On the sixth-year anniversary of the first-ever match played at Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (1-1-2) will hit its home field for the first time in 2019.
After four consecutive games on the road, the Black and Gold finally get the chance to play in Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. on Saturday against Hartford Athletic (0-5-0).
While the whole squad is amped for the home opener, the match has a special meaning for one player in particular. Rookie midfielder Robbie Mertz, a Pittsburgh native, is ready for his first professional game in his hometown.
Mertz made it over to Highmark Stadium to watch games a number of times as he was growing up. Now he has the opportunity to suit up for the Hounds and is thankful for the chance the organization has given him.
“First and foremost, I’m just blessed to be playing in my hometown and playing with these guys,” Mertz said. “Bob [Lilley] gave me the chance, and I’m really excited about that. I think there’s still a lot to prove for me and I’m excited to see what the year holds for me.
“It’s really special. I was born right across the river over there and have lived here my whole life. It’s been a really cool opportunity.”
While the rookie is excited to take in the atmosphere for the first time from a player’s perspective, the club’s returning pieces are thrilled for the first match of the season in Pittsburgh as well.
Second-year defender Thomas Vancaeyezeele echoed Mertz’s enthusiasm and looks forward to getting back in front of the home crowd.
“We’re so excited to come back here,” Vancaeyezeele said. “It’s going to be the first game of the season at home since we’ve been on the road for four straight games. It’s been kind of hard to play without our fans. We’re happy to get back here now.”
Mertz, fresh off making his professional debut last time out against Louisville City FC, mentioned he will have a number of friends and family in the crowd for Saturday night’s match.
It’s unclear if Mertz will take the field during the team’s home opener, but one thing is for certain. This year that he will spend at Highmark Stadium, right down the road from where he grew up, will be one loaded with memories for the rookie.
“I’m just hoping that for a lot of young kids from around the area looking for a chance, hopefully I can be somebody that they look up to as they strive to get to the next level and work really hard at their skills and at their craft,” Mertz said. “Hopefully they believe that this is something that they can achieve. If I can represent that, then I’m really happy about that.”