“It’s more than just football, there is a foundation here to build on.”
Dundee legend Barry Smith is set to broaden his horizons by taking on soccer across the pond.
The club he has been appointed head coach at, Pittsburgh City United, is unique in its approach.
And that is what enticed the 47-year-old to test himself in a new league, a new country and one with a completely different football environment.
Not only are the newest club in Pittsburgh looking to entertain with their play on the pitch, owner Michael Anton Monsour is determined to use the club as a force for good.
From his work in healthcare in the US, the UPSL side’s chief has pledged to donate 50% of the club’s profits to Alzheimer’s Association thanks to an official tie-in with the charity.
All players will also wear protective headgear, much like the cap donned by former Chelsea and Arsenal goalie Petr Cech following his fractured skull.
For former Dundee player and manager, Smith, the chance to play his part in helping fund studies into links between football and degenerative brain diseases was one he couldn’t turn down.
He revealed he’s had first-hand knowledge of the effects of dementia through family members.
Connection between dementia and football
Having left his coaching stint at Dumbarton last season where he helped another Dens Park legend Jim Duffy in keeping the Sons in League One, Smith says it’s the right time for a major change.
“The main thing that spoke to me was the approach the franchise are taking with their links to the Alzheimer’s Association,” said Smith.
“A lot of new franchises just start up in the US but this one has a real foundation to it, something to build on.
“The commitment to the Alzheimer’s Association and helping the healthcare workers around Pittsburgh, something the owner is passionate about, sets it apart from the rest.
“That’s the reason I accepted the job.
“I love coaching football but to do that while at the same time raising awareness and money for a worthwhile cause immediately made me say yes.
“There definitely has to be research done into how much connection there is between football, head injuries and Alzheimer’s or dementia.
“And the club is committed to helping with that.
“I saw first-hand with my grandparents how awful dementia can be. It is a horrible disease to watch someone you love go through.
“We’ve already seen in Dundee with Frank Kopel and the work his family have been doing to fund research into what happened to Frank.
“If I can help bring more studies or anything into it, that’s worthwhile.”
Time short but ambitions high
Pittsburgh City United are only two months old as a football club so Smith has a huge task on his hands to fill his squad – or roster – for the season starting in just a few weeks
Having to wait for his work visa to come through US Immigration means he’s been having to work over video link.
However, players are being added and ambitions are high.
The club are also working to develop their own facilities with a new stadium mooted in Monroeville, 10 miles east of Pittsburgh.
It is official former Scottish Premiership Manager and Dundee FC Legend Barry Smith is our New Head Coach. #upsl #ussoccer #fifa #scottishfootball #pittsburghcityunitedfc #legend #alzheimersassociation pic.twitter.com/hfN8ZkJPT0
— Pittsburgh City United FC (@pittcityunited) July 19, 2021
City United will initially play at neighbouring side Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ 5,000 seater stadium. They play in the USL Championship, the tier below top-flight MLS.
And will go into the Premier Division of the United Premier Soccer League, the fourth tier of American soccer, a regional league made up of more than 300 clubs.
“In terms of the football, or soccer I should say, we have to start from the ground up,” Smith added.
“I’ve always taken on challenges in my career as a manager and this is no different. At the stage I am at, this is a great opportunity to go and build something from scratch.
“The owner has said to me it’s completely up to me how we structure the football side of things.
“We start in a month and have to sign a whole squad so there’s not a huge amount of time.
“We have some players signed and have had a look at a few more already.
“The league the club is in the fourth tier but the owner wants to progress and that’s important to me too.
“If it doesn’t happen for whatever reason, then at least we’ve raised awareness and, hopefully, some money for the Alzheimer’s Association so it is win-win.”