In Western Pennsylvania, soccer is growing exponentially.
To aid that growth, there is one individual that is helping his hometown community embrace the beautiful game and has put together an intriguing playing resume. With a hometown near Pittsburgh, Greg Blum has been active in the state playing his way through the ranks.
In 2009, Blum played a big role in the Erie Admirals’ improbable run to the NPSL National Championship, as the inaugural team ran a 9-0-1 record in the regular season and after defeating Rocket City United, lost only in extra time of the Championship match.
“Playing in Erie was a great experience,” Blum said of his time in the NPSL. “They have some great facilities up there and made it easy to get an advantage on other clubs. In addition, I was playing with some of the best players in the region and that really helped my game at that time.”
What made that club special was the collection of collegiate players from Western Pennsylvania coming together to become one of the best clubs in the country.
“Success in Erie was from the all the players coming from the same region and knowing the strengths of each other. We had the top players in the area and that chemistry helped tremendously. We lived together and bonded well.”
Greg made a splash on the Erie club and his coach took notice.
“Greg was a great asset to the club,” Erie Admirals Head Coach John Melody stated. “He was a very good goalkeeper, one with great size, strength, and presence. His distribution was fantastic.”
Not only did Greg help guide the Admirals to that championship run, but it prepared him to win the conference championship when he returned to Slippery Rock in the fall.
“I think we went beyond expectations and we got to see how hard you have to work to make it in this business. You learn about the work you have to put on the field and how you have to take care of your body on and off the field.”
Blum notes that winning the championship at Slippery Rock clearly came from the time and effort he and his teammates put in at Erie that previous summer.
“It was something looking back now that if I don’t know where I would be if I did not play in the NPSL.”
Greg also enjoys the expansion of the league and Western PA gaining a club.
“The league is getting even more competitive where I think that it can compete with other leagues in the country. It would be a good step for the players and the league if they start in the NPSL and eventually play professionally.”
One of the greatest achievements that Blum has reached is graduating from the NPSL and signing with the Pittsburgh Riverounds of USL PRO. Melody confidently said of his player, “No wonder the Riverhounds wanted to sign him.”
Once again he would share time in net, this time with Hunter Gilstrap, but the two have teamed up to create a special bond with the youth of the city.
“You always want to play in your hometown. I can remember going to Riverhounds games when I was younger and it’s nice to have professional coaches and players giving advice to kids in the area, just like we were given when we were younger. Hopefully they can see the example we give them of working hard and possibly they can make it big, too.”
The academy that the Riverhounds run has been so popular that it has grown considerably where over sixty youth players are now in the program.
“I think that it all starts with Hunter Gilstrap, my part of it is to help him and give my advice when it’s needed, but he deserves most of the credit. In the offseason I coach high school girls and I work in the academy, so coaching is all I know. I feel that I have a good knowledge of the game being a goalkeeper and want to help others gain the knowledge needed to be a better goalie.”
Blum adds that the reason that the academy is successful is that the Riverhounds teach good fundamentals first and tone their technique before branching out to the tougher aspects of playing in net. Other academies or coaches may just look at a kid and decide due to their physical features where they fit on the field and do not get the learning they need.
“We start very basic and throughout the weeks, build the techniques of the players so that they can flourish and become better athletes. We spend a lot of time on technical abilities and once they get those down they excel as a goalkeeper. We understand at a higher level that these basic skills make us better players.”
The youth of Western Pennsylvania have certainly gotten a great lesson from one of their own and it seems that they will for many years to come. Blum has enjoyed excelling at playing and teaching the sport he grew up watching and through the NPSL, he has been able to capitalize on success in the Keystone State.