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WHAT WE LEARNED – US OPEN EDITION: Vincent's Magical Season Continues, Defense Rock Solid; USL Dominates NASL

The Riverhounds back line was rock solid in their US Open Cup victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday.  (Photo Courtesy of @TKOPhotos and Pittsburgh Riverhounds)

The Riverhounds back line was rock solid in their US Open Cup victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday. (Photo Courtesy of @TKO_Photos and Pittsburgh Riverhounds)

A few days after the Open Cup match between the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Tampa Bay Rowdies — and I wanted to be sure to offer some more insights of Wednesday night’s third round win by the home side.  Some say it was one of the biggest wins in franchise history (a fun column and debate for another day), but it certainly was a positive outcome for the Riverhounds who now have a date with the D.C. United in mid-June at Highmark Stadium.
As the game wore on Wednesday night, the intensity between the sides increased as it became clear that one goal would very likely be the difference.  It got chippy and it became a physical at times, and the Riverhounds were pressing forward.   However, despite sending 17 shots — setting up 11 corner kicks, seeing one shot ricochet off the post in the first half — they were unable to get one past the Rowdies for nearly 90 minutes in the third round U.S. Open Cup match.
With a team that’s played four games in 11 days, Hounds Head Coach Mark Steffens was just hoping for some late magic.
And sure enough, as the P.A. announcer was telling the crowd that there would be three minutes left in stoppage time, Rob Vincent received a ball from Tyler Pasher, got past a few Rowdies midfielders, almost stumbled, but kept his feet — then sent a shot past Matt Pickens.
“Every time Robbie gets the ball in attacking half — I say — shoot Robbie, shoot,” said Steffens after the game.
Thanks to the late magic from Vincent, the Riverhounds advance to the fourth round for a date to host Major League Soccer’s current leading team, the D.C. United on June 17.
Coming off an impressive win at Richmond, the Riverhounds continued the momentum as one of the seven third-division USL teams to defeat second-division North American Soccer League teams. Talk about bragging rights. (more on this below).
Another anecdote: the Riverhounds are now unbeaten in five U.S. Open Cup matches at Highmark Stadium since it opened in 2013.

  • May 2013 – 2nd Round: RWB Adria – 2-2 (5-3 PKs)
  • May 2014 – 2nd Round: NY Red Bulls U23’s, 3-0 / 3rd Round: RWB Adria, 3-2 (OT)
  • May 2015 – 2nd Round: West Virginia Chaos, 3-0 / 3rd Round: Tampa Bay Rowdies, 1-0

It seemed like the monumental win was enough for a special U.S. Open edition of “What We Learned.” Here are three things I took from the festivities at Highmark Stadium…

A magical season includes eight total goals in all competitions for Rob Vincent in 2015. (Photo Courtesy of Pittsburgh Riverhounds)

A magical season includes eight total goals in all competitions for Rob Vincent in 2015. (Photo Courtesy of Pittsburgh Riverhounds)

Rob Vincent is on a special run right now. When he was scoring goals with regularity in the preseason, it didn’t seem like a big deal. Then, on opening night, in the Keystone Derby, he scored twice, but his teammate Kevin Kerr had the hat trick.
But with each game, with each opportunity with room to shoot, Vincent has been almost automatic. And the goals keep coming.
What makes Vincent even more dangerous is his versatility. Steffens can move him around to a variety of positions, depending on the situation. For example, in the Open match against West Virginia, Vincent played more of a holding midfield role — and yet Kevin Kerr still found him for the game’s opening goal from the top of the box. This might be making it a bit more difficult for teams to mark the Liverpool, England native with just one defender. Vincent can move to the top of the attack at forward, but also continue to play in the left wing when the Riverhounds are attacking in the 4-2-3-1 formation, where he’s really flourished this season.
Vincent still remains near the top of the USL with six goals, and now two in the Open Cup, have brought his total in all competitions to eight.
Jose Angulo was the USL MVP in 2013 for the Riverhounds with a then record 15 goals. If Vincent keeps up this pace, he might have a chance to get close to Angulo’s lofty mark. We’ll have to see, as it’s a long season, but at this rate he’s playing at a level where he can do it.
After some shaky outings, giving up six goals to NY Red Bulls II and Charleston, the Riverhounds defense has become a rock solid unit the past three games, surrendering just one goal.
It’s been a collective effort mostly with a first-year goalkeeper Ryan Hulings, and a back line anchored by Anthony Arena and Willie Hunt as the center backs, and combination of outside backs that include Pasher, Matt Dallman and Mike Green, the Riverhounds are developing more continuity and are playing much better. Dallman sat out Wednesday’s games, and Fejiro Okiomah has been nursing a hamstring injury. Sterling Flunder and Drew Russell have seen spot minutes as well.
Steffens said that with as many injuries as his team has had, it’s been a great sign that his defense is playing better — and alluded to the fact of having the core group playing a lot of minutes together in the past two weeks has helped build better communication and chemistry.
It was a rough day for the Rowdies and their league -- NASL.  (Photo courtesy of TKO_photos and Pittsburgh Riverhounds)

It was a rough day for the Rowdies and their league — NASL. (Photo courtesy of TKO_photos and Pittsburgh Riverhounds)

This winter, when the USL formally announced that they were in partnership with Major League Soccer — and would be expanding to 24 teams, it seemed like a pretty ambitious plan. They also boldly pronounced that they were going to be pushing toward division two status in the U.S. professional men’s soccer pyramid. But already in second division here in the US, we have the North American Soccer League, with 11 teams. The USL introduced a new website, new logo — and using the hashtag/catchphrase #USLRising in a lot of their recent promotions.
On Wednesday, we witnessed first-hand, USL rising past NASL.
It was pretty stunning to see that when the two leagues finally met head-to-head on Wednesday night in the third round of the Open Cup, that the USL teams advanced past NASL teams in every single one of their seven match-ups.
This is no misprint. Every single match!  A clean sweep by the USL.
In addition to Pittsburgh’s win over Tampa Bay the other USLvsNASL results included:

  • USL mainstays Richmond over Jacksonville and Charleston defeated Fort Lauderdale,
  • Expansions teams Austin, Louisville and Charlotte beat the Indy Eleven, Carolina Railhawks and San Antonio Scorpions.
  • Another new USL franchise, St. Louis F.C. edged Minnesota United on PKs.

NASL’s did have two teams advance (NY Cosmos and Atlanta) against amateur clubs.
Oh, but it gets worse for NASL.
In the FIFA scandal story that’s rocked the world headlines on Wednesday, NASL Chairperson Aaron Davidson was arrested as part of the United States Department of Justice’s sting against high ranking FIFA executives and other individuals for their alleged corruption, racketeering, and other charges.  He has since been suspended by FIFA.
Yeah — it was a pretty bad day for the 2nd Division.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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