On July 4th each year in Pittsburgh – it’s all about the fireworks.
For the Pittsburgh Riverhounds – it’s about getting a big win before a sellout crowd.
The Hounds are trying to build a Fourth of July pro soccer tradition, hosting a home league match for the fourth consecutive year.
This year, it will be a kickoff of the Keystone Derby against City Islanders FC (formerly Harrisburg City Islanders), as the Hounds will look to win their third consecutive game on the Fourth of July.
Since Highmark Stadium opened along the Mon River with a terrific view of Downtown Pittsburgh across the way, the Hounds franchise has made an annual request to the league office to make sure have a July 4 game as a staple on their schedule.
This year, with the team struggling and attendance lagging, this year’s 4th of July crowd is expected to be the team’s biggest of the season.
Maybe getting another 4th of July win will be the spark they need to ignite their season. While it will be hard to top the unforgettable series of matches played between Pittsburgh and the City Islanders last season — it’s a great way to renew the rivalry — before what will likely be a packed house at Highmark Stadium.
I’ll have more on the game in this week’s edition of Breaking Down the Hounds later.
Looking at the annual 4th of July game, it should become a fixture for a Riverhounds franchise pushing for any kind of relevancy and exposure in a busy pro sports town.
The Pirates will not be home this year (playing an away game in St. Louis), so the Hounds have the stage for themselves.
Since this is the fourth consecutive year of the July 4th game — it feels as if this game has the potential build into a fun tradition.
So, why not have a special Pittsburgh Soccer Report “Firecracker Man of the Match” award?
The small, loyal die-hard Riverhounds fan base is already making the most of the day (as you can see from the Steel Army this week as they prepare to defend the Turnpike Cup).
As we look forward to Monday’s action, lets take a look back at what were three previous memorable Fourth of July tilts at Highmark Stadium with my “Firecracker Man of the Match” for each game:
July 4, 2015 – VINCENT’s TWO TALLIES HELP DOWN RED BULLS II
Pittsburgh wins 3-0
Firecracker Man of Match: Rob Vincent
This was a no-brainer. Vincent scored his league leading 10th and 11th goals of the season and Tyler Pasher added a header from a trademark Matt Dallman cross to complete the scoring to help move the Hounds (6-5-4) into fifth place in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings past the Red Bulls II (6-6-4), ending New York’s three game win streak.
July 4, 2014 – HOUNDS BEAT ROCHESTER IN FIRST HOME WIN OF SEASON
Pittsburgh wins 2-0
Firecracker Man of Match: Andrew Marshall
Before a sellout Fourth of July crowd at Highmark Stadium, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds won their first home game of the year, defeating the Rochester Rhinos 2-0.
That 2014 team can give 2016 team some hope, as they used the 4th of July win to spark a streak that included winning eight of 11 games.
It was kind of retribution game for Marshall, as the previous 4th of July his own goal was the difference (see below), as he scored and helped anchor a defense that shut out Rochester.
The Riverhounds used the same formula in beating the Rhinos for the second time that season – by scoring second half goals from set pieces.
The goals came from two unlikely heroes, Marshall and Alfonso Motagalvan, who tallied their first goals of the season.
Goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap recorded his second shutout of the season to lead the Hounds to their second consecutive win for the first time in USL PRO league play in 2014.
July 4, 2013 – OWN GOAL ENDS HOUNDS 10-GAME UNBEATEN STREAK IN 3-2 LOSS TO MARK STEFFENS’ CHARLOTTE EAGLES
Charlotte wins 3-2
Firecracker Man of the Match: Matt Dallman
In a back-and-forth affair against the Mark Steffens’ led Charlotte Eagles, the Riverhounds took the lead twice in the first half with goals from Darren Amoo and Marshall, but the Eagles Jorge Herrara and Nate Thorton would answer just minutes later.
Dallman earns the Firecracker MOM award here as he showed why he was the USL PRO’s league leader in assists that season — setting up both Amoo and Marshall’s goals with pinpoint deliveries.
In the second half, a future Riverhound, Stephen Okai delivered a free kick into the crowded box, and it caught Marshall’s head — and deflected past Hounds keeper Gilstrap to give the Eagles a 3-2 lead that would hold up.
The Eagles win snapped the Riverhounds 10-game undefeated streak in league play — which had stretched since May. The Hounds reached the playoffs in 2013, their inaugural season playing in Highmark Stadium.
We’ll have to wait and see who will be the Firecracker Man of the Match for the 2016 Keystone Derby kickoff between two teams that combined for 28 goals in four games in 2016.
Let the tradition continue –as we hope to see plenty of fireworks at Highmark Stadium on Monday.