Academy and SYL coach John Rotz (left) and USL Experience participant Anthony Harding / Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Anthony Harding of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ academy and Super Y League squad was one of 18 players within the SYL’s U-16 boys’ group selected for the USL Experience event in Cincinnati, and for someone who is looking to take his game to the next level, this opportunity is a fresh perspective.
“This is completely new for me,” the Hounds defender and defensive midfielder said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll teach us and see the life of a pro.”
The North Huntingdon, Pa. native is a sophomore at nearby Norwin High School and is in that mode of searching for college programs and camps run by the likes of Xavier, Notre Dame and George Mason. But the USL Experience, running Thursday through Sunday and hosted by USL expansion side FC Cincinnati, is a different dynamic. Harding and a select group of SYL players will directly connect with the professional ranks while undergoing training sessions and a match.
“The USL Experience is a great event for Anthony, and it’s a good cap to his Super Y experience and playing up in age,” said Harding’s SYL and academy coach John Rotz of the Riverhounds. “I think in terms of where he is in his college recruitment, this experience will give him a better understanding not only of the expectations of a professional but the progressions of what it takes. The whole gamut just broadens his horizons.”
Harding has been glued to the sport at an early age and now shows the type of leadership and skill to garner an extensive look at the USL Experience.
“I’ve always had a passion for the game since I was young,” Harding said. “My dad was involved and played at Robert Morris, so I have always wanted to play.”
“Anthony’s the skipper of the team and he sets the tone in training and in games, through his ability to lead by example,” Rotz said. “He’s a hard-nosed player who is not afraid to get into tackles and drive forward. … He’s just a natural leader.”
Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Riverhounds
The predominant left-footer pinpoints the need to continually improve on his technical skills, and Harding credits his SYL coach Rotz with helping extensively in this process.
“He’s probably my favorite coach that I’ve ever had,” Harding said of Rotz. “He’s always pushing me to get better, to stay up with the older kids. He’s always helping me out and getting me involved.”
“We’re looking at times to get out and develop Anthony’s game because he’s a strong left-footed player,” Rotz said. “Everybody in the game knows that left-footed players are special, and he needs to improve his small game with the right and his longer-range accuracy with the left. Those are our primary focus. He’s a talented player and we’re helping him become the player he strives to be.”
Harding, like everyone involved in this unique USL Experience, has the ambition to take the steps up the ladder toward becoming a professional.
“Hopefully in the next couple of years I will be playing in college with an academic and athletic scholarship, major in something such as business or marketing,” Harding said. “After that, I’d like to get into the PDL during college, then the USL and MLS.”
This weekend’s event will provide a good taste of what Harding hopes to fulfill down the road. The USL Experience, combined with the potential to work through the entire pathway under the Riverhounds’ system, is an opportunity that Harding appears to be taking advantage of.
“The whole model for the USL from the top on down is just great experience for players who are coming up, wanting to get better and improve their play,” Rotz said. “Hopefully here with the Riverhounds we will have that special player go through the entire model – Super Y League, PDL and USL – and that could be Anthony.”
About the USL Experience:
The USL Experience takes place Thursday through Sunday and is hosted by USL expansion side FC Cincinnati.
The USL Experience rosters were announced by the Super Y League on Feb. 26. The high-level player program directly connects the SYL’s top young players with the professional ranks. All participating players will have two training sessions and one match. Games and training sessions take place April 15 and 16 at Nippert and Gettler Stadiums at the University of Cincinnati.
Host FC Cincinnati is guided by former U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder and National Soccer Hall of Famer John Harkes.