Kevin Kerr has seen enough of his friends and former teammates come to the same moment, when they’ll have to say goodbye to playing the game that they love.
Now, it’s his turn.
“I know, it’s not easy,” Kerr said, sitting in a coffee shop on the North Side in an exclusive interview with Pittsburgh Soccer Now, as he confessed to not being offered a contract for the 2020 season. Kerr, though will stay involved with the game and the organization which he’s had an indelible relationship for the past seven plus years, as he will be hired as a Riverhounds Development Academy coach.
“That’s football. That’s professional sports. I feel like I’ve been prepared for this moment for a few years now, but still, played well enough, contributed and made enough of an impact last year, that a part of me felt could continue to keep on playing. That’s just the way it goes. I am ready to move on. I am excited for what’s next for me.”
As Kerr’s professional soccer career comes to a close, he finishes as one of the Riverhounds SC’s most accomplished and popular players in club history — and has been at the forefront of so many of the franchise’s memorable moments in the Highmark Stadium era.
Kerr retires as the Hounds all time assists leader (27) and leader in minutes played (14,712), second in appearances (181) and naturally scored more goals than any other player in Highmark Stadium’s seven-year history.
“Kevin’s professionalism and level of consistency have had a major impact on the first team for many years,” Riverhounds SC head coach Bob Lilley said. “It is important for the organization to continue to identify players for the first team and coaches for the Academy who can help grow our brand on the field as well as throughout the community. Kevin has had an outstanding career, and we’re thankful that he will bring his abilities to the Academy coaching staff.”
Prior to the 2018 season, just as we debuted our new site, Pittsburgh Soccer Now, it was Kerr who was the subject of our first long-form feature story.
It would be a friendship with an American, Matt Dallman, who he played with Arminia Bielefeld U23 team for a few years, that would eventually bring him over to North America.
Even as Dallman moved on to another Bundasliga club, Sportfreunde Siegen, they remained in touch. When Dallman came back to the United States in 2012, after first spending time in camp with then MLS entity Chivas USA, he was released. Dallman’s girlfriend was from Pittsburgh — and found a good opportunity to move and join the Riverhounds that July. Dallman would make four appearances with Pittsburgh that season, but as the club headed into a new home in 2013, they were looking for some quality players to build the team around.
At the time, Kerr was still with SC Wiedenbrück but contemplating his options — and maybe even moving on with his life and away from playing — as all he’d ever known was soccer.
He even thought it might be time to go to school.
COMING TO AMERICA
Dallman stayed in contact with Kerr, and convinced him to come give it a try with Hounds and get a chance to see a new country.
“It literally happened overnight. I was sitting at home and thought, “You know, I’m going to do it.” They said, “Sure come over and we’ll have a look.” Kerr said. “I packed my bags. I had my flat packed up in, like, 3-4 days. And I was on the flight over on January 4. A week later, they offered me a deal.”
Kerr and Dallman would be among the core group of players that the Hounds would build around, along withRob Vincent, Hunter Gilstrap and Jose Angulo under Head Coach Justin Evans that had a successful inaugural season in Highmark Stadium, earning a playoff berth.
“He came over and trained. You can tell he was a great player, but it took him a couple of years to develop a relationship to get to know him, but he sort of very quickly – really got into the culture here,” Gilstrap said.
He was a player who came through in big moments. (We look forward to publishing another post: Kevin Kerr’s biggest moments in his Riverhounds’ career coming soon!)
While he admittedly wasn’t the most vocal player, he became a trusted sidekick for all who made their way through the Riverhounds SC locker room since Highmark Stadium opened.
The first two seasons, Kerr was mostly a solid, quality role player in the central midfield — a spot where he had played for much of his career.
Standing at a little more than 5-foot-7 inches tall, Kerr isn’t exactly the type of player that is going to intimidate opponents with his physical stature, but his never-ending work-rate and his passion for roaming around the pitch to exploit openings and opponents’ weaknesses, Kerr would begin to really find his niche with the Hounds.
It was in the latter stages of the 2014 season when Kerr, along with fellow Brit, Vincent and Irishman Danny Earls, his game found a transformation from a steady, holding midfielder to a dangerous player in the final third.
“Kevin and I had a great relationship over the 3 years I was there. Both on and off the field,” Vincent said recently.
“I think most people look at 2015, and rightly so but I think the end of the 2014 season really set that on-field relationship in motion. (It was) the second half of a difficult season and the coaching staff switched to a three-man midfield of Kevin, Danny and I. Performances and results improved and I think that really was the foundation for next season’s fast start.”
When the 2015 season began, the Hounds had a new coach, Mark Steffens, a USL Hall of Famer, who tweaked some things, and suddenly Kerr and Vincent were thriving in the attack on the width.
To say they got off to a good start that season would be an understatement. The duo combined for all five goals in the team’s opening win against Harrisburg. The Hounds would become one of the league’s highest scoring outfits that season.
“Mark came in and changed the system slightly but the relationship was already in place. A lot of people have asked me why we were so productive in 2015. It’s really difficult to say. I think it was just a culmination of a lot of things falling in to place at the right time,” Vincent explained. “Soccer is a game of moments. In the early stages of the season, particularly in the home opener we capitalized on certain moments. That gave us the confidence to kick on.”
Playing as attacking midfielders in the wider spots in Steffens’ 4-2-3-1 formation, Vincent and Kerr would earn All-USL honors — Vincent on the first team and Kerr would score 10 goals and add eight assists to earn a spot on the second team as the Hounds had the club’s most successful season in recent memory.
“Remember, we had started the previous two seasons very slowly, so all of a sudden there was an optimism around the place. And tie that in with the freedom Mark was giving us, it created a perfect environment for not just us, but the whole team,” Vincent added. “We just happened to be the two players getting on the score sheet. It was a lot of fun though. Probably the most enjoyable period of my career, and maybe he’d agree with that.”
That season included a solid U.S. Open Cup run — beating Tampa Bay Rowdies then falling to DC United in overtime in a festive, packed atmosphere at Highmark Stadium, then playing in a series of unforgettable matches in the first-ever Keystone Derby Cup series.
It was Kerr who scored the game winner of the team’s most fabled victory — the ‘Miracle on the Mon’ 6-5 win over Harrisburg that May in which they came back from a 5-3 deficit in stoppage time.
“That was the most fun I ever had in my career,” Kerr said of playing with that team in 2015. “It was such exciting football and looking back on it, that was my personal favorite, and to this day, we have so much fun looking back on that year.”
POPULARITY & LEADERSHIP
Kerr success endeared him to the Hounds most faithful fans.
“The fans adored him. They really, really did,” Danny Earls, Kerr’s teammate from 2014-17 explained.
The Steel Army had their own Kevin Kerr song that exemplified his tenacity on the field and come up with big plays in the most opportune moments.
He’s Kevin Kerr (to the moon!)
He’s Kevin Kerr (to the moon!)
Kerr cherished the opportunity to be part of the success of the Riverhounds in his last two years as he continued to climb up in the club’s record books, under Bob Lilley’s direction. He was the one constant in all these years, even when things weren’t so great, but was glad Hounds owner Tuffy Shallenberger provided a solid foundation and helped keep things going.
“It’s been a rough ride the past five years. He (Shallenberger) has enough stress in his life and he could have walked at any point,” Kerr explained. “But when he came in he made a couple of vows — and you know — he’s kept his word.”
Kerr provided another layer of leadership and was a common thread, especially in his last few years with the Hounds, one of USL Championship’s remaining historical franchises.
“That’s one’s aspect of his game that I appreciate. He always came in like a good professional should, and did his duty and is no-nonsense. He’s not out, drinking all hours of the night or coming in not fit. He’s ready to go every single day,” Joe Greenspan said about Kerr in 2018. “Another aspect is he’s been in a bunch of locker rooms. He knows how to interact with the guys. A big part of it is that he’s a good guy, knows what it takes to get along with everyone, and knowing when to push back, push buttons a little bit and get more out of players. It’s bit of a mixture of both. Setting the standard yourself, and holding others accountable.”
When it comes to the standard for all Riverhounds SC players that now follow in Pittsburgh, Kevin Kerr has clearly set the bar as he walks away from the game that he loves, and brought him to Pittsburgh.
KEVIN KERR PHOTO GALLERY