It’s been a monumental week in sports in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins won the Stanley Cup on Sunday — and celebrated with a record-breaking parade on Wednesday.
The 116th U.S. Open has provided the ultimate challenge for the best golfers in the world.
And yes — the Pittsburgh Riverhounds picked up a win — on a night where they had a their largest crowd of the season enjoying Star Wars themed festivities — they may have found a new hope to what has been a bleak 2016 campaign.
STRONG START SETS TONE FOR BRANDT’S FIRST WIN
“Getting a win was the most important thing,” said team captain Kevin Kerr.
The Riverhounds (2-7-3,9 pts) came out attacking — and finally picked up the first win in four tries for new coach Dave Brandt.
It was also the second win in the last three home games and helps them avoid being relegated to the USL’s Eastern Conference basement, where Montreal has resided all season.
Things to build on.
Kerr scored in the 18th minute, on a nice through ball that split the FC Montreal back line.
“That’s about the easiest goal I’ll score all year,” quipped Kerr, on scoring his first goal of the season.
The Hounds gave one back, as center back Karsten Smith had a little trouble keeping possession of a ball played his way near the top of the box in the 25th minute.
Montreal’s Anthony Jackson-Aamel took advantage, taking the ball away from Smith, then delivering a shot that just beat a diving Mauricio Vargas inside the right post.
The Hounds responded right away as they came out playing hard and with passion. In fact, as the game was getting ready to start, Brandt was in the huddle, looking like an (American) football coach getting his players fired up.
“That’s been lacking with this group,” said Brandt.
“We need passion. That’s one of the key things. We can’t go only on that, but whether it comes from me or the guys, we need to come out playing well every game.”
Corey Hertzog received a lofting ball that sailed over the Montreal back line from Mike Green, took one bounce, then he delivered a terrific one-time left-footed volley into the right side for his fourth goal of the season.
OUTSIDE BACKS GETTING FORWARD
Where has this been all season?
Some key line-up changes included Brandt and his coaching staff moving Willie Hunt from center back to right outside back — and adding a returning Marshall Hollingworth, who had been out since May 14 with concussion, to the left outside back spot.
“I think this is a result of some of the things we want to accomplish,” said Brandt.
“This is what Marshall does really well for us. We also moved Willie outside and he was able to do some really good things too.”
And early in the first half, the Hounds, playing in a flexible 4-3-3, started using both outside backs to make runs forward. Both were effective in sustaining deeper attacks into the box, and setting up corner kicks.
In the previous three games under new coach Dave Brandt, the Hounds failed to set up one first half corner kick.
On Saturday, they set up four corners in the first half alone.
The back line that included Hollingsworth, Hunt along with the center back tandem of Smith and Sergio Campbell, played solidly, especially in the second half, when the Hounds had to absorb some pressure from Montreal.
In addition, Green and Kerr were the workhorses in the middle of the field, helping keep possession — and contributing to what appeared to be the Hounds sharpest performance of the season in the attack, especially in the first half.
In the second half, the Hounds spent more time defending — and held on the for the win that keeps their hopes for a turn-around season alive.
THOMPSON BROTHERS HAVE IMPACT
In the past week, the Hounds acquired two new players, brothers Jack and Nick Thompson, and they both had an impact on the match.
The Thompson brothers hail from the same college as Brandt, Division III Messiah (PA) College, and both have had played at this level. However, Nick has been coaching in recent years, having not played since 2011, and Jack last played in 2015 for the Charlotte Independence.
With the Hounds in a 4-3-3, Jack featured in the left attacking spot.
His pinpoint through ball to Kerr gave the Hounds the important early lead.
Nick came into the match in the 70th minute, about six minutes after his brother was substituted after a solid, workmanlike performance.
The younger, and bigger Thompson played in the central midfield, and brought a physical presence. In fact, he was issued a yellow card for a foul within minutes of coming into the game.
Playing with the lead, in the 85th minute, he made a nice touch to let a ball played through to Alex Harlley at the top of the box. Harlley’s shot sailed slightly over the bar — and the crowd thought he had scored as it hit the netting right about the goal.
Thompson also had another foul that could have drawn another card, but was fortunate.
The biggest impact the Thompson brothers have — or at least why they’ve been brought in — is that they are players who really understand what Brandt is trying to accomplish.
So far, so good.
Next up will be an always difficult road trip to Rochester, on Saturday, June 25, where the Hounds have only won once in their entire 16-year history of the series between the teams. Then they will renew the Keystone Derby, playing City Islanders FC in the annual Fourth of July game at Highmark Stadium.