(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since originally being published on Pittsburgh Soccer Report on April 13, 2017)
Eight years ago today marked the first Riverhounds regular season game ever played at Highmark Stadium.
I remember how excited many of us that had been part of the soccer community in Pittsburgh for many years were when Highmark Stadium finally opened to provide a visible and viable home for the world’s most popular sport in our region.
The Keystone Derby rivals, Harrisburg City Islanders, were the Hounds first opponents on that momentous date in Pittsburgh Soccer history.
To commemorate that day, we’ve re-posted below my original game story (at the time for Pittsburgh Sports Report), on April 13, 2013.
In addition, in my book, Miracle on the Mon, you can read in more of the back story about the origins and early years of Highmark Stadium.
Hounds Open Highmark Stadium
FROM PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT (APRIL 13, 2013)
Before a lively sellout crowd, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds christened Highmark Stadium in heartbreaking fashion, losing 2-1 to the Harrisburg Islanders on a one-time volley off the left foot of Lucky Mkasono in the 90th minute.
“We had a bad clearance, couldn’t quite get it out of there,” said Justin Evans, Riverhounds head coach.
“It’s something that we’ll get corrected going forward, but it was a tough way to lose.”
For most of the match, the Riverhounds had the better of play. They had their way up and down the flanks, playing balls wide and creating chances with crosses and setting up corner kicks.
“That’s the way we want to play. Use our speed on the outside and keep putting pressure on our opponents,” Evans said.
After a scoreless first half, the Riverhounds finally capitalized after two second half substitutions who would combine on a terrific goal on a cross in the 69th minute.
Midfielder Matthew Dallman, pushed and pinned deep into the corner, who still managed to get a cross away and perfectly into the box for Jose Angulo to head it in for the first goal ever in Highmark Stadium.
“It almost didn’t happen,” Evans chuckled. “Jose was having trouble getting his shoes on, but he was able to get in the game. Thank goodness because it was a fantastic goal.”
The goal by Angulo, a Columbian-American who grew up in New Jersey, who has played previously for the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer (MLS), whipped the already lively crowd into a frenzy, led by the Riverhounds Steel Army loyal group of fans who have songs, chants, heckle the opposing team.
The lead would be short lived.
In the 79th minute, the Islanders evened things up as Harrisburg forward Sainey Touray broke past the Riverhounds right side of the defense and put one right through the legs of Riverhounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap.
“That was a tough one. That was a counter attack and our defense wasn’t tight enough in transition,” Evans said. “We got beat on the right shoulder.”
The Riverhounds only had three minutes of extra time to try to even things up after the stunning goal in the 90th minute. They had a few good chances and one questionable call on a potential handball in the box on a Harrisburg defender that the official chose to let play go on.
Although the loss was a tough one for the Riverhounds, it was a momentous night for a soccer franchise that has been in relative obscurity since its first season in 1999. With nearly 4,000 fans in a fantastic new facility, the Riverhounds had a special ribbon cutting ceremony before the game that included numerous Western PA political and corporate leaders who helped with the private financing of the new stadium — which one of the dignitaries boasted as “The Miracle on the Monongahela.”
There was a live band, black and gold scarf give-away — and what appears to be some momentum that could carry over to help the team build a stronger fan base.
“Our ownership has really stepped up and brought in some good players, and we believe this is going to be a very positive season. The new guys are bringing a higher level of competition for spots,” said Evans. “We’ve just got to find some chemistry and I am confident we will be able to do that.”
The result didn’t dampen the spirit of Evans, his players and the front office staff which stuck around signing autographs for fans well after the post-game fireworks extravaganza.
“It was a terrific night for soccer in Pittsburgh. A great night for our organization,” said Evans. “It’s just too bad we had to lose.”