Tyler McCarthy's goal is to play professional soccer.
He got a taste of it last month.
McCarthy, who graduated from Pine-Richland High School this past spring, entered at right back for the Riverhounds in the 85th minute of their game against English professional club and FA Cup winner, Wigan Athletic F.C, on July 19.
"The speed of play was so fast," McCarthy said. "You have to stay on top of everything. There's pressure even when you don't have the ball. But it was a really cool experience."
McCarthy was the first player to sign a United Soccer Leagues (USL) standard agreement for Academy players. The USL announced earlier this year that teams could expand rosters by five players, adding pre-collegiate players under the age of 21.
Additionally, the USL, PIAA and WPIAL came to an agreement to allow high school players to join the Riverhounds in a training-only program, where players practice with the team but can't play in any games.
Sewickley Academy's Steven Munn, who will be a senior in the fall, became the first to sign with the team's training-only program a few weeks ago.
"These programs are a huge step in the right direction," Riverhounds CEO Jason Kutney said. "The top players from the area aren't going to get the level of competition they're going to see at the college level in high school. This gives them the chance to play in a professional environment and offers them the opportunity to become battle-tested."
McCarthy signed his contract in June and has been practicing with the team ever since, seeing his first game action against Wigan.
By rule, he cannot be paid and his contract will be voided when he goes to college. McCarthy will play for California University of Pennsylvania in the fall.
He said the experience with the Riverhounds should pay dividends.
"It's going to be a transition from the high school to college game," McCarthy said. "It's more physical and a faster pace. So the experience this summer playing with guys who played in the MLS or in Europe should help out a lot."
McCarthy himself had a chance to play in Europe a few years ago when he tried out at West Ham. McCarthy said the English Premier League squad wanted him to join their European academy, but he was unable to get a work visa to play overseas.
Then an opportunity with the Riverhounds arose this past winter, as he started to work out at their indoor training center at the Greentree SportsPlex twice a week.
He impressed the Riverhounds enough for them to give him an opportunity this summer.
"In those sessions this offseason, he showed his potential," Kutney said. "We like to see kids from the area play at the highest level, and he has said that he wants to do that. So we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't provide this opportunity."
While McCarthy's relationship with the Riverhounds is in its infancy, the organization is very familiar with Munn.
Munn has been a part of the Riverhounds Academy since the age of 13. Over the past three weeks, however, he has gone from training with youths in the program to training with the professionals.
"He's been with the youth program for several years now," Kutney said. "We've obviously been a part of his development and he's progressed nicely. He's on the verge of doing bigger things and we wanted to give him the experience of what it's like to play at a higher level."
Munn said the experience opened his eyes.
"It showed me how much better I need to get," he said.
Munn was an all-state selection last season at midfield for Sewickley, which won the WPIAL Class A title and finished as the PIAA runner-up.
Munn said it's his goal to avenge that loss and get Sewickley its first boys soccer state championship.
At the same time, Munn will decide on his future college. He has narrowed his choices down to five schools -- Georgetown University, Cornell University, Bucknell University, University of Pennsylvania and Haverford College.
Munn said academics are the most important decision in his college choice, but he is looking forward to playing at the next level.
As with McCarthy, playing with the Riverhounds will likely ease the transition for Munn.
McCarthy feels that he and Munn won't be the last to take advantage of the new opportunities afforded to top-level high school soccer players in the area.
"Once the academy gets going pretty well, I think they'll get all the best players in the western part of Pennsylvania," McCarthy said. "Eventually they'll get players every year and hopefully we'll see more guys from this area playing in college, with the Riverhounds, in the MLS and eventually in Europe."