A-K Valley soccer players help Pittsburgh Hotspurs claim NPSL Member’s Cup

Friday, July 31, 2020 | 4:31 PM

The Pittsburgh Hotspurs beat Erie Commodores FC, 3-0, to capture the 2020 NPSL Member’s Cup in Erie on Wednesday.

The Hotspurs, who finished the two-day tournament with a record of 1-0-1, tied Cleveland SC last Friday in a 2-2 draw. Because they finished the tournament with the highest goal differential of the four “Rust Belt” teams competing, the second-year NPSL club was able to bring home its first trophy.

For a majority of the NPSL, teams are made up of older players, normally college and above, but that’s a little different for the Hotspurs as they have given current high school players the opportunity to compete with their first-team.

“The majority of the coaches at Hotspurs are all from England and we all believe in the academy system,” said Hotspurs assistant coach Dan Yates, who also is the head coach at Deer Lakes. “We believe if you’re good enough, you’re old enough to play.”

During the short tournament in Erie, Deer Lakes rising seniors Michael Sullivan and Devin Murray, along with Highlands rising senior Gabe Norris, got an opportunity to test themselves against the competition the NPSL provides.

Norris, who was a captain for the Golden Rams last year and was named to a Valley News Dispatch first-team all-star, started both games at midfield for the Hotspurs and played a total of 153 minutes between the two games. He also tallied an assist in Pittsburgh’s second game against Erie on Wednesday.

“It definitely forces you to raise your level a little bit,” Norris said about his experience playing in the Member’s Cup. “The pace of the game is a lot higher and the physicality is a lot stronger so it definitely forces another level out of you.”

Sullivan also made his presence known during his time on the field at Erie Veterans Memorial Stadium. The 2019 Valley News Dispatch Boys Soccer Player of the Year played 48 minutes between the two games and played a crucial role in the Spurs getting a tie in their first match.

Three minutes after entering the match in the 55th minute, Sullivan stole the ball from a Cleveland center back inside the box and played a pass to former West Allegheny midfielder Nate Dragisich, who was running off his right shoulder, and the Duquesne rising sophomore drilled the ball into the back of the net.

Sullivan also delivered a long throw-in in the 90th minute that wound up on Dragisich’s foot for the equalizing goal.

“It was amazing, just the tone that was set from the kickoff is completely different,” Sullivan said. “Just to be able to witness that and then being able to play in it was great experience.

Murray also registered 13 minutes in Pittsburgh’s final game. But no matter the time of play, the three seniors gained valuable experience playing against athletes who are older and more mature on the field, with extra experience under their belt. Sullivan believes playing against that type of competition will help his game improve tremendously.

“It’s huge for me because not only does it prepare me for the next season that we’re coming into now, but it gets me prepared to go play at the next level also,” Sullivan said. “Being able to go up against bigger and stronger competition like that is going to push me and help me find areas of my game that I need to work on and then also show me some of my strengths as well.”

While the local players were testing themselves against older competition, they also were gaining valuable advice from some of their own teammates. Both Sullivan and Norris mentioned how helpful former West Allegheny standout Nick Kolarac has been during games and practices and helped bring them along during their first appearances for the team.

“He’s a guy who has a ton of experience and has played at a high level of the game, and I learned so much from him,” Norris said.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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