The United States women’s national soccer team may be the talk around the globe after winning the World Cup with a 2-0 victory against the Netherlands. Closer to home, however, Team USA-2 provided the conversation during the Steel City World Cup.
USA-2, which was comprised of former Upper St. Clair High School soccer players, finished runner-up in the third annual event, which celebrates Pittsburgh’s vibrant and growing global community through cultural expression and soccer.
After 41 total games across two weekends, the tournament culminated in a 3-2 hard fought victory for Poland over USA-2.
“Definitely not the result we wanted, but it was definitely a cool experience,” said Ryan Mertz.
USA-2 experienced success throughout the tournament until the finals. The squad advanced to the championship by defeating Peru in the semifinals. The coed team moved to the final four by beating Turkey, Congo, Cameroon and Spain in the knock-out stage. In earlier rounds of action, USA-2 beat Peru, 8-1, Kenya, 4-2, and Bosnia, 8-7.
Hayden Bernhardt made the reunion possible. He saw a link to the event, texted potential players and organized the team. Because a lot of the players were home from college for the summer or had just graduated, they bought into the tournament. “We thought it would be a neat thing to do,” they said.
All group and elimination stage games were played June 22-23 at the Montour Junction Sports Complex. Highmark Stadium held the championship contest after the Riverhounds game on June 29 against the Birmingham Legion FC.
The 24-team event represented 22 countries. Continents and team allocations included: Africa (four teams), Asia (six), Europe (six); North America, Central America and Caribbean (four) and South America (four).
Players either had to be from that country or have parents that originated from the nation for which they competed. Three players on each team had to be female, and two had to be on the field at all times.
USA-2’s representatives were some of the best to have played for the Panthers.
Among the male players were Shane Sibley, J.P. Schrott, Robbie Mertz and Bernhardt. They all played on two state championships for the Panthers. Kenny Rapko, Brian Schrott, Will Erlanger, Jordan Lieberman and Ethan Marsh also contributed for USA-2.
The squad’s female representatives included Sami Lackner, Emma Hasco and Landy Mertz.
Lackner competed on USC’s WPIAL championship club in 2011. She played at Robert Morris University before graduating this spring. Hasco and Mertz were crucial contributors on USC’s first girls state championship team in 2015. Mertz is bound for Dayton while Hasco plays for the University of California at Davis.
“All our girls play at a high level,” said Robbie Mertz, who coached USA-2. “They more than held their own.”
“For us,” added Ryan Mertz, “the girls definitely were a big part of our success. Our girls were one of the strongest parts of our team. They saved goals and helped us get to the final round.”
Ryan added, “Since I never get to play competitively with girls, it was super fun.”
Ryan, who will celebrate his 21st birthday in August, plays soccer at the University of Delaware. The rising junior and computer science major embraces every opportunity to play the game.
“I’ll play as long as I feel like I can play,” he said. “Seriously, I enjoy it so much, and this event only instilled that more. I’d definitely do it again. We weren’t happy that we didn’t win. So we definitely want to win it next time.”
Robbie concurred. He said if there is to be a round two for USA-2, then he would be there to coach them.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Mertz, who is in his rookie season with the Riverhounds SC after a successful career at the University of Michigan. “It was pretty special to have all those players from PIAA and WPIAL championship teams on the field together again.”
Special was the objective of the event as well as playing against worldwide competition.
“The idea behind the tournament was to bring people from different cultures, all living in Pittsburgh, together,” said the Mertz brothers.
They added it was exciting hearing the players converse on the field because each was speaking in their native languages. “That was the coolest part,” they said. Noting because most understood English, they added USA-2 “had no secrets.”
USA-2 did, however, sport the youngest roster as many other clubs comprised adult players mostly over 30 years old.
“We definitely were one of the younger teams,” Ryan said. “We had a great team, but the Polish team was also very good. But I think our players can play for a long time and be competitive.”
No matter the level of soccer, Hasco is competitive.
After scoring both goals in USC’s 2-1 victory in the 2015 PIAA state championship game and garnering every accolade, including Player of the Year, All-state and All-America acclaim, the 21-year-old midfielder matriculated to Penn State. Because soccer started to become “all-consuming” and she didn’t want to play as a pro, Hasco eventually transferred to Cal-Davis to continue her studies in design.
“I hit a point at Penn State where I wasn’t having a well-rounded college experience,” Hasco said. “The level at Penn State is so intense,” she added of the soccer program that produced two World Cup champions in Alyssa Neaher and Ali Krieger. “Soccer was becoming my life.”
So Hasco more than welcomed the chance to reunite with former teammates to play in the Steel City World Cup. She was enthused about playing with her friends again when she received a text message from Bernhardt to participate.
“I was an amazing experience, especially the championship,” Hasco said. “We played our WPIAL final at Highmark, so that brought back so many memories. I never thought I would play there again, so that was crazy. To play under the Highmark lights is always a pleasure.”
So is scoring goals. Hasco ranked among the team’s top scorers along with Mertz and Sibley. The trio racked up more than 10 tallies in the tournament. Hasco also scored one of the critical goals in the championship mark, immediately after subbing into the contest.
“Leave it up to Robbie Mertz to make a big move,” she said with a chuckle.
Making moves against men on the pitch never bothered Hasco. She’s accustomed to playing coed soccer.
“I usually seek out men’s leagues to play against because they are more fast-paced and more physical,” she said. “We’ve played pick-up games with boys since high school. They’re fun to play, and you improve so much. This event,” she added, “was so special because I got to play again with my friends. It was an amazing experience.”
Hasco was also impressed with the regions diversity and how her sport unites.
“It’s amazing how diverse Pittsburgh is and how people come together through soccer. Soccer is such a unifier for all ages and demographics,” she said. “I hope to see this event continue to grow. Without a doubt, if I am in Pittsburgh next summer, I’ll do this again because it was such an amazing experience.”