Final Four (Part 1)
Highmark Stadium sits in the shadow of Mt. Washington on the south shore of the Monongahela River. Built in 2012 on the same ground that used to house the Chevrolet Amphitheatre, Highmark Stadium became the new home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. It gave soccer a presence in Pittsburgh. I first stepped foot into Highmark Stadium some time in 2013. I started training there as a part of the Riverhounds Goalkeeper Academy. It was difficult to find consistent and quality technical goalkeeper training in the Pittsburgh area back then and the club I played for didn’t offer consistent goalkeeper training. I remember thinking about how cool it was that I got to train on that field with the entire city of Pittsburgh right across the river.
As a freshman at Pitt in 2014, I started coaching with the Riverhounds Goalkeeper Academy and would continue to do so for the next 4 or 5 years. Over the years I would alternate my role at Highmark Stadium as a coach, player and spectator. Occasionally in the winter of 2014, I would play small sided games with the pro players while in the offseason. In the fall of 2015, I played against the Riverhounds at Highmark during Pitt’s second preseason scrimmage. I accumulated a lot of time there. The irony of ending my collegiate career at Highmark Stadium is something I could not have imagined.
I decided to transfer in the fall of 2017. My fourth season with Pitt had just ended. I redshirted as a freshman. If you don’t know, this means I was able to preserve a year of eligibility. I could still train and be on the team and as long as I didn’t play in any games in the fall, I would still have 4 years left of eligibility. The story of my time at Pitt could be a whole post in itself. I didn’t play much. As a goalkeeper, eventually you realize that sometimes that’s just how it goes. That’s not to say I didn’t train to play day in and day out. It’s a team first mentality. I accepted my role and if I got the chance, obviously I’d take it. I got to be a part of something special being built at Pitt and I’ll be a proud former Pitt soccer player for the rest of my life.
That being said, I wanted a better chance to be the number 1 in my last year of college soccer and that just wasn’t going to happen for me at Pitt. It was all amiable. The coaching staff at Pitt were great to me. They allowed me to train through the spring and into the summer before I left for the preseason. I got my release (permission to contact other schools) right around November 17, which would’ve been my 22nd birthday. I sent emails to coaches of programs in every division. I tried to find programs with goalkeepers that were graduating. These programs would likely accept a transfer GK with 4 years of experience at an ACC school. Going into winter break a few weeks later, I was between 2 schools: West Chester University (Division II) and Northern Kentucky University (Division I). Prior to this whole process, I never realized that there isn’t really that much time to make a decision as coaches need to solidify roster spots for the upcoming seasons, so I needed to move fast. If I’d had more time, there may have been 1 or 2 other schools that came into the mix.
I visited West Chester during winter break a few weeks after getting my release from Pitt. If you’ve never been there, I highly recommend. It’s similar to Shadyside in Pittsburgh, but 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. It was pretty tough to get a good vibe without any students around, since it was break. I felt a little wary of it too, being 4 hours away. At the time, this would the furthest I’d lived from Pittsburgh.
I committed to attend West Chester a few days before New Year’s Eve in 2017. It was the best option, without a doubt. I would have a chance to play and the team was going to compete for trophies. I would also get to go and live in a new place that wasn’t close to Pittsburgh. Having grown up 10 miles from Oakland (Pitt), there wasn’t anything about that area that was brand new to me.
All of this was possible because I redshirted 1 of the 3 years at Pitt where I did not play at all. If possible, I would recommend redshirting to any collegiate athlete, but especially goalkeepers. As I mentioned above, more often than not, it can be pretty difficult to play the majority of your four years as a goalkeeper in college. If the timing works out, you can have 4 years of college soccer under your belt plus a degree and the option to go and play one more year and live in a new place.
My year in West Chester was a ton of fun. It was a fantastic experience and a great one to cap my soccer career. Honestly, I’d live in West Chester again if I got the chance. In the beginning it was a transition, and a tough one at that. I had no idea what to expect moving from division I soccer in the ACC to division II soccer in the PSAC, but I’ll get into that more in part 2.