Division I players from A-K Valley come together for high-level summer soccer

Saturday, June 15, 2024 | 3:29 PM

Gabe Norris and Michael Sullivan have been friends for close to 16 years as they got to know each other on the soccer pitch at 5 or 6 years of age.

No matter the travels through life on and off the field, it has been a bond that’s hard to break.

They are together again this summer with a mission to help the Steel City FC club team navigate through its games in the Great Lakes Conference of the semi-pro National Premier Soccer League.

“I’ve known Michael forever,” said Norris, a Highlands graduate and rising senior captain on the Robert Morris men’s team. “We’ve played together for so long and have traveled together to play over the summer, so to be able to play with him again and to be this close is really special. It makes me super proud to be able to watch him keep raising his level of play.

“We have a really close group of guys. There are a lot of Pittsburgh guys, so a lot of us grew up playing together. It’s just a group of friends who get to come back together in the spring and train and compete in a game we all love. It is the best feeling in the world.”

Norris and Sullivan, a Deer Lakes grad and a key member of Pitt’s NCAA Tournament team in 2023, are two of the more veteran players on the Steel City FC First Team.

Both have five years of experience on the team.

Kiski Area graduate and star Anders Bordoy, who helped Memphis reach the NCAA Tournament as a freshman last fall, is in his debut season with the Steel City FC and adds to the local Alle-Kiski Valley flair.

“This is a lot of fun. We’ve come together and played some really good soccer,” said Bordoy, who spent his age 6-12 years with Hotspurs before transitioning to the Riverhounds. “I’ve always known a lot of these guys, my whole life basically. It’s pretty cool now to get to know them better. Before, we all played against each other. Now, we are playing with each other. There is a lot of memories and nostalgic feelings when I play with this team.”

Not too far from the A-K Valley, Franklin Regional graduate Anthony DiFalco, a member of the Duquesne men’s team, is in his third year on the Steel City First Team.

Team members range in age from high school to others, such as former West Allegheny, St. Francis (Pa.), and Pittsburgh Riverhounds FC First Team standout Nicky Kolarec, who still is able to play at a high level in his early 30s.

“The club is really cool in the fact that we use a lot of (Steel City) Academy players,” Norris said. “We have some guys who are 16, 17, and 18 who are involved in every training session and get roster spots every once in a while. The past couple of games, they’ve been getting some playing time.

“We have those vets like Nicky who are a little older but who are great leaders and share their experiences really well. Every training session is extremely competitive, and we have such a deep roster.”

Steel City FC qualified for and participated in the prestigious Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Tournament earlier this year.

The team made its tournament debut with a first-round game against Michigan Stars FC from the National Independent Soccer League.

The teams played a competitive game, but Michigan ended up eliminating Steel City, 1-0.

“Playing with this team and these guys, it’s some of the best soccer,” Sullivan said. “Growing up playing with and against all these guys was special. There’s no better way to be ready for our fall (collegiate) seasons than to train with these guys and play the level of game and competition we do. The boys talk year round about getting back together in May and organizing for another season.”

The top three finishing teams in the Great Lakes Conference regular season tentatively will enter the playoffs. The top team receives a bye to the championship game to await the winner of a game between the other two playoff qualifiers.

Steel City FC won last year’s conference title over Cleveland SC to advance to the four-team regional tournament. The winners of each regional then play for the national title.

“Last year, we came pretty close to winning regionals,” Norris said. “We went to Iowa and won the semifinal on penalty kicks and then lost in overtime in the regional title game. It was tough to lose like that, being so close to nationals, but it was nice to see us be able to make that run.”

The NPSL has grown each year and now features more than 90 teams in the Northeast, South, Midwest and West regions.

Playing in an eight-team conference that spans five states means several long bus rides to road contests. Steel City FC spent the majority of Friday on the road to a game against Southern Indiana Guardians FC.

“We don’t at all look at the away trips as a bad thing,” Norris said. “It’s that time we get to spend with each other. It’s a lot of fun, making jokes and getting to know one another. We also take advantage of the time we have. We do some film sessions and some tactical and technical stuff so we’re ready to play.”

Sullivan and Bordoy were in the starting 11 for Steel City, and each scored a goal in a 5-0 victory over Southern Indiana.

It propelled Steel City to the top of the Great Lakes Conference standings with six victories, no losses and one draw.

In its seven matches, the team has outscored its opponents 23-3.

Steel City is off from competition until June 23 when it hosts the Erie Commodores at Founders Field in Indiana Township.

“Every time you get bunch of guys like we have who are committed to a common goal, good things happen,” Sullivan said. “Even if we are here for two or three months in the summer, we all push each other to not only win as a team but to improve skill-wise individually.

“It is a great training environment. Every week, it’s about doing the things to get better.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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