Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 3, Hartford Athletic 1
Six years to the day when Highmark Stadium made its debut, two players who played in that momentous game: Kevin Kerr and Jose Angulo stole the spotlight in an entertaining Riverhounds SC 3-1 win over expansion Hartford Athletic.
The match was played before before a record-breaking regular season crowd of 5,182 fans on Saturday night to open the seventh season of play at Highmark Stadium.
Kerr set up Steevan Dos Santos with an assist in the 14th minute, then scored in the 74th minute to break a 1-1 deadlock.
It was Angulo who leveled the contest with highlight reel finish from distance in the 55th minute that briefly stunned the Hounds.
The Hounds added another goal in the 79th minute when Dos Santos drew a foul in the box, giving Neco Brett a chance to step up and make his second penalty kick goal of the season to give the Hounds the two-goal edge that pretty much put the match out of reach.
“I think we played pretty well tonight. I tried to tell people all week that that’s a good team,” Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said. “It’s a good result. We were a little more sophisticated with the ball,and responded well in the second half. I think we had a few lapses, but overall a pretty good game. I thought it was our best game overall.”
HOUNDS TAKE CONTROL EARLY
The Hounds took command of the match in the early going.
The home side came out in an interchanging 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 formation, depending on what midfielder Kenardo Forbes was doing. If Forbes was roaming higher, Thomas Vancaeyezeele stayed back as the lone holding midfielder, who also dropped deeper between center backs Joe Greenspan and Tobi Adewole at times.
They also started Kerr, Brett and first-year pro Anthony Velarde as the attacking midfield combination with the big-bodied and nimble footed Dos Santos as the topman.
“We seemed to move the ball very well, especially in the first half,” Kerr said. “They were giving us room in that right side.”
Sure enough, with Lilley preaching patience in training all week, in the 14th minute, Kerr found an opening after the Hounds methodically worked the ball around in the final third.
Kerr used the room he had on the left side, then stopped and delivered a ball for Dos Santos.
HOW'S THIS FOR A HOME OPENER GOAL, @SantosSteevan!!! 💪 #UNLEASH | #PITvHFD pic.twitter.com/HjpjgmYejL
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) April 13, 2019
When told he had tied the record for most assists in club history,with 25, Kerr smiled.
“I never knew that,” Kerr chuckled. “It’s nice. I guess if you stay around in one place long enough you start to rack up some records.”
The Hounds pressed for a few more chances following Dos Santos’ goal, but could never capitalize, allowing Hartford with a chance to get back into the match.
Lilley pointed out Dos Santos close call only six minutes after the goal when Forbes laid a pass to the right side of the box. Dos Santos had time, and room to shoot, but elected to go low and to the near post side, and was stopped by Kempin.
The Hounds really dodged a bullet when former Rochester Rhino Alex Dixon blew past Tobi Adewole and Ryan James on the right side to the end line, and sent a dangerous ball through the goal box. Angulo was right there –but couldn’t react quick enough to redirect it past Hounds keeper Ben Lundgaard.
DON’T GIVE JOSE ANGULO ANY ROOM AT HIGHMARK STADIUM
Dos Santos and Brett did some good work early in the second half to create a opportunities.
Brett closed in the 54th minute after a beautiful build-up — and banged a shot off the crossbar.
Instead of being up 2-0, the Hounds found out the hard way that even at age 31, Angulo is still a dangerous threat from anywhere.
On the ensuing goal kick, Angulo beat Greenspan into position to get a terrific first touch to bring the ball down, then turned and booted a terrific ball that slipped under the bar, and over Lundgaard who came off his line for his 16th all-time goal at Highmark Stadium.
Oh my! @j_angulo18 levels it for @hfdathletic. #PITvHFD | #BeChampions pic.twitter.com/JpWLXQMAbr
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) April 14, 2019
“What can I say?” Angulo, who played with the Hounds in 2013 and 2014, said. “I love playing here. I know the dimensions. I think I have them memorized. Somehow the goal is always bigger for me on this field. As a striker every time you have a little space, I’m looking to score. That’s my natural instinct.”
No one knew better than his former Hounds teammate, Kerr, that Angulo was capable of changing the complexion of the match with one brilliant strike.
“As soon as it took a bounce, I knew we were in trouble,” Kerr said. “He scored many like that in training and scored so many memorable goals like that when he was here. And when he came back with St. Louis, he bagged one. I knew coming into tonight, he’s the man. And he proved it. That goal he scored was fantastic tonight.”
Suddenly the pressure of the match switched to the Hounds to come up with a response.
Hartford though, had other intentions.
They came back with a few more chances that nearly put the Hounds in a hole, including a ball played to Phillip Rasmussen right on the edge of the six-yard box that was saved by Hounds keeper, then another cross to the near post that Angulo nearly out-jumped Greenspan, but his header attempt missed.
“This is a good team, and they have players that can hurt you,” Lilley said. “It was touch-and-go there. At 1-1, they had a couple of other good looks, and we could have been trailing there. Obviously the second goal was a huge goal.”
Angulo was hoping to seize that moment.
“Once we got that goal, we got the momentum,” Angulo said. “But we let it go. As a new team, we have to learn to have that killer instinct.”
KERR FINDS ANOTHER ‘MAGICAL’ HIGHMARK MOMENT
The man who’s scored more goals than any other in the history of Highmark Stadium created another magical moment that would break the deadlock in the 74th minute.
He knew his time on the new turf was ticking away, and made the most of those final seconds.
“I looked over and saw a few subs were going to be coming on,” Kerr said. “I said to myself, I’ve only got a minute or two, so I got to get a shot.”
After being fed a nice ball from Velarde, Kerr moved in position on the top of the 18 to send a low, bending shot that beat Hartford’s keeper Jonathan Kempin.
.@KevinKerr89 puts @RiverhoundsSC ahead. 🏹#PITvHFD | #BeChampions pic.twitter.com/GI4orRb5Rf
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) April 14, 2019
“It couldn’t have worked out better,” Kerr added. “I got to a good spot, and defender was in the way of the goalie,”
Kevin’s had a good preseason, he’s looked sharp in early stages of the season. He had an assist on the first, scored on the second,” Lilley said. “He’s making good choices on the ball. I am really happy for him.”
DOS SANTOS & BRETT SEAL THE DEAL
The Hounds kept the pressure on — and Dos Santos continued to be a pest to the Hartford back line, drawing yet another foul, this time just inside the edge of the box resulting in a penalty kick.
For the second time in as many weeks, it was Neco Brett who stepped up to take the penalty.
NECO BRETT SCORES GOALS. 👌#UNLEASH | #PITvHFD pic.twitter.com/eL7mPUXM2Q
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) April 14, 2019
“I had confidence as always. It’s just part of my job to settle and take PK’s. I’m just doing my job,” Brett said.
Brett’s role from being the top man, to playing in the attacking midfield is just fine with him, and the Hounds leading scorer last year, is happy to have Dos Santos to work with.
“He’s doing a great job for us. He’s doing the dirty work. Everybody’s doing their jobs. He’s working really hard so it could be a little bit easier on the midfielders and we appreciate his work.”
That was quite the night.
Do it again next weekend?#UNLEASH
— Steel Army (@SteelArmy) April 14, 2019
Although they’re riding a two-game win streak, and they’re on a four-game unbeaten run, it won’t get any easier for the Hounds as they’ll face Eastern Conference front-runners Saint Louis FC, then Nashville SC in the coming weeks at Highmark Stadium.
“We are not afraid of anyone,” Lilley said.
Highlights from tonight's home opener victory against @hfdathletic.#UNLEASH | #PITvHFD pic.twitter.com/du5xxE01fq
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) April 14, 2019
WHAT A CROWD
The Hounds haven’t seen an opening night crowd like this — ever. The number, 5,180, surpassed the first-ever home opener.
“It was as good of an atmosphere as I’ve seen in a long time. It was very similar to the home playoff last year. I think last year massively helped,” Kerr said. “There is a lot of truth in that people want to come and see a winning, successful team. We were able to do that last year and we’re super excited to continue it.”
This is very encouraging, especially for a franchise that has struggled getting fans to come out in March and early April games.
In fact, usually Lilley’s post-game comments are usually centered around tactics and the nuances from the 90 minutes plus game action, but Lilley took time out to elaborate on how happy he was with the turnout.
“I’m really excited what we’re starting to build here. I’m thankful and appreciative of those fans coming out,” Lilley said. “Hopefully we can keep them coming out, keep them excited about the team. I thought overall it was a great night for our organization.”
Great opening night for @RiverhoundsSC . Thanks to the 5200 supporters that came out in full force!!
Let’s do it again next week!!
— Tuffy Shallenberger (@Tuffy_Shall) April 14, 2019
“We’ve worked hard since I’ve been here on the field. We need to move this franchise forward, and I feel we already have. But we’re nowhere near where we want to be. This has the opportunity to be even bigger than what we’re seeing now. We just have to keep doing our job on the field, off the field, and keep pushing that envelope,” Lilley added.
CATCHING UP WITH JOSE ANGULO
Angulo was happy to return to Pittsburgh, with his new team that’s struggling to get their first points in a rugged USL Championship.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get that result. We’re a new team. A new franchise. Once we get that first win, we going to coast on that and we going to get a lot of points. We have a lot of guys learning.”
He also shared what it was like to now be the veteran player on a team that’s still going through growing pains.
“Take your experiences, and try to teach the younger guys. Try to teach by example.”
And what his thoughts on this Riverhounds team.
They’re so strong defensively. They’re going to be tough to beat. and of course, Kevin Kerr always seems to come up with big goals, and he’s still doing his thing.”
ED THOMPSON PHOTO GALLERY
We’ll have a full post with even more of Ed’s photos on Sunday!
Mark Goodman will also be providing a deeper tactical analysis from the match on Monday.
Ben Lundgaard – 5 – made a decent save when things got a little hairy after Angulo’s goal. But Angulo’s goal, as brilliant as it was, probably could have been punched away if he was in proper position.
Joe Greenspan – 5.5 – I would say it was a solid night at the office for Big Joe, (team leading 11 clearances), but he was the one who couldn’t close down Angulo on the goal, so have to a point or two off for that.
Tobi Adewole – 7 – won his battles, and solid night overall, except for maybe having some fits when Dixon made some runs up the right side.
Ryan James – 6 – continues to play way up — more as an attacking winger at times on left side. I am starting to realize that the outside backs’ ability to stretch the field will contribute to wearing down opponents. That’s ultimately what happened in this match to Hartford.
Jordan Dover – 6 – it was another quiet, yet workmanlike night for Dover, but he’s paired with James in helping open things up, and tucking back into the last line when needed.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6 – showed his versatility again, this time playing in spot Dabo was in the first four games. Solid night for Tommy V working well between back line and connecting with attacking midfielders.
Kenardo Forbes – 7 – he may not have scored or had any assists, but in my opinion, Forbes is at his best,and the Hounds are most efficient when he’s controlling possession as he did in this game, and when attack begins from the middle of the field with the ball at Kenardo’s feet.
Kevin Kerr – 9 – monster night for Kerr.
Anthony Velarde – 6 – chemistry with others will continue to build, but his quality shined in 90 full minutes, and he clearly looks like a big part of what Lilley wants to see the Hounds having a more ‘sophisticated’ possessing and attacking unit.
Steevan Dos Santos – 7 – work rate is tremendous. Goal was with defenders closing in on both side, but still managed to win header (perfectly placed by Kerr) — and redirect it into net. Adds a few dimensions that Hounds haven’t had up-top in some time: a big man that can win headers near goal and target man who can draw fouls and keep possessions alive. Missed on quality chance in 20th minute, and again, maybe with extra tired legs in stoppage time on a pass from Robbie Mertz.
Neco Brett – 7 – never doubt Neco’s work rate. Another game where he hit the woodwork, but got redemption shortly after by scoring on PK.
Mo Dabo (77′), Noah Franke (77′) and Robbie Mertz (84′) – No Grades
Dabo wasn’t really tested much as the Hounds did a good job in keeping possession after they took the 2-1 lead.
Franke always provides a high work-rate and quickness — which helped him draw a foul late in match 25 yards from goal.
Mertz was asked to run around at the top of the formation, and also had one chance where he received ball on left side just inside box, but couldn’t get a shot off in quick enough time as Hartford defender recovered. He also set up Dos Santos with a nice chance, but the big man’s shot went awry.
Photo courtesy Rachael McKriger
Riverhounds SC – Ben Lundgaard – Ryan James, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Joe Greenspan, Tobi Adewole Jordan Dover – Kenardo Forbes, Neco Brett (Robbie Mertz 85’), Anthony Velarde (Noah Franke 76’), Kevin Kerr (Mouhamed Dabo 77’) – Steevan Dos Santos
Subs not used: Kyle Morton, Sammy Kahsai, Daniel Rovira, Caleb Smith
Hartford Athletic FC – Jon Kenmpim– Raymond Lee, Sam de Wit, Kyle Curinga (Wojciech Wojcik 84’), Nikolaj Lyngo – Giuseppe Gentile (Sebastian Dalgaard 73’), Phillip Rasmussen, Luis Argudo, Tyler David, Hugh Alexander Dixon (Jonathan Brown 73’), – Jose Angulo
Subs not used: Jacob Lissek, Jonathan Brown, Mads Jorgensen, Mac Steeves
PIT – Steevan Dos Santos 14’ (Kevin Kerr)
HFD – Jose Angulo 54’ (Jon Kenpim)
PIT – Kevin Kerr 74’ (Ryan James)
PIT – Neco Brett 81’ (penalty)
HFD– Kyle Curinga 19’ (caution)
HFD – Tyler David 50’ (caution)
HFD – Nikolaj Wyngo 64’ (caution)