To say Joe Farrell’s return to his home state after an offseason trade to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds has been a productive one would be a huge understatement.
The Blue Bell, Pa. native lifted the second USL Championship Players’ Shield of his career on Saturday night after a 2-0 win for the Riverhounds over the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“The success that we've had as a team this year has been really great,” Farrell said in a recent phone interview. “We had a really good Open Cup run where we knocked off two MLS sides and that fueled us to make a very serious run in the league.”
The 29-year-old was traded in the offseason after five seasons in Phoenix, where he won the shield in 2019. The move brought him closer to family - frequent visitors now to Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh - and also reunited him with Carlisle native Bob Lilley. Lilley was Farrell’s head coach as a rookie in 2016 with the Rochester Rhinos.
Farrell started at center back in the Riverhounds’ first U.S. Open Cup “cupset” - a 1-0 win over New England - and started in the 3-1 loss to FC Cincinnati that ended their magical run. He’s been a regular in the starting lineup through the regular season with 26 appearances and 1,492 minutes logged in league play.
“I knew coming here to Pittsburgh I’d be part of a very solid team,” Farrell said. “That's all you can ask for as a professional athlete, you want to be on a winning team playing meaningful games.”
With the Players’ Shield secured, the Riverhounds will get home field advantage through to the final. After winning the shield for the first time, the Riverhounds are after their first championship and the first for a professional USL team from Pennsylvania since the Harrisburg City Islanders won the USL Championship in 2007.
For Farrell, the chance to still be playing professional has been a fulfillment of a journey filled with a strong work ethic and mentality for a player who was a little under the radar at times growing up in and around the game.
“Working my tail off every day has allowed me to be successful,” Farrell said.
Prior to playing for his dad in college - long-time La Salle head coach and ODP coach Pat Farrell - Joe played at Philadelphia Soccer Club and FC Delco along with Eastern Pennsylvania and regional Olympic Development Program teams. He won a pair of Eastern PA state cups with PSC Coppa and a regional championship at the U16 level. He won a regional ODP title in 2011.
“Not being the most technical or the fastest on any team but being a hard worker and communicating positively with all my teammates and all the guys, I think that gains respect,” Farrell said. “I think that let me not only at La Salle get my foothold but everywhere I’ve been since.”
Known by his teammates when he played in Phoenix by the simple nickname “Philly,” Farrell has proudly worn his hometown pride and the blue collar work ethic that goes with it on his sleeve since leaving home to start his pro career in Rochester. His trust of the process both as a Philly sports fan and as a pro has served him well.
“I look to keep my mindset as stable as possible,” Farrell said. “Not getting too high when things are going well or too low when things are bad.”
Part of Farrell’s approach is to not celebrate too much the success the Riverhounds have already had this season. But with one regular season game left and the regular season title wrapped up, the focus shifts now to an expected deep run in the post-season.
Playing at home will certainly be a boost. They set a regular season record for attendance with more than 6,000 fans their last home game, a 3-2 win over FC Tulsa. Farrell had his third goal of the season in the game.
“I want to give our front office credit, they’ve been doing a great job packing out Highmark Stadium this season,” Farrell said. “The Steel Army and all of the fans have been there through good weather and bad weather creating a raucous environment. I think it’s a pretty tough place to go in as an away team and play.”
The USL Championship playoffs will kick off on October 21 and run through to the championship on November 13. The Riverhounds know they’ll be home throughout but will find out their opponent after the conclusion of the regular season this Saturday.
Photo Credits: Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies