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Hounds forging a Fourth of July tradition

Note – this article is republished & updated from July 3, 2016 & July 3, 2017.

The Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions have Thanksgiving.

In the English Premier League, all the clubs have Boxing Day.

And now, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 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 a new opponent, North Carolina FC, formerly of NASL who are new to USL this season. The Hounds will look to win their third Fourth of July home game in six 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 attendance will be among the team’s biggest of the season.

As we look forward to Wednesday’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, 2017 –  INDEPENDENCE DAY 

Charlotte 3   Riverhounds 1

The Riverhounds had few answers for a surging Charlotte Independence squad, losing 3-1 before a sellout crowd at Highmark Stadium.

“All I can say is that it was very, very frustrating night for us,” Corey Hertzog, Hounds leading scorer in 2017 who was on a scoring drought at that point of the season.

The Independence’s leading scorer, Enzo Martinez, added his team leading seventh goal of the season, pouncing on a defensive lapse by the Hounds back line for the first half lead, then Jorge Herrera scored twice in the second half.

Firecracker Man of the Match: For the Hounds, Chevy Walsh provided an eye-popping stoppage time goal to prevent the shutout.

Filmmaker Nick Milliron captured it all here on this Pittsburgh Soccer Film.

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.”


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.

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.
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.

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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