Over 3300 fans turned out for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds home opener on Saturday and they were treated to an electrifying 3-3 draw that featured plenty of goals and lots of back-and-forth action.
NPSL alums took center stage on both teams and both sides of the ball. Former Brooklyn Italians netminder Rafael Diaz started between the posts for New York Red Bulls II. His backup was none other than former Detroit City standout Evan Louro, who starred at the University of Michigan.
Diaz was quite excited to talk about his return to Red Bulls II.
“I’m happy to be back home. The Red Bulls organization is first class and I’m glad to be part of it. It’s always great to be home. I’m taking it day by day, trying to get better every day in training. Games like this are a stepping stone, progressing to get better.”
It has been quite a journey for the Rockaway, NJ native. The New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year and NSCAA New Jersey Player of the Year in 2009, Diaz played the 2014 season in the USL with Orlando City before joining Red Bulls II for two seasons. The 25-year-old played 11 games in two seasons with Red Bulls II, allowing just two goals in five appearances in 2016.
Diaz was also a standout with the Brooklyn Italians before he turned pro. It was an experience that he would cherish forever.
“It was a good experience. Anytime you get a chance to get out there and get games under your belt is a good opportunity. I’m very thankful for the opportunity that they gave me to play. I was fortunate enough to make the most of it.”
The goalkeeper played his four years of college soccer at St. John’s University. He earned numerous undergraduate recognitions, and capped off his college career by starting all 20 matches as a senior and posting a 0.80 goals against average. He still holds the school record for career shutouts with 32.
It’s quite obvious he also enjoyed his time with the Red Storm.
“It was a great four years, got a lot of experience and played in a lot of games. I have a lot of gratitude for them.”
The backline of NYRB II included defender Ethan Kutler, who starred for NPSL side Greater Binghamton FC Thunder and Colgate University.
Across the field, you could see goalkeeper Trey Mitchell with the Riverhounds, a player that has seen time with the Colorado Rapids, D.C. United, Orlando City B, Philadelphia Union, and Sporting Kansas City. He got his start with FC Hasental in 2013-2014.
The Riverhounds seem to have an affinity for NPSL goalkeepers, signing FC Wichita’s Mauricio Vargas and Fort Pitt Regiment’s Brenden Alfery last season.
As you can see, this exciting game was brought to by some incredible talent developed in the NPSL, now the largest men’s national soccer league in the U.S and a true pipeline to the pros.