Note – this article is republished & updated from July 3, 2016
The Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions have Thanksgiving.
In the English Premier League, all the clubs have Boxing Day.
And now, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds have Independence Day.
For the Riverhounds – the 4th of July represents a great opportunity to get a big win before a sellout crowd.
The Hounds are building a Fourth of July pro soccer tradition, hosting a home league match for the fifth consecutive year.
This year, they face the surging Charlotte Independence, as the Hounds will look to win their third Fourth of July home game in five tries.
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’s 4th of July attendence will be among the team’s biggest of the season.
As we look forward to Tuesday’s game, lets take a look back at what were four previous memorable Fourth of July tilts at Highmark Stadium with my “Firecracker Man of the Match” for each previous game:
July 4, 2016 – VARGAS EARNS 1ST PRO SHUTOUT AS HOUNDS-CITY ISLANDERS PLAY SCORELESS DRAW
Hounds-City Islanders 0-0
Firecracker Man of the Match – Mauricio Vargas
Two struggling rivals renewed acquaintances for the first time since a riveting series in 2015 that saw 28 goals in four games. The first match between the Hounds and Harrisburg City Islanders in 2016 didn’t provide any fireworks.
On a rainy night at Highmark Stadium the teams battled to a hard-fought scoreless tie.
Despite a decent showing on the defensive side, the Riverhounds failed to get a leg up on their in-state rivals City Islanders, who would wrestle the Keystone Cup away from Pittsburgh by earning a 1-0 win later that month, then held on with 1-1 draw in Harrisburg in August.
It was the first professional career clean sheet for goalkeeper Maurcio Vargas, who made four saves.
“I was very happy to finally get a shutout. It’s feels good,” said Vargas.
While Vargas wasn’t tested as much in the first half, he got some help from his teammates and the official, Chuck Murphy.
First, late in the first half, he came sliding off the line to take a ball away from City Islanders forward Craig Foster, as he got to the ball first, Foster kicked his arm, then put the ball into the net for what appeared momentarily as a Harrisburg goal.
“I saw that it was a thru ball, and came out to make a play on the ball,” said Vargas.
“I got to the ball first, and (pointing to his arm) — he kicked me.”
Murphy ruled that Foster had kicked Vargas’ arm and the Hounds avoided a first half deficit.
Then, central defender Karsten Smith came to the rescue with this clearance…
“Our defense played well in front of me, and that was a big play,” added Vargas.
In the second half — Vargas made a pair of diving saves to deny Jose Barill — and came out strongly on a number of other dangerous crosses to help preserve the shutout.
“He (Vargas) made two big, big saves tonight for us,” Dave Brandt, Hounds coach said.
“I don’t know if we’ve been getting a lot of that from either keeper this year. It was great to see tonight.”
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 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 2017 edition of the now Annual 4th of July game.
Let the tradition continue –as we hope to see plenty of fireworks at Highmark Stadium on Tuesday prior to the Zambelli’s version.