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Riverhounds Take Dynamic Step Forward

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Hounds to partner with Houston Dynamo of MLS

Pittsburgh -- It's been quite a year for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

A new stadium, USL PRO League playoff berth, team and league record-breaking statistical seasons by their top offensive players, hosting a friendly against the reigning F.A. Cup Champions, a league MVP award for Forward Jose Angulo, a new majority owner and resigning of top players followed by new additions that bring more experience and talent to the roster.   The franchise clearly has championship aspirations.

So, you might ask, before this calendar year ends, what else could the Riverhounds possibly do to add to all of that?

How about an announcement today that they are now affiliating with the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer (MLS).   This deal, announced this morning by Riverhounds CEO Jason Kutney, with Dynamo President Chris Canetti on hand at Highmark Stadium, will enable Houston to loan a minimum of four MLS-contracted players to Pittsburgh for the 2014 USL PRO season.

The Dynamo are not just another run-of-the-mill, mediocre franchise.  The Riverhounds will be partnering with one of the premier franchises of Major League Soccer. All the Dynamo have done since their first season in 2006, is win two MLS Cups, compete in seven Conference Championships, winning four times, and have led the league in total points during this period.  They have a strong ownership group that includes majority owners, Anshutz Entertainment Group (AEG), former boxing champ, Oscar de la Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions group.

“We wanted to align ourselves with a successful organization,” said Jason Kutney, Riverhounds CEO.  “With this partnership, we’ve been able to do that.”

“In doing our homework, we found Pittsburgh to be a very professional organization and a club that will provide the right environment for our young players to develop,” said Canetti.

“In particular, we like their ownership structure, new downtown stadium, training center and technical philosophy.”

This is the next step in the process of expansion for a Riverhounds franchise and ownership group that doesn't appear satisfied with the status quo.

“This is an exciting day.  We know that the fans of Pittsburgh will follow winners,” said Riverhounds Head Coach, Justin Evans.  “We felt like this was an opportunity to be able to take the next step for our organization.”

Kutney has always made a point to see that the Riverhounds franchise continues to push forward with higher aspirations.  He has often cited the USL PRO’s Orlando City franchise as the model to follow.  He didn't hold back his vision once again on Tuesday.

“We want to be the next Orlando,” said Kutney.

Affiliating with Houston is a big step in that direction.   But, why is Orlando the model of success?

What Orlando City F.C. has been able to accomplish in the past four months has been impressive and the culmination of a rise of a franchise to Major League status.

Orlando City captured the USL PRO Championship (including a 5-0 beat down of the Riverhounds in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs).  They did so with the help of two MLS’ Sporting Kansas City players, who they shared an affiliation, Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong, who were on loan.  Last month, it was announced that Orlando City has been accepted as one of two new MLS franchises beginning in 2015.

What's been remarkable about Orlando City's rise is that it's been done in a short amount of time.  The franchise was founded in 2010.

Ironically, this past Saturday, Sporting KC knocked out the Dynamo in the MLS Eastern Conference Championship and their goals in their 2-1 aggregate victory, were scored by Dwyer and Sapong.   These were two players that were competing against the Riverhounds in the USL PRO League earlier in 2013.Pittsburgh Riverhounds

One big difference between Orlando and Pittsburgh, is that Pittsburgh already has a stadium. Orlando has done this without a new, soccer-only facility. But to gain access to the MLS, they were able to get the support from the Orlando community, and recently announced that a new stadium is on the way.

Currently, four other MLS teams have affiliations with USL PRO teams:  Sporting Kansas City (Orlando City), New England (Rochester), Philadelphia (Harrisburg) and D.C. United (Richmond). MLS officials have said they want all MLS clubs either fielding their own reserve teams in USL PRO or affiliating with one by 2015.

The Dynamo followed MLS orders, and began searching for an affiliate. Word about Highmark Stadium, the Riverhounds and a growing fan base, made it more than just a trendy choice for Canetti and his franchise.

“To be honest with you, it’s great to be standing here, in this stadium, to be looking at a major U.S. city across the river.   Our players are going to be playing in a major city.  That was a big part of our decision.  It’s a great sports town, and our guys will be right in the heart of that.”

Canetti added that he sees expansion as a part of the Riverhounds’ natural progression, but sees a successful partnership which could be the beginning of many good things to come for professional soccer in Pittsburgh.

“You want your players to be in a good facilities and good environment to grow and become better players, and they have that here.  They’ll be able to play with some pressure, with a lot of energy and support from a growing fan base behind them.”

Breaking it down, here are the key benefits of the agreement for the Riverhounds:

  • The Riverhounds will have a minimum of four Houston players on their roster on loan throughout the season.
  • The four players’ salaries will be paid by the Dynamo, which as Kutney cites, "To be able to put four MLS quality players on our roster and not having to worry about paying them, is a huge opportunity to us."
  • The Riverhounds will be going to Houston in late Winter for preseason training, utilizing the Dynamo’s facilities.   They will have the opportunities to scrimmage with not only the Dynamo, but mostly like Dallas F.C. and possibly other MLS and other teams.

The Riverhounds also announced on Tuesday that they’ve secured a Premier Development League (PDL) franchise that will begin operations in the 2014 season.

“The Riverhounds’ PDL franchise will provide the absolute best opportunity for our area’s most elite players who want to play at the professional level,” said Kutney. “We can offer these players top training sessions to stay fit in the summer, opportunities to perform in front of both USL and MLS scouts, and an unmatched set of resources to do so, all while in premier facilities.”

The PDL has been the destination league for young college players to continue their development toward the professional ranks, with clubs from across North America not only competing for a championship each summer, but also providing the opportunity for top-level competition for the best players in the college ranks. The PDL platform also allows for identification opportunities within high school aged players.  With PDL roster spoPittsburgh Riverhoundsts available for limited players under the age of 18, the Riverhounds will be able to further prepare young stars for the collegiate and professional levels.


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