History of Soccer in Pittsburgh

As in many other regions of the country, soccer first established itself in Pittsburgh among the working class communities, and the region was one of the eight or so major centers of soccer activity during the first half of the 20th century. Immigrants flocked to the local mines in the late 19th century, and in 1894, soccer made its first appearance. Unlike many other early hotbeds of American soccer, the soccer teams around Pittsburgh were primarily sponsored by commercial businesses rather than ethnic cultural clubs. One of the more prominent teams, Beadling, formed in 1898, would go on to enjoy great success over the decades.

Soon clubs such as Braddock, Curry, Dunleavy, and Sturgeon were playing for the Mononghaela Valley League and the Central Association Foot Ball League (also known as the “Miners League”). Soccer rose to a new level in 1911 with the formation of the Pittsburgh Press League, which featured several teams that would long dominate soccer in the region, including Morgan, Gallatin, and Beadling, and eventually Castle Shannon. The Pittsburgh Press League did battle with the Pittsburgh District League whose roster featured Homestead, Pittsburgh Celtics, Pittsburgh Rovers, and Wilkinsburg. Morgan won the Press League championship in 1912, followed by Beadling in 1913, Dunleavy in 1914 and Gallatin in 1915 (beating out Castle Shannon for the honor). Homestead soon established itself as the team to beat in the District league, winning league titles in 1913-14 and 1914-15, the last by a substantial margin over Castle Shannon. These four teams soon represented the cream of the crop in Western Pennsylvania.

The 1913-14 season marked the culmination of the Smoky City’s coming of age as a major soccer center, with the establishment of the Western Pennsylvania Soccer Association and the establishment of the West Penn Challenge Cup (a.k.a. Spalding Cup in its early years), won by the Pittsburgh Rovers that season. Pittsburgh teams entered into the National Challenge Cup (Now the U. S. Open Cup) for its inaugural 1913-1914 tournament, and Braddock made a major splash. Up against the powerhouse Bethlehem Steel squad, Braddock turned what should have been an easy 2nd round romp into a fight for survival, with Bethlehem finally breaking a 2-2 draw with two minutes remaining in extra time. Despite having to return home empty handed, Braddock (who would go on to win the West Penn challenge Cup in 1917) showed that Pittsburgh had entered into the national scene. In future decades, area teams would be bringing home the silver on a regular basis.

The West Penn Challenge cup soon became a major focus of attention for area teams. Homestead Steel, which had won consecutive District League titles in 1913-1915, took Cup honors in 1916, defeating Beadling 2-2 and 3-2. followed by Braddock in 1917. Beadling would go on to win in 1919. Sturgeon, of the nascent Western Pa Miners League, had their day in the sun next, winning in 1920, and then bouncing back from a League Cup defeat at the hands of Cecil, to win the 1921 Western Penn Cup. Morgan returned to prominence by taking the 1924 Cup title, but were soon overshadowed by Heidelberg which took top honors in 1926, 1928, and 1929. By 1922, the Pittsburgh Press was sponsoring 32 teams in various circuits (the Westmoreland League, Ohio Valley League, Junior League and Monongahela League, and that year formed their first Juvenile league, player ages averaging 16. By 1921 the Keystone league was active, and soon would become the dominant league in the region. Heidelberg Tornados SC won league title in 1921, the first of their 9 league titles between then and 1970. Overall, more than 80 area clubs were under the auspices of the West Penn Association by this time, and even a major coal strike in late 1922 did little to slow dampen the enthusiasm of the players or the fans.

As the leagues prospered, Pittsburgh area teams began to make their mark at the national competitions, particularly the National Amateur Cup. Heidelberg was the first to make the National Amateur cup final, losing to the New Bedford Defenders in 1926, but they would return to take the Cup in 1929 with a convincing 9-0 thrashing of Newark 1st German SC. Gallatin made the finals the following year, but forfeited to Fall River Rafferty. McKnight Beverage lost to the Philadelphia German-Americans at the finals in 1933. The Pittsburgh Press league operated at least through 1929 but it is not known when the league folded, although it was probably during the depression. Heidelberg won the league Championship in 1927, and the Chartiers Division in 1929.

Change was afoot for the region during the 1930s as mines began to close down and teams were gradually detached from their sponsoring mining companies. The Keystone League was joined in 1938 by the Washington County League, but the major teams remained in the Keystone League, and several would began an extended string of successful runs in the West Penn and national cup competitions as Pittsburgh soccer entered its Golden Era.

By the late 1930s, Pittsburgh teams were dominant throughout the National Amateur Cup and appearances in the finals were becoming a regular event, although achieving ultimate victory initially proved to be elusive. Heidelberg made appearances in the final in 1934 and 1938, and Castle Shannon made the finals in 1936 and 1937. Gallatin did likewise in 1939, but all these teams had to settle for 2nd place.

The major powers in the Keystone League during the Golden era were Heidelberg Tornadoes, Harmarville Hurricanes, Castle Shannon, Morgan SC (also at times known as Morgan-Strasser), Gallatin and Beadling. Heidelberg won the inaugural 1936 league championship, and would go on to win league titles in 1937, 1946 and 1949. Morgan SC/Morgan Strasser was the most prolific, winning league titles in 1939, 1940, 1941, 1950 and 1952, and Harmarville won titles in 1951, and 1953, while Castle Shannon took honors in 1947 and Gallatin in 1942 (followed by Washington County titles in 1950 and 1951).

These teams were prominent in the West Penn Cup competition as well. The early powerhouse was Heidelberg, which followed up on its string of 1920s West Penn Cup titles with top honors in 1934, 1936 and 1937; and were followed by Castle Shannon in 1938 and 1940. Their junior squad was the most successful team at that level, taking the Junior Cup in 1932, 1940, 1947, 1949, 1951 and 1953. Morgan Strasser was the next dynasty, although area soccer had been hard hit by World War II during its run. Morgan Strasser won the West Penn Cup title in 1941, 1945 and 1946, then as Morgan FC, continued their run with titles in 1949, 1952 and 1954. Castle Shannon took the Cup again in 1947. Then it was Harmarville’s turn, as they made five consecutive Cup Final appearances between 1949 and 1953, winning the cup in 1950, 1951 and 1953.

National honors, which had been so elusive through the 1930s, finally arrived in the area in 1940 when Morgan Strasser, headed by Hall of Famer Paul Danilo, won their first National Amateur Cup title. Gallatin did them one better, winning the U. S. Open Cup in 1942 – the first Pittsburgh-area team to take that honor. Morgan was at the height of its game in 1943, beating Baltimore Santa Maria SC 4-1 to take the National Amateur Cup, and pushing the American Soccer League’s powerhouse Brooklyn Hispano to the limit in the U. S. Open Cup finals. After forcing a 2-2 draw in the first leg, Brooklyn barely squeaked out a 3-2 win in the follow-up to earn the title. Morgan-Strasser returned to the finals of both competitions in 1944, falling to Hispano in an Open Cup rematch (convincingly, by 4-0) and to SC Eintracht of New York (by 5-2) in the Amateur Cup. Although competitive, Pittsburgh region teams fell in the earlier rounds in 1945, but Castle Shannon battled to the Amateur final in 1946, losing to Ponta Delgada of Fall River, MA.

Morgan Strasser was a founding member in 1946 of the North American Soccer Football League, playing as the Pittsburgh Strassers. The NASFL was the first attempt to create a semi-national soccer league in the US, the first since the original ASL of the 1920s, and the first covering the Midwestern part of the country. The Strassers, although they won the Penn State Challenge Cup that year, did not do so well in the NASFL featured some strong teams. They earned 3 wins and 5 losses for the 1946 season, but Harry Pitchok tied for 2nd in league scoring with 7 goals in 8 games, and future Hall of Famer Nick Diorio was a mainstay on the squad, before leaving for the Chicago Vikings in 1947.

The Strassers were renamed the Pittsburgh Indians for the 1947 NASFL season and made a complete turnabout on the field, winning the first half of the season with 5 wins, 1 loss and 4 draws, and defeated the Toronto Greenbacks 3-2 and 3-2 for the playoff title. The league collapsed partway through the 2nd half, and records are sketchy at best. Regardless, Pittsburgh found itself back in the Keystone League as Morgan-Strasser and they continued their successful runs at the amateur level. It did not take Morgan long to find their championship ways after the NASFL experience, as they clawed their way to the finals of the 1949 U. S. Open Cup (now competing as Morgan SC), and defeated the American Soccer League’s Philadelphia Nationals 4-2 (after a 1-0 opening loss) to take the title.

Curry had finally made their first trip to the National Amateur Cup final in 1948, losing to Ponta Delgada. Heidelberg did them one better in 1949, fighting to the 1949 U. S. open cup final (where they lost to New York German-Hungarian 2-4 and 6-2). Harmarville finally made the big time in 1950, starting a string of victories second only to the successes of Morgan-Strasser. The Harmarville Hurricanes fell to Ponta Delgada in two legs in the National Amateur cup in 1950, and came close to defeating New York German American the following year, losing by 4-3. But victory was all theirs in the 1952 Open Cup where they won it all. Nick Diorio had joined them from Morgan, and they beat the ASL’s Philadelphia Nationals in two legs with an aggregate score of 7-5. They returned to the Open Cup final in 1953, this time against the Falcons of Chicago’s National Soccer League. The Hurricanes were shut out in the opening match, and drew 1-1 in the rejoinder, to lose on aggregate 3-1. Harmarville returned to the final in 1956, pitted against the NSL’s Chicago Schwaben, and this time they were victorious, winning 0-1 and 3-1.

Heidelberg returned to the Open Cup in 1954, and this time they were victorious , defeating St. Louis Simpkins in a see-saw series; losing the first leg 5-2, but winning the rejoinder 5-1 for the title. Heidelberg finally won their first Amateur Cup title in 1955, dispatching the Chicago AAC Eagles 2-2 and 5-0. This victory marked the end of the golden era for Pittsburgh Soccer, but what a run it was! Between 1933 and 1955, the Pittsburgh teams were second to none at the national Amateur Cup, winning 4 cup titles in 16 appearances at the finals. In addition, they made eight appearances in the U. S. Open Cup final between 1942 and 1955, winning four titles.

Sadly, 1955 marked the end of Pittsburgh’s era of soccer success at the national level. Times had changed, and demographic and economic factors were hitting the northeastern industrial cities hard, and Pittsburgh was no exception, and the effects were felt at all levels of organized soccer in the region. Although Beadling would go on to play in the 1958 National Amateur cup final (losing to St. Louis Kutis), to this date (2010), no team from the region has made the finals of any national competition since then. The Keystone League continued at least through 1969-70, and Heidelberg was still a major power, winning the league title in 1969 and 1970, and winning the West Penn Challenge Cup in 1969 and 1974.

The West Penn Challenge Cup tournament was held until 1987. Many familiar names appeared on the cup in its later years. Hamarville won the West Penn title in 1956, 1957, 1961, 1963, 1971, 1972 and 1973, Morgan Strasser won in 1965, and Castle Shannon did so in 1967. Heidelberg won in 1955, 1958, 1969 and 1974. Gallatin won in 1962, and Dunlevy Redbirds (another long-established squad) tool the honors in 1968, 1981 and 1982, while Dunlevy and Gallatin were co-champs in 1964. Finally, Beadling, the oldest team of the all, was most successful in the recent era, with Cup titles in 1959, 1978, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985 and the final edition, 1987. For their last two titles, they were known as the Beadling Rinkydinks, although it is highly unlikely this was their traditional nickname.

The recent decades of soccer in Pittsburgh can best be described as sparse at best. A few Pittsburgh teams have played in recent professional soccer leagues, but none has distinguished itself and most were short-lived. Inexplicably, women’s soccer has yet to make an appearance outside of the college and amateur/youth levels.

Professional soccer returned to the United States with a major splash in 1967 with the establishment of two rival professional leagues, and the region was not overlooked. The Pittsburgh Phantoms were a founding member of the National Professional Soccer League, but their season was a bust, with 10 wins, 14 losses and 7 ties to finish last in the eastern Division, averaging a league worst 3,122 fans per game. At least they could boast Manfred Rummell, as the league’s 5th best scorer (14 goals and 32 points in 19 games), and the inclusion of Co Prins as a forward on the All-Star team.

The NPSL merged with their rival, the United Soccer Association in 1968 to form the North American Soccer League, but Pittsburgh was not one of the teams making the transition. The area was without pro soccer until the 1972 when the Pittsburgh Canons joined the 2nd division American Soccer League in 1972. The Canons struggled to a 4th place 2-1-5 record and folded at seasons end. They were followed in 1975 by the Pittsburgh Miners, who fared even worse, with a 1-3-16 record, dead last in the league. The Miners beat a hasty exit.

Pittsburgh had its first pro success with the indoor Pittsburgh Spirit, a founding member of the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1978. Although the Spirit struggled in their first season, they finished 2nd in the East in 1979-80, making it to the semifinals. After a year off, they returned in 1981-82, again finishing second but losing in the first round of the playoffs, repeating this performance in 1983-84. Unfortunately, this was their high point; after two more dismal seasons, the spirit folded in 1986.

Indoor soccer returned to the area in 1994 with the Pittsburgh Stingers of the Continental Indoor Soccer League in 1994. The team finished a mediocre 13-15 their first year and was terrible the following year at which point they folded.

The only other professional team to call Pittsburgh home has also been the longest lasting team – the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of United Soccer Leagues. The Riverhounds started in the A-League, then United Soccer Leagues’ top division (USSF Division 2). They debuted with a 4th place finish, made the quarterfinals in 2001 and had their bellwether season in 2003 when they went 15-9-4 to finish in 3rd in the Northeast Division, while their forward Thiago Martins won the scoring title and Most Valuable Player Award.

Things were looking good for the Riverhounds at this point. The first pro team to really click with the fans, the Riverhounds were popular both on the field and off, and drew well at the box office. However, weak financial footings left the franchise shaky from a business perspective, and they relegated themselves to the 3rd division (then known as the USL D3Pro League) in 2004. The Riverhounds had their best season yet in 2004 when they went 17-2-1 to win the Atlantic Division, but lost to Utah in the semi-finals. They made it to the semifinals again in 2007 after a 3rd place regular season finish, but since then the team has struggled to finish better than last place.

Pittsburgh has been sadly overlooked as a venue for major international matches, which could spark a revival of interest in soccer for the region. The Men’s National Team has never played a match in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh fans were treated to a Championsworld Series match between Chelsea and A. S. Roma on July 27, 2004. The 25,317 fans were delighted by the exciting match in which Chelsea shut out Roma 3-0. The Women’s National Team finally made its debut in a friendly at Heinz Field on September 29, 2004 in which the USA defeated Iceland 3-0 before 6,386 fans. But since then, no major soccer event has taken place in the city.

Success at the college level has remained elusive; the only major college soccer teams in the area are Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won a share of the 1985 Big East conference regular season title, and Duquesne was Atlantic Ten regular season champion in 2004 (and co-champ in 2003 and 2005), but neither has distinguished itself in national competition. No major college women’s team from the region has won any titles or major competitions either.

Soccer is thriving at the local amateur level however. The primary organization for adult amateur soccer in the region is PAWest, a branch of the United States Adult Soccer Association, a branch of USSF. Within PA West, the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League, the Pittsburgh Master’s League (over 40), Super Masters League (over 50), Women’s League of Pittsburgh and the Co-Ed league, along with many youth soccer leagues form the face of organized soccer in the Pittsburgh region today.

Although many of the current teams are of recent origin some history remains. Harmarville still fields several adult teams along with a full youth program, and plays on their original field. Heidelberg is still very active, currently playing in the Championship Division of the greater Pittsburgh league, and Gallatin now plays as Mon valley. Beadling and Castle Shannon (Now known as the Keystone Oaks Area Soccer Club) still field youth teams, but their adult teams are defunct. Beadling’s adult team had gone 136-19-17 between 1977 and 1983, and their youth teams have won many league and state cups since their founding in the 1960s. Beadling has won over 50 state cup competitions among its different levels. Morgan SC no longer exists; the successor club for the town is the South Fayette Soccer Association, which fields youth teams through U-14.

The Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League (with adult, master’s, super-master’s, women’s and co-ed divisions) is the current adult league, and along with many youth leagues, forms PAWest, the USASA organization for the region. Meanwhile, local fans keep hoping for eventual success from the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds, from U. of Pittsburgh and Duquesne, and hope that one day they may finally see their first women’s pro team. Although the current soccer scene is a far cry from the area’s heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, the fans can only hope that some spark will revive interest and turn the fortunes around in a more favorable direction.

Also see list of West Penn Challenge Cup champions 1914-1987

Hall of Famers of the Pittsburgh Region:

Dr. Raymond Bernabei. Played for the Harmarville Hurricanes from 1949 to 1963 as a defender, captained the team to US Open Cup titles in 1952 and 1956, and second place in 1953. Took the team to the National Amateur Cup finals in 1950 and 1951, played for ten West Penn Cup finalists between 1949 and 1960, was a referee for more than 40 years.

Robert Craddock, Jr. Many seasons with Castle Shannon and Harmarville, with whom he won the National Amateur Cup in 1951 and the U. S. Open Cup in 1952. Was on the U. S. 1950 World Cup team, but did not play. Played for the US Team against Haiti in 1954 and the league of Ireland in 1952.

Robert Craddock Sr. Played through the 1920s in the Pittsburgh Central League with the Rovers, Thistles and Arsenal. Later was a long time area referee and president of the Allegheny Valley League.

Paul “Duts” Danilo. Played with Heidelberg in 1937-38. Later with Morgan, scored the winning goal to win the National Amateur Cup in 1940, and played in the West Penn Cup finals in 1941 and 1945. Joined the Pittsburgh Indians of the North American Soccer Football League in 1946 and 1947, winning the championship in 1947. Managed Morgan Strasser and served as West Penn Soccer Association secretary and president between 1953-57.

Nicholas Diorio. Played in the NASFL for the Pittsburgh Indians and Chicago Vikings in 1946-47, won the U. S. open Cup with Morgan S. C. (1949), and Harmarville (1952-53), won the national Amateur Cup with Morgan Strasser in 1943, and was a finalist four times. Was a member of the 1950 U. S. World cup team in 1950, and won Keystone League championships in 1941, 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954.

John Dresmich. Played for Morgan and Cuddy in the Pittsburgh Miners League. As an administrator reorganized the West Penn Referees Association, helped organize the Washington County League and served with the West Penn Commission from 1940-1966, the last 11 years as chairman.

Aldo Two “Buff” Donelli. Joined Morgan Strasser in 1922 at age 15 and led the Pittsburgh Pres League in scoring from 1922-1928. Won the National Amateur Cup title with Heidelberg in 1928-29, and played for Duquesne University fro 1926-1929. Later played at Curry from which he was chosen for the 1934 U. S. World Cup team, for whom he scored 4 goals against Mexico in the qualifying round and the Americans lone goal against Italy in their first round loss. Played with the ASL’s New York Americans in 1935, then left for a NFL career, and returned to play with Morgan Strasser in the 1944 U. S. Open Cup final.

Harry Fairfield. Long time referee and administrator, serving as president and secretary of the West Penn Association for decades through 1950. President of the USSF from 1945-1948, and was a co-founder of the North American Confederation in 1947.

Jon Jaap. Played for Castle Shannon, Arden, Vestaburg and Jennette from 1912-1920 before joining Bethlehem Steel in the American Soccer League, winning the 1921 league title, the 1926 U. S. open Cup and the 1928 Lewis Cup.

Peter Merovich. Played in the Keystone League from 1937 to 1956, winning the National Amateur Cup with Castle Shannon in 1946, and seven Keystone League titles. A frequent West Penn and Keystone League all-star. Played for the Pittsburgh All-Stars against Norrkopping in 1950, and in Olympic qualifying in 1948. Served as secretary-treasurer and president of the West Penn Association and Keystone League and was commissioner for the U. S. Open Cup, National Amateur Cup and Junior Cup.

Daniel Zampini. Played for the Morgan Juniors at age 16 in 1917, played on several championship teams, reaching the semifinals of the U. S. Open and National Amateur Cups. Began a long term as president of the Keystone League in 1930, and was President of the West Penn Association from 1942-1952, and served as both president and vice president of the National Amateur Cup Committee.