USL Soccer: Goalkeeper Ryan Thompson Brings Aggressive Style to Pittsburgh Riverhounds


Pittsburgh Riverhounds keeper Ryan Thompson looks for a teammate to pass to in a game earlier this season at Highmark Stadium. (Credit: Terry O’Neil/

SOUTH SIDE – You may have been busy last week, but you probably had nothing on Ryan Thompson.

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ new goalkeeper played three games in eight days – not an unheard-of pace for a footballer – but the extraordinary circumstances made that stretch particularly taxing.

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After helping the Hounds to victory in their USL regular-season opener on March 28 at a frigid Highmark Stadium, the 30-year-old Jamaican hopped a plane for his homeland, where he was scheduled to play for his national team in a friendly against Cuba.

Following a red-eye flight to the Caribbean and a strenuous training session the next day, Thompson took the field with the Reggae Boyz on March 30 and recorded his first international shutout in a 3-0 win.

“It’s exciting for Ryan,” said Hounds first-year head coach Mark Steffens. “Quality person, quality keeper.”

Aglow from the adrenaline of his third career cap, Thompson traveled several hours across the island the next morning to visit with family and friends, then spent the entirety of April 1 in transit back to Pittsburgh. Two practices with the Hounds later, he was back on the pitch at Station Square as the team absorbed its first loss of the young season Saturday, 2-1 to the Rochester Rhinos.

Needless to say, he treasured having Easter Sunday off.

“It was a tough result,” Thompson said of Saturday’s defeat, which was marred by an egregious officiating mistake that led to the deciding goal. “Painful result. Soccer, lovely soccer…emotional roller coaster.”

When Thompson says the setback was painful, he means it both literally and metaphorically. He had to be tended to by athletic trainer Alan Harper on two occasions – one after landing on his side after leaping for a bouncing ball, and another when a shot drilled him in the head as he charged out of the net.

The first incident can be seen at the 30-second mark of the following video:

Central defender Anthony Arena has had just a few weeks to get used to playing in front of Thompson, but he already has a grasp on his new keeper’s hard-charging style.

“If (the ball) is within 20 yards, he’s coming and he’s coming hard, and he’s going to get it,” Arena said. “It’s comforting to have a guy like that behind you.”

Of course, if a goalie is going to be aggressive playing balls all over the penalty area, his defense has to be aware of it. On at least one occasion against Rochester, Thompson collided with one of his teammates, but for the most part the Riverhounds’ back line has performed in sync with the man between the sticks.

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  • “We were working a lot on (communication) in the preseason,” Thompson said. “We’ll aim to communicate better and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. With time, things will get better.”

    Thompson was signed in the winter after playing the 2014 season for the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League. He’s been a backup for the majority of his pro career, although he had a landmark experience with the Shamrock Rovers in 2011, when he became the first Jamaican to see action in a Champions League game.

    He went on to play in a handful of Europa League matches for that same Irish club, but was not retained by Rovers and ended up signing in Sweden for the 2012 season. After that, the former University of Tampa standout returned to the Gulf Coast of Florida to suit up for the Rowdies.

    Now he’s the man in Pittsburgh, a position he is not taking for granted. Although he returned from Jamaica in the wee hours last Thursday, he made sure to head down to Highmark Stadium for the Hounds’ morning practice session.

    “I realize it’s important to show my face here and be amongst my teammates, because we are one,” Thompson said later that day. “I gave my best. Little sore, little tired, but I’m always going to be here, working, just to show I’m committed to the cause.”

    Although young keepers Calle Brown and Ryan Hulings are slotted behind him on the depth chart, Thompson projects to be the Hounds’ No. 1 as they attempt to return to the USL playoffs. Pittsburgh (1-1-0, 3 points) plays its first road game Saturday at expansion team St. Louis F.C.

    Traditionally, goalkeepers can maintain a high level longer than outfield players, so Thompson likely has several prime years ahead of him. The Riverhounds are hoping their high-energy newcomer reinforces that trend.

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