2017 Meet the Underdogs: Tartan Devils don’t have to win “pretty” to represent Pittsburgh in US Open Cup

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  • May 7, 2017

Tartan Devils Oak AvalonTartan Devils Oak Avalon came about as a creation of two local soccer teams that were hoping to come together to field a more competitive team in a local open division league.

Three years after sitting around in a local pub to form this alliance, they have become a local juggernaut in the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League (GPSL), and they’re now preparing to take part in the oldest cup competition in United States soccer – Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

Tartan Devil Oak Avalon will travel to the Greater Louisville metro area on Wednesday, May 10 to take on Premier Development League (PDL) side Derby City Rovers in the first round of the 104th edition of the US Open Cup.

Members of Tartan Devils Oak Avalon club never fathomed that this opportunity would come their way, but they are certain of one thing, they are proud of where they come from — and play in a way that is emblematic of Western Pennsylvania’s blue collar roots.

“We’re hard nosed. We’ll run straight through you,” said E.J. McCormick, vice captain of Tartan Devils Oak Avalon (TDOA).

The Tartan Devils celebrate their second goal against Aromas Cafe FC in the second round of the 2017 US Open Cup qualifying tournament. Photo: Tartan Devils Oak Avalon

The Tartan Devils celebrate their second goal against Aromas Cafe FC in the second round of the 2017 US Open Cup qualifying tournament. Photo: Tartan Devils Oak Avalon

“You can do all the fancy stuff. We’re going to take it and then we’re going to score — and you’re going to lose. That’s our style. It doesn’t have to be pretty — but we really are a ‘Pittsburgh’ soccer team,” added McCormick.

This no frills approach has been a formula for success for a group of players made up entirely of former local college standouts at schools like Pitt, Duquesne, Robert Morris, California, Geneva, Penn State and Seton Hill among others.

In 2015, they got their first taste of the US Open Cup qualifying competition, losing to Virginia-based club Aromas Cafe, 3-1.

That first experience, driving all the way to Virginia, and having only 14 players, and having a couple injured early in the match, was tough,” said club president John Battersby. “But now, we have a different attitude, everyone’s really commitment and excited about this opportunity that’s now in front of them.”

This past October, they finally broke through.

This time, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon were the hosts in a rematch at Rooney Field at Duquesne University. After receiving a first round bye, they avenged last year’s qualifying loss to Aromas Cafe with a 3-1 win to earn the Devils’ first-ever US Open Cup berth.

The Pittsburgh-based club advanced on the strength of two Travis MacKenzie goals to help the Devils become the first open division amateur club from Western Pennsylvania to qualify since 1992.

“It’s pretty exciting for us,” added McCormick. “A lot of us are 27, 28 [years old]– even some 30 or older, so we haven’t played in a meaningful, in a broader sense, games like this probably since we were in college. It’s been quite a while.”

MacKenzie, a former Duquesne University standout, who had a stint with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, usually roams near the top of the attack as part of a group that Battersby believes has talent, and all the intangibles that it takes for a team to make a run in the US Open Cup.

“They’ve been successful in the [GPSL] and in other competitions, basically because they know how to win,” said Battersby. “It may not be pretty, but when they step foot on the field, they play with a sheer determination to win.”

With a victory over the Derby City Rovers, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon would be the first amateur team from Western PA to win a U.S. Open Cup game in the Modern Era (1995-present).

Western Pennsylvania has a rich history in the US Open Cup, especially in the 1940s and 1950s. During those two decades, eight Pittsburgh-area teams reached the final with four of them lifting the trophy: Gallatin Sport Club (1942), Morgan Strasser (1949), and the Harmarville Hurricanes (1952, 1956).

“It’s exciting to have this opportunity. We know it only takes one game, and we have goal in mind — to win and have a chance to host a game against a pro team right here in Pittsburgh,” said McCormick, eluding to a possible second round date against USL’s Louisville City FC on May 17 at Highmark Stadium.

While McCormick, Battersby and the club members would have really cherished an opportunity to play against the local USL team, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, whom they are often seen supporting at Highmark Stadium, they are equally motivated to host an Open Cup game against a pro side.

“A couple years ago we were sitting around putting this together in a bar,” said McCormick. “Now, through trial and error, we pushed it further and further. And, look, he we are in the first round proper in the same tournament with USL, NASL and MLS teams.

“It’s quite an achievement. Let’s just see where it takes us.”