Columbus Crew SC today announced the club's United Soccer League (USL) affiliate partnership with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, effective immediately for the 2016 campaign. The agreement between the two clubs allows Crew SC to send players from its Major League Soccer roster to Pittsburgh on-loan during the 2016 season. The alignment is the Black & Gold's sole USL affiliate partnership for the upcoming campaign. Per club and MLS policy, additional details of the partnership were not disclosed.
“We look forward to beginning a USL affiliation with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds as we continue to strengthen our player development efforts,” said Columbus Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. “Pittsburgh’s philosophies and values on and off the field – from ownership to the coaching staff – are like-minded and exactly what we are looking for in a partnership. Their Head Coach Mark Steffens is a Hall of Fame coach and we feel Pittsburgh will be a strong environment for success in the development of some of our younger professionals.”
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds began play as a member of the USL's former A-League in 1999. They were an inaugural member of USL in its current form when the league was founded ahead of the 2011 season. Led by Head Coach Mark Steffens, the Riverhounds finished in fifth place in the USL's Eastern Conference this year, qualifying for the USL postseason. Steffens came to Pittsburgh at the beginning of the 2015 campaign after 18 years with the Charlotte Eagles, a club that he guided to the playoffs on 14 occasions, winning two USL Second Division titles. He is a member of the USL Hall of Fame and was named the USL Second Division Coach of the Year twice.
“Our coaching staff is thrilled to be affiliated with one of the best organizations in MLS,” said Riverhounds Head Coach Mark Steffens. “Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter's style and philosophy are similar to ours, so I believe our partnership will be very fruitful on a number of fronts. This is a great opportunity for our entire club to learn from Columbus both on and off the field, help to develop young loanees into well-rounded professionals and men of integrity and to strengthen our roster for another USL playoff push in 2016.”
Columbus Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter will address the media alongside Pittsburgh Riverhounds Head Coach Mark Steffens today at 1:00 p.m. ET via conference call. The audio of the media conference call will be live-streamed on ColumbusCrewSC.com.
The USL has expanded to 28 teams for the 2016 season following the introduction of several new clubs. The third tier in the United States soccer pyramid, the league has seen rapid growth in recent years after previously adding 12 clubs in 2015. As part of the partnership between MLS and the USL, announced in January of 2013, MLS teams have the opportunity to partner with a USL side, sending players to an affiliate club to develop and gain match experience.
Since its completion ahead of the 2013 season, the Riverhounds have played at Highmark Stadium, a soccer-specific facility overlooking Pittsburgh's downtown skyline while bordering the Monongahela River. Highmark Stadium, privately financed and capable of seating 3,500 supporters, is located just 189 miles from the country’s first soccer specific stadium, MAPFRE Stadium. Pittsburgh Riverhounds owner Tuffy Shallenberger took control of the Riverhounds and Highmark Stadium in 2013. The Riverhounds train at the Allegheny Health Network Sports Complex at Cool Springs, a 169,000 square foot indoor multi-sport structure that opened this fall. The facility features a regulation-sized soccer field, a gym for conditioning and rehabilitation and onsite orthopedic and athletic training services.