Crowd of 1,142 Sees Steel City FC Battle Valiantly in Open Cup Debut

By Colton Coreschi/NPSL.com

On a chilly but beautiful March evening, a strong standing-room only crowd packed into Ambrose Urbanic Field in Pittsburgh, PA to watch hosts Steel City FC take on the visiting Michigan Stars in the first round of the 2024 U.S. Open Cup.

After qualifying for their first-ever Open Cup appearance following a 2023 NPSL campaign that saw the club go undefeated and win the Great Lakes Conference before falling in the Midwest Region Final, Steel City was out to prove their dominant form was no fluke.  Much to the raucous crowd’s pleasure, the hosts came out swinging and largely controlled early proceedings.

The action began immediately in the attacking third for a high-pressing Steel City starting XI, as the men in blue forced a dangerous set piece in just the third minute in the attacking third. Veteran forward Nicky Kolarac stepped up and generated the first on-target opportunity of many in the first half for Steel City, ultimately saved by the Stars goalkeeper.

The hosts continued their aggressive press in the first half-hour, generating turnovers well upfield and transitioning to the attack in rapid fashion.  They generated their next strong opportunity in the 22nd minute, while controlling the ball in the Stars box, as midfielder Ryan Mertz cleverly slipped unnoticed behind the center back pairing and was found by a pinpoint through ball from the left wing.  He cut inside quickly before firing a rocket of a right-footed shot, ringing the crossbar mere inches from the opening goal.

The chances kept coming quick and fast, as another corner generated in the 29th minute resulted in an ensuing cross that found the head of tall forward Nathan Prex, who directed his effort on-goal and was deflected by the Stars keeper.  The deflection found the feet of Kolarac in the box, who just put too much onto his effort, blasting it over the box.

Steel City wasn’t done for the half, as several other crosses found the head of Prex, who forced a few additional saves and parries out of the Stars goalkeeper.  Just prior to half, a shot from the left wing for Steel City deflected off a Michigan defender in the box, generating a corner.

The Steel City defense stepped up admirably when called upon – which was rare in the first 45 minutes.  Goalkeeper Garret Watson had just one notable touch on a seemingly dangerous one-on-one chance for the Stars, coming up with a key save before the assistant ref ultimately raised the flag for offsides.

While the halftime whistle ultimately blew with the score still deadlocked, the Steel City press proved effective at flustering the visiting Stars, generating a pair of yellow cards on Michigan defenders – further complicating their efforts to stymie the host’s flying attack

With just one substitution from the visitors at half, the second period got underway in evenly matched fashion, with Steel City continuing to press high and generate trouble, but Michigan adjusting and pushing further forward.  The Steel City defense did its job valiantly, defending several corners and with Watson staving off several chances at goal.

Near the hour mark, the hosts got their best chance of the half, as a clever ball forward left the Steel City forwards on a two vs. two situation that resulted in Prex delivering a brilliant ball to forward Pat Koenig.  Now with nobody but the keeper ahead, Koenig attempted to curl his ball around the right side, but just barely placed it above the crossbar and leaving the score level.

Ultimately, the Stars found the opening goal in the 83rd minute on a difficult-to-defend free kick placed to the back post and headed across goal.  Despite a valiant effort from Watson, the ball trickled into the far corner and over the line.

The hosts threw everything they had forward for the final 10-plus minutes remaining in the regulation and stoppage time, but couldn’t find the pivotal breakthrough connection.  As the final whistle blew, the capacity crowd of 1,142 rose to its feet, giving a big ovation to the talented home side for their efforts.

With that result in the books, Steel City FC turns its focus towards defending its Great Lakes Conference title in the upcoming NPSL season, clearly bringing a talented roster along that can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

Photo Credit: Colton Coreschi/NPSL.com

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