Having Hunter Gilstrap as a coach is a player’s dream. Gilstrap is a man who has seen it all as a player, having played in the USL, NASL, and even the South African Premier Soccer League. He’s gotten the job done as a coach with experience at the college, professional, and academy level, helping countless players reach their full potential.
He can now add national team coach to his decorated resume after serving on the staff of the U.S. Under-14 Boys’ National Team camp in Portland, Oregon earlier this month. It’s an exciting time for the Riverhounds Pro Team Goalkeeper Coach and the Academy Director of Goalkeeping.
The Hunter Gilstrap story starts as a top collegiate goalkeeper at both Clemson University and the College of Charleston (SC). It continued with an 11-year professional career, making 171 total appearances.
His time as a pro began in 2006, as he was drafted by USL-1 side Miami FC. He would go to the Cleveland City Stars of USL-2 the following season. Gilstrap experienced notable success with the City Stars, becoming a fan favorite and leading them to a USL-2 championship in 2008. In total, he spent three seasons with the Stars marking 42 appearances.
He would play for Maritzburg United F.C. of the South African Premier Soccer League during the 2008-09 offseason. His first stint with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds began officially in 2010 in a season that saw him win USL-2 Goalkeeper of the Year and be voted First Team All-League. Gilstrap remained with Pittsburgh until after the 2014 season, where he competed for the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL for a year. In total, he made nine appearances for the RailHawks, while also going on loan to the Charlotte Independence. Gilstrap returned to Pittsburgh for the 2016 season, making nine starts on the year before announcing his retirement in September of that same year.
Gilstrap was a massively popular and talented player; it should come as no surprise that he drew interest from a number of MLS clubs and even a team in the Indian Super League.
The Asheville, NC native has an equally impressive coaching resume, especially for someone who just finished playing professionally less than a year ago. He already has high-profile gigs with Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), and the Riverhounds under his belt.
Gilstrap easily mastered the transition from playing to coaching, calling the process “seamless” as he moved from full-time player to full-time coach. Gilstrap actually started the academy’s goalkeeping program back in 2012.
“It is about building relationships,” Gilstrap concluded. “I am fully invested in our pro team and academy. I am very excited to see it evolve. I am invested here and want to grow our organization.”
Getting to work on the national team staff was an added bonus and a dream come true for Gilstrap.
“It was a childhood goal of mine to get a national team call-up. I initially thought it was a far-off thing. It’s a reminder that hard work pays off and people do take notice.”
Talent like Gilstrap’s doesn’t go unnoticed and U.S. U-14 Boys’ National Team Clint Peay gave him the chance he had been eagerly waiting for.
The experience coaching at the national team level also helps him back home with the Hounds Academy, one of Pennsylvania’s top soccer organizations. The academy is experiencing tremendous growth and is fresh off a partnership agreement with Columbus Crew SC Academy, a move that aligns the two clubs at the youth and professional levels.
“It’s an official relationship that provides a more defined structure for identifying players,” added Gilstrap. “It will improve soccer in Western PA.”
It’s easy to see that the entire Riverhounds organization is on the rise and much of the credit goes to leaders like Gilstrap, a person you can build around. He brings great experience, impeccable character, a focus on the community, and a growth mindset to the table each and every day.
The Riverhounds are lucky to have him and Head Coach Dave Brandt agrees.
“Hunter was a great goalkeeper, but the primary trait for me about him is who he is as a person – high degree of capability personally, high degree of personal maturity and character, and that is why he is an excellent young goalkeeper coach now. I’m really pleased and really lucky to have him on my staff.”
That’s certainly a ringing endorsement from one of America’s top coaches; Brandt represents yet another person who recognized Gilstrap’s talent and because of that, all of their players are now reaping the benefits.