By Ben Ferree/NPSL.com
After a strong 2020 season that pushed the club to the USL Championship Quarterfinals, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds are looking to advance even further and capture a title. A step towards doing so is bolstering the attack by signing USL stalwart Russell Cicerone.
Cicerone is most recently coming off a stint with Saint Louis FC, who folded after the 2020 season in advance of an MLS team coming to the city. Prior to that, he played with FC Cincinnati and Portland Timbers 2.
But his career really started with NPSL side FC Buffalo in 2013.
“My freshman year at [The University of] Buffalo, they were getting a decent amount of fans and bringing in a lot of high level guys from different colleges,” Cicerone said. “I wanted to be a part of that and had a fantastic experience there. The NPSL is a great league and FC Buffalo is a great club. The level of the players is really good, and it was definitely beneficial to my career.”
The man who identified Cicerone was Stu Riddle, now head coach at Northern Kentucky. UB reached new heights under Riddle with Cicerone and fellow FCB players Fox Slotemaker and Cameron Hogg. Slotemaker has gone on to play professionally in New Zealand, captaining Tasman United, and Hogg is on the books with Umea FC in Sweden.
“The beauty of Russell as a player is that he brings the footwork of a flair player with the core strength and balance of a hockey player,” said FC Buffalo co-owner Nicholas Mendola. “He was a very highly-rated hockey player in Michigan before choosing soccer. He’s simultaneously a live wire and a tree trunk. He plays stylish but he’s scrappy, too, and we still love watching him play. He had perhaps the best individual season in FC Buffalo history. In 14 games, he had 13 goal contributions and I don’t believe one was from the spot. Eight goals and six assists is nuts and that’s reflected in his NPSL Best XI status in a year we didn’t find our potential as a club.”
In addition to playing collegiately and for the NPSL in his first year at college, Cicerone majored in biomedical sciences. When asked if that knowledge gave him some insights into the pandemic, Cicerone joked, “That was only my major my freshman year. I switched after that. It was a little too hard for me.”
Able to play either on the wing or up top, Cicerone is a versatile attacking player.
“Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m glad to fill in there,” Cicerone said. “Pittsburgh is always competing for conference championships and the USL Championship. Throughout the years they have done so well, and hopefully we can bring in a few more guys and push us over the edge and win a championship.”
Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley was pleased to add Cicerone to the Riverhounds roster.
“We are excited to welcome Russell on board,” Lilley said. “His versatility, energy and competitiveness are traits that we value on our roster. He’s a dynamic player with good pace who likes to get behind defenses, and he has the ability to score goals as well as create for others. Russell is a big part of our plans for 2021.”
Cicerone has been a part of two deep U.S. Open Cup runs, helping St Louis FC get to the quarterfinals in 2019 and FC Cincinnati reach the fourth round in 2018. The Cup was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic, and Cicerone is eager to see the competition return.
“It’s a great competition to give [lower division] clubs a chance against MLS teams,” Cicerone said. “It gives players a chance to showcase themselves, that they could be playing or should be playing at that level. The level of teams in the second division isn’t that far off MLS. St. Louis proved that last year.”
It’s clear that 2021 will be a big one for Cicerone as he looks forward to the USL season and the Open Cup. NPSL fans and supporters are eagerly waiting to see this FC Buffalo alum compete at such a high level.
Photo Credit: Portland Timbers, USL Championship, Saint Louis FC, and Pittsburgh Riverhounds