It takes a team to win a soccer game. It takes a team to build a soccer stadium. For the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, these teams have the same players.
By Rachel Jones
Photographs by Rob Larson
Since 1999, the year of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ inaugural season, the United Soccer League Pro League team has been kickin’ it in the suburbs without a stadium to call its own. “We’ve shared with the Washington Wild Things [at CONSOL Energy Park] and now play at Chartiers Valley High School, but we needed a place of our own,” explains Jason Kutney, CEO of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
To find that place, Kutney teamed up with Scott Gibson, John Rotz, and Justin Evans. The men work together as a team on the field, so it was a natural step to unite as an administrative team in the search for a stadium. Today, as we gather on the springy turf at Highmark Stadium, it’s clear the team has finally found its proper place in the city.
Opportunity knocked when the Rivers Casino’s plans to break ground in Station Square fell through. When plans for the casino were confirmed for the North Shore, the lot at Station Square remained available for a mixed-use entertainment venue. So, the soccer stars did what they do best: strike.
Kutney says he didn’t think they could even fit a soccer stadium on the property, but after some negotiations and rerouting, they made it work. “They had to move a lot of things around. Station Square Drive used to run right through here,” Kutney says, waving his hand over the green turf below our feet.
The extra effort was worth being rewarded with what Gibson calls “the perfect location.” “When away teams come here, it’ll be like having a twelveth man on the field,” says Gibson, the director of academy operations and assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
That 12th man he is referring to is the vast Downtown skyline that hugs the north side of the field. I can see how the powerful city surrounding the stadium could be intimidating. Or, at the very least, distracting. The breathtaking view really drives home the point that we are in Pittsburgh, the city of sports champions. With Heinz Field and PNC Park in squinting distance, the trifecta of outdoor sports stadiums is complete. “We’re finally a part of Pittsburgh,” says Rotz, assistant coach and director of team and tournament operations. “There’s no question of who we are or where we come from.”
With Highmark Stadium’s groundwork in place, other details are starting to click as well. Now, the Riverhounds’ mascot, Amo, will no longer be associated with ammunition. “Most people don’t know this, but ‘Amo’ stands for Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio,” Kutney explains. (Cue a simultaneous “Oh!” from the WHIRL team.) “It makes sense now that we have the new stadium on the rivers.”
Aside from properly identifying the pup, Highmark Stadium is packed with top-of-the-line features that enhance the soccer experience for the fans. “We may be a small business, but we’re a passionate business,” Gibson says. “We wanted to focus on all of the small details of the stadium and make everything top class.” As he describes these touches, a crew of construction workers buzzes around the stands behind us, adding colored seats in perfect coordination to spell out “Hounds” across the six sections.
Out of all of the details, Evans says his favorite thing about Highmark Stadium is “that it’s our stadium.” As the first player signed in 1999 and the current head coach, the director of business relations is excited to see the program get the attention it has earned. “Through many years of hard, hard work, we have done something that nobody thought would be possible. It feels great.”
Now that the stadium’s construction is nearly complete and the sponsors — Highmark, Trib Total Media, and #1 Cochran — have given their support, Kutney can finally relax and enjoy watching his dreams come true. “It’s really a relief,” he says, tossing his spiky hair back and exhaling loudly. “I won’t say this was a 24/7 process, but it was probably 18/7. Those other six were spent sweating in my sleep, worrying how I would figure everything out.”
As Kutney ties the final bows on his gift to Pittsburgh, the midfielder for the Riverhounds can focus on playing this April with a new crop of teammates — something Kutney credits to the new stadium. “It’s like a carrot to dangle in front of them,” he says. “Players who turned us down in the past are starting to show interest again because of the stadium.”
Like the new players, Pittsburgh fans of the beautiful game are chomping at the bit to see their first Riverhounds game on the rivers. When that moment finally comes, Kutney will be wearing the biggest smile of them all. “We knew this dream was big,” Kutney says. “But now, we finally have soccer in Pittsburgh.”
Pittsburgh Riverhounds, riverhounds.com.
Highmark Stadium, highmarkstadium.com.
By The Numbers
Take a closer look at the details of Highmark Stadium.
- 3.6751-acre lot
- 275.125 square-foot bistro area
- 2 concession locations
- 3,500 seats, including 502 seats in the east end for the Steel Army, a pack of rowdy supporters who bring the crazy to every game
- 15 corporate suites
- Virtual scoreboard and LED screen
- LED electronic video board system for instant replays
- Mini turf field behind the stands for children to play on
- $10.2 million to build (all private investment)
- Development team:
- ThenDesign Architecture
- Millcraft Industries, Inc.
- Nello Construction
- Other uses for Highmark Stadium: home of the Pittsburgh Passion Women’s Football Team; outdoor concerts with up to 10,000 attendees; an ice rink, sitting atop the east end of the field, for open skates, high school match-ups, and Pittsburgh Penguins alumni games.