding for player, coach, and staff salaries, as well as training & development facilities, and the lack of affiliation with profitable men’s professional clubs.

At his initial press conference in December 2014, former Pittsburgh Riverhounds team president, Richard Nightingale, made a bold statement that the franchise was serious about the prospects of fielding a women’s team in the near future.

More recently, after College signing day, Director of Coaching for the Riverhonds Development Academy (RDA), Scott Gibson, tampered those expectations, but still said he could see the possibility of having a women’s pro team is not out of the realm of possibility.

“It might take a few years, but with the growth that we’re seeing, I could see it happening,” said Gibson.

“We are looking forward to having our former (RDA) players coming back to work with our younger players, but it would be great to provide them with an opportunity to represent Pittsburgh professionally at some point too.”

Currently, Pittsburgh has one semi-pro level team — Steel  City FC — who compete in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) – 50-plus team national pro-am league and is the largest women’s soccer league in the world — and considered the second division of US Women’s soccer.

Steel City FC President Stephanie Harrison was excited about Steel City FC’s debut season in 2015, and the prospects and potential growth for women’s soccer in our region.

“Megan Klingenberg and the USWNT has spurred a lot of excitement about women’s soccer.  I think women’s sports are really a hot topic right now after (last year’s) World Cup,” said Harrison.

“I’m so happy that young women in our area have such an inspiring role model like Megan to look up to. I’m really excited to see what the future holds for women’s soccer on both a local and national scale. It is amazing that 40,000 people will be at Heinz Field to watch a women’s soccer match. I think it speaks to how much excitement surrounds the sport and the USWNT. I think Pittsburgh has potential to build a larger soccer community and I am hopeful that this game will continue to build our fan base locally.”
Harrison and Steel City FC kick off their second season — on May 22 at Detroit vs Motor City FC.  The home schedule begins on May 25, against Cleveland.

All Steel City FC 2016 home games will be played at Ellis School field in Shadyside.

 

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