What a night for Kevin Kerr and Rob Vincent.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds third-year players sparked a commanding 5-2 opening night win over their interstate rivals, Harrisburg City Islanders, at a very chilly Highmark Stadium.
Kerr tallied a hat trick, while Vincent had two goals, and two assists, as they took advantage of mistakes by their opponents, but also had a few spectacular strikes that gave the Hounds their first three points of the season, and a leg up in their Keystone Derby series.
“It was just one of those nights,” said Kerr. “I rarely get one, but to get three, it was a bit of a surprise. I’m going to enjoy this.”
It was also a sparkling debut for new Riverhounds coach, and USL Hall of Famer, Mark Steffens.
“We really couldn’t have scripted it any better,” said Steffens. “Our game plan was to come out and press hard. We did that really well in the first 15 minutes.”
The Hounds didn’t waste anytime scoring, as they came out rolling in the early stages of the first half — capitalizing on mistakes by Harrisburg’s back line.
Vincent took advantage of a golden opportunity in the 4th minute, intercepting a poorly played ball between Harrisburg defenders near midfield.
“The ball was bouncing around in the middle. (I) Didn’t really see at first. But you know, if you play it into that space where it was, it’s going to be a dangerous ball,” said Vincent. “And, I was able to get to it.”
Vincent had plenty of space — and he to made a run for the box right up through the center of the final third, and Harrisburg’s Nick Noble came out to deflect ball away. But Vincent was able to collect the ball as it bounced to the right of the goal, and found an opening past
Noble who was still trying to get back to the goal.
Vincent wasn’t done.
In the 11th minute, from his left side of midfield, he sent a long ball over the top, the right side, just inside the box, where Kerr was trying to shake off Neil Shaffer. While Shaffer fell, Kerr was able to stay on his feet and send ball past Noble for the 2-0 lead.
“At that point, we took the press off a bit, and it cost us,” said Steffens.
Zach Pfeffer cut the lead in half in the 21st minute after receiving a through ball — as there was some miscommunication among the Riverhounds defenders — and Pfeffer easily beat Ryan Thompson.
Thompson came up with two big saves in the first half — one on a bending shot by Yann Ekra in the early stages, then in the 44th minute, came out of the goal to prevent Dzenan Catic from getting a shot off on a breakaway.
In the second half, the Riverhounds seized the momentum once again.
“We put the press back on, and it really changed things for us,” added Steffens.
In the 52nd minute, Kerr received a ball near the top of the circle, took four touches in evading a couple of defenders, and ripped a shot to the left of the goal that Noble didn’t have a prayer of stopping.
It was a highlight reel shot.
With a 3-1 lead, in the 64th minute, Hounds defender Anthony Arena looked like he made a great tackle to win the ball just outside the box, but he was booked for having his studs up.
It was Harrisburg’s best chance to close the gap, and make things interesting, but Ekra’s free kick deflected off the Riverhounds’ wall, and danger was averted for the home side.
Thompson was shaken up in the 67th minute, in hard collision, but got up and remained in the game.
The Riverhounds kept pressing, and again, Kerr and Vincent would put the City Islanders away for good in the 77th minute.
Vincent found Kerr with a nice through ball, exposing an opening in the Harrisburg back line. As Noble came out to make a play on the ball, Kerr darted to his left, and put the ball into the open goal for his first hat trick of his professional career, and a commanding 4-1 lead.
“Kevin’s good at finding his space, I just put it there, and Kevin did the rest,” said Vincent.
The Hounds conceded a goal a few minutes later when defender Fejiro Okiomah took down Garrett Pettis in the box.
Pettis converted on his penalty kick, driving a ball past a lunging Thompson, to draw Harrisburg to within two goals in the 82nd minute.
But, in a fitting ending to the game, Vincent had a brilliant strike of his own. From the top of the right side of the box, while moving to his right, he somehow managed to send a ball to the left side of the goal to put the icing on the cake for the Riverhounds 5-2 win.
“Some of the goals they scored were unbelievable,” said Steffens. “I am really proud of the guys, it was a great way to start the season.”
— The starting eleven that Steffens penciled in included: Thompson (GK), Arena, Okiomah, Sterling Flunder, Mike Green, Vincent, Kerr, Stephen Okai, team captain Danny Earls, Lebo Moloto and Miro Cabrilo.
— Two players who the Hounds recently picked up, Willie Hunt and Vini Dantas came on in the second half for Cabrilo and Flunder.
— Kerr had the first Riverhounds hat trick since Jose Angulo scored a hat trick at Real Salt Lake Reserves last July. It’s safe to say that Kerr would be a leading candidate for USL player of the week.
— Steffens implored a 4-3-2-1 allignment, with Kerr and Vincent on the wings/flanks. Two new players, Moloto and Okai, along with Earls, central midfielders, were quiet in the scoring column, but were efficient in winning balls and creating a lot of pressure on the Harrisburg midfield.
— After a soft opening weekend last week, the USL began play this weekend. The Riverhounds jump into a three-way tie for second place, with Louisville FC and Toronto FC.
— The Riverhounds return to action on Saturday, April 4, at Highmark Stadium, against another regional rival, Rochester Rhinos, who began their campaign this weekend with a tie at Red Bull Arena against NY Red Bull II.