There is no Major League Soccer team in Pittsburgh but this weekend a major college showcase will have an MLS feel to it
Thanks to years of efforts from organizers with local ties who have been involved with Western Pennsylvania youth soccer for decades, an area college showcase will feature an MLS academy team for the first time.
The local Beadling Soccer Club will conduct its annual College Showcase at the indoor Southpointe Fieldhouse in Canonsburg this Saturday and Sunday.
The girls showcase on Saturday will feature Beadling teams against the Cleveland Internationals from the Elite Clubs National League.
On Sunday the Columbus Crew Academy team will be in action against local Beadling teams in a first of its kind event.
The Elite Clubs National League and the MLS Academy are the highest levels of youth soccer available in the United States for girls and boys.
"This is one time where our guys can stay on the field and see how they match up with an MLS Academy team," said Peter Smith, Beadling director of player and coaching development. "Players on our team have no clue how they match up on that level and I think a lot of our players will be pleasantly surprised. It will be good for college coaches to see us against the MLS academy teams."
Around 50 to 60 collegiate coaches are expected to attend the showcase this weekend.
Beadling teams have dominated club play in Western Pennsylvania over the past few years, qualifying for regionals and nationals multiple times. The Columbus Crew Academy has produced nine players in six years who have signed professional contracts with the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer. Columbus Crew Academy director Billy Thompson will coach both Crew Academy teams.
On Saturday the girls action starts at 11 a.m. when the U15 Beadling go against Internationals and continues with the last game between the U17 Beadling and Internationals starting at 4:20 p.m.
On Sunday, the Crew Academy team U17/18 team will play the Beadling U18 team at noon with the Crew Academy U16 team playing the Beadling U17 team at 2:15 p.m. for a half and the Beadling U16 team for the second half that is scheduled to start around 3:15 p.m.
"The boys side and girls side will be playing against the top tier of youth soccer," Beadling president Denny Kohlmyer said. "This is big for us to be able to bring in these two organizations."
In years past the showcase would feature different age group Beadling teams playing against one another.
"We wanted to put a different spin on it this year," Kohlmyer said. "We wanted to give our players a better chance to be seen and be looked at."
The path to professional soccer from the WPIAL is a circuitous one that often leads far away from the area.
That appears to be changing.
"Legitimately a kid from Peters, St. Clair or Lebo can play for Beadling and then play for the Crew Academy when he turns 18 and if he is the real deal, he gets a five-year professional contract," Smith said.
"It is not just a training opportunity. MLS Academy teams are the most direct ways to get to the MLS, we are dipping our toe in that. It is a great first interaction, we think this is the first step in a long relationship."
Smith, a 1982 Upper St. Clair graduate who went on to play professional soccer, made the phone call to the Crew's Thompson. Smith and Thompson played together as part of US Olympic Festivals in the 1980s.
Although Smith made the call, he stresses the showcase has nothing to do with him and everything to do with the talent of players in the area and the work of local youth soccer organizers including Kohlmyer.
"Denny has been through the wars with youth soccer," Smith said. "It was easy for me to pick up the phone, talk to Billy and say I am working with Beadling. He isn't saying 'Who is Beadling?' It was the easiest sell in the world. Denny made the club so successful over the last 20 years."
The talent of the players was never an issue in the area, but rather getting a shot through a local MLS Academy team rather than taking the collegiate route.
"It is huge for the kids," Smith said. "We see some great players who have moved on, we have guys we've coached who went to Stanford, Northwestern, so we have the players -- we just don't have an MLS Academy team.
"This is the first we have been able to have our guys match up against them. We want the top four or five kids in all of our age groups to be seen by Columbus and be evaluated and to have the opportunity to play with that team."
The Beadling teams feature players from schools scattered across the WPIAL who have played in WPIAL finals at Highmark Stadium and state finals in Hershey. The stage this weekend should rank right up there with the best of them.
"It will be a real atmosphere," Smith said. "They are playing against the best and in front of all the people you want to impress."