Upper Left Echelon
Rich Costanzo is a living, breathing example of how hard work brings success in soccer. He’s a former PIAA State Champion, NCAA Division I National Champion, NCAA Big Ten Champion and Freshman of the Year, and a regular season champion of the league in which he now plays professionally for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the USL Pro.
Costanzo will be the first guy to tell you, though, that you can’t get anywhere without being open to new opportunities. Generally speaking, Costanzo seems like a pretty laid back, easy-going person in his everyday life. He’s a Pittsburgh native, born and raised in the South Hills, who got his start in soccer at age 5, when, he says, coaches started noticing that he was a standout.
“I probably realized [myself] around 12 years old that I was excelling and that I enjoyed working out and working on my game,” he says. “I loved that you could spend time on your own working at it and getting better.”
To Costanzo though, getting better means more than becoming good enough. Take his time with Western Pa.’s number one “Classic Club” and one of the nation’s top 100 youth soccer clubs, Beadling Soccer Club. Even after winning a State Championship with the club, Costanzo saw a greener pasture.
With his heart set on competing collegiately at the highest level, Costanzo joined FC Delco, a club continuously ranked in the top 10 soccer clubs in the country, and one that gives players the opportunity to compete at the highest level of national exposure.
The kicker: FC Delco is located in Greater Philadelphia – a cool five-hour drive from Costanzo’s home in Jefferson Borough.
“It’s what I needed to get the proper exposure, and luckily I had the parents that were willing to help me do that,” Costanzo says. “My mom would drive me every weekend for practice. A lot of people would get uncomfortable and say, ‘Why go all the way over there when you might not even play?’ I always feel like I try to take a chance to accomplish the goals I have in mind.”
And it worked. Costanzo went on to win the PIAA State Championship with his high school team at Thomas Jefferson in 2002, the first in the history of the school’s program. After high school, he moved on to Penn State University, where he took home Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, quickly becoming the nucleus of the team.
While at Penn State, he began training with a major league soccer club, the Columbus Crew, and during that training, he tore his meniscus, costing him his sophomore season with the Nittany Lions club.
Though the team won the Big Ten Championship that year, Costanzo, once again, had his sights set on something greater.
“It was during that rehab that I realized I wanted to go to that next level,” Costanzo says. “I wanted to be a professional soccer player and I wanted to win a National Championship. I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to accomplish those goals.”
Costanzo upgraded once again and transferred to the University of Maryland, a school with a second-to-none collegiate soccer tradition and that doesn’t settle for less than a National title. He moved from a forward to defense, and in 2008, he reached another one of his goals when the Terrapins took home an NCAA National Championship.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” he says. “Everyone’s out there competing for that title, and it’s nice that we got to say we were the best team in the country.”
The move to Maryland proved rewarding, as Costanzo went on to reach is goals of playing professionally for USL Pro Minnesota Thunder, followed by two years with the league’s Rochester Rhinos before being signed by the Riverhounds last season.
The move to Pittsburgh, in time, wound up being yet another upgrade in Costanzo’s soccer career. Not only is it rewarding for him to be back in his hometown, but most importantly to Costanzo, the move allows his family to be able to see him play much more often, much more conveniently.
“My family always followed me,” he says. “My mom came to every game I played in college no matter where I was, and even in the pro’s she came to Minnesota and Rochester almost every game. I’ll be nice for them to come to the stadium.”
“The stadium” he speaks of is Highmark Stadium, the brand new facility built for the Riverhounds in Station Square, and the flagship venue for the rise of the sport in western Pennsylvania.
“Highmark Stadium contributes relevance to the game of soccer in Pittsburgh,” says Jason Kutney, Riverhounds midfielder and member of the team’s new ownership group. “Pittsburghers see that this stadium is the result of individuals rolling up their sleeves and working hard to prove Pittsburgh is a leader in all sports, including soccer. From all accounts, this is a feeling that has never before existed in the area, and we’re honored to deliver it to an amazing city.”
On the field, Kutney values Costanzo as a teammate and acknowledges his leadership qualities.
“With Richie, it’s always better to be on his team than be going up against him,” he says. “He is a hard-working, blue-collar Pittsburgh soccer player who possesses a bite in his game that we were looking for.”
Costanzo sees the impact his team is making on the rise of the sport he loves, in the city he grew up in, too. “I think it’s definitely on the rise in western Pa., mainly because of what the Riverhounds are trying to do,” he says. “I don’t know where else they’re investing this much in soccer.”
The Riverhounds organization isn’t the only one investing in western Pennsylvania soccer. Costanzo’s work with young players through coaching and clinics in his free time is his way of investing in the future of the game.
“I’m very passionate about the sport and I want to continue to help players achieve their goals,” he says. “I was lucky enough to do what I wanted to do and I want to give back and show kids how to do things the right way so that they have a chance to excel.”
Costanzo preaches the value of hard work and resiliency – traits that he says he’s learned from his parents. He draws a blank on which professional athlete he looked up to as a kid, but when it comes to his family, you can sense the genuine appreciation in his voice.
“I have looked up to my father and mother, due to their hard work and dedication to our family, more so than any soccer player or anyone else,” he says.
One thing Rich learned from his father, Richard E. Costanzo, is how to be a good business man, and he’s applying what he’s learned to a continuation of what seems to be a common theme of “upgrades” in his life.
In his spare time, Rich, along with a friend from high school, is involved in development projects around Pittsburgh. The passion you see on the field with Rich comes out when he talks about flipping houses, too. We’re talking about a house in the South Side that they just completed and are getting ready to have an open house for, and Rich is eager to show off his hard work.
“We had to gut everything,” he says, while flipping through photos on his iPhone. “We had six-by-sixes holding up the top floors, and we took that slanted roof and made it straight across. Now, that top floor is one huge room.”
This is as excited as Rich gets during the entire interview. That is, until he starts talking about the upcoming Riverhounds season.
The team’s home opener was against the Harrisburg City Islanders on April 13 under the lights at Highmark Stadium, and Costanzo couldn’t wait.
“That’s huge,” he says. “It’s just cool. Just playing in the stadium they put right in Station Square, right across from Heinz Field.”
And then there’s the big one. June 1 at Highmark Stadium against rival club and Costanzo’s former team, the Rochester Rhinos.
Even more than the former, it’s easy to see how much Costanzo is looking forward to that one. He references a loss to them last year, but says with the offseason improvements of the team, the addition of some talent, and a brand new stage set, this year is going to be different.
“I look forward to playing them,” he says. “I want to beat them.”
You can see Costanzo replaying the game in his mind now.
“They whooped on us last year, and then I have a buddy playing for Rochester,” he says, as he pauses; seemingly game planning for June already. “Yeah, we’re looking forward to playing them.”
Three Easy Steps to Being A Riverhounds Fan in Pittsburgh
Watch The Game: Of course, you’ll want to get down to Highmark Stadium to see the game live in the best venue the USL Pro has to offer, but if you can’t make the trip, you can view games online at USL Nation, uslnation.com.
Represent: Pick up some gear on the Riverhounds’ website at riverhounds.com. We suggest Jersey #6. You can get merchandise at Highmark Stadium, as well.
Follow Along: Follow the team on Twitter (@PghRiverhounds) and stay up on league news by liking USL Pro on Facebook. Don’t forget about exclusive content available on the team’s YouTube channel, too.