Throughout the 2019 season, when the Pittsburgh Riverhounds needed a goal, they were able to lean on forward Neco Brett to provide.
Brett scored 13 goals in 30 matches to pace the Hounds throughout the regular season as Pittsburgh soared to the top of the USL’s Eastern Conference.
Saturday night at Highmark Stadium, on the biggest stage of the season, the Hounds’ top striker didn’t just help his team with a goal. He gave them four.
Brett scored four times in Pittsburgh’s 7-0 thrashing of the Birmingham Legion FC in the USL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Saturday.
He had a hat trick before the whistle blew for the end of the first half as Bob Lilley’s squad raced out to a 5-0 advantage at the midway point.
Brett started the scoring with a big right-footed blast from near the top of the penalty area in the 13th minute. In the 27th minute, Steevan Dos Santos sent a cross into the box that Brett deftly deposited past Birmingham keeper Matt VanOekel.
Seven minutes later, he earned a penalty kick when VanOekel took him down in the box and sent it straight to the back of the net to give the Hounds a commanding 4-0 lead.
Hat trick, Neco Brett. pic.twitter.com/1s5C2OX9U9
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) October 26, 2019
Brett added one in the second half to give him four goals and a host of Riverhounds records. Brett is now the club’s all-time leading scorer in the postseason with four goals and tied a team record for goals in a game.
The flurry seemingly came out of nowhere, as the Hounds had just played Birmingham six days previously, winning that match, 1-0. But Brett new that his team was focused and determined to avoid a repeat of 2018’s postseason, when the Hounds were ousted on penalty kicks at home against a lower-seeded Bethlehem Steel side.
“When I got in the locker room, I realized everyone was locked in, you know what I mean?” Brett said. “Whenever I get in the locker room and the guys are like they, they bring out their A game.
“I was looking forward to a game like this. Not this many goals, but a good game.”
His teammates, of course, do a lot of the work that leads up to Brett’s goals. No one was happier to see the Jamaican striker light up the scoreboard than those on the other end of his service.
“He is fantastic when the ball is played in behind, making first contact with the defender, getting low and getting that body position,” explained midfielder Robbie Mertz, who scored the game’s sixth goal on a second-half penalty kick that was drawn by the man of the hour, Brett.
“His cuts in and around the box are really, really tough to defend. He creates a lot of chances on his own. We’ve just got to get the ball forward and do the work in behind him. So happy for him tonight because he’s really deserved that and had that coming for a while.”
To hear Lilley tell it, anyone could be on the other end of the back-line and midfield work that went into the Hounds’ dominant performance on Saturday, whether its Brett, fellow striker dos Santos, or one of the quick midfielders like Mertz, Kevin Kerr or Kenardo Forbes.
“He had a great night finishing,” Lilley said. “I was really happy with Neco’s application tonight. The ball fell his way tonight. It could be someone else next week. Hopefully, that’s what’s going to help us do really well this year in the playoffs. We have a lot of ways we can hurt you.”
That team structure has been what has helped Brett’s breakout campaign. The 27-year-old had eight goals in 34 career USL appearances before returning to Pittsburgh in 2018. Brett is a Robert Morris alum that joined Portland in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. He had eight career goals in 34 USL appearances before coming to Pittsburgh.
Since then, he now has 32 goals in 65 games with the Riverhounds. So while Brett’s performance was record-breaking and a career high, it wasn’t necessarily surprising to those closest to him. Even to those that have known him for a while.
“I think the last time [I scored four goals] was in college,” Brett said. “Scored that against (Riverhounds defender) Tobi (Adewole’s) team.”