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Kerr had a knack for big moments as a Riverhound

File photo by Ed Thompson

Kerr had a knack for big moments as a Riverhound

On Thursday, the official news came that Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC second longest tenured player, Kevin Kerr, would be retiring. 

Storied career comes to close for Kevin Kerr after seven seasons with Riverhounds SC

One of the first things I did after learning from Kerr in early January that he would be stepping away from the game, was to come up with a list of his biggest moments with the club, which essentially intertwine with the franchise’s history in the Highmark Stadium era. 

Kerr scored many big goals and was involved coming up with countless numerous plays for the Hounds in the past seven years, as he finished his career not only tops in assists (27), but was second in team history with 181 appearances (only two behind all-time leader David Flavius). If you count all competitions, Kerr scored 32 goals (29 in USL play, three in U.S. Open Cup play).

His 14,712 minutes and 27 assists are both the most in team history. 

Kerr’s first two years as a Riverhound were solid, but not spectacular, with five goals and two assists in 46 appearances, playing a role as a central midfielder, a position he had played almost exclusively for much of his career. Thus, you’ll see all of the memorable archives pulled for this piece came between 2015 and 2019.

As the Hounds began the preseason in 2015, with a new coach, USL Hall of Famer Mark Steffens, Kerr found himself on the width a bit more in a new system. With Stephen Okai, Danny Earls and a first-year pro Lebo Moloto targeted to take the bulk of the playing time in the central midfield, Kerr was moved wide right, while Rob Vincent moved to the left. 

From that point forward, Kerr really began to fully maximize his never-ending work-rate and instincts to roam around to exploit openings and opponents weaknesses in an attacking role. 

Here we go then, with a look at the top five Kevin Kerr Riverhounds moments, along with a few honorable mentions.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Game-winner in season finale to clinch Keystone Derby Cup/USL playoff berth (September 2015)

It a tribute to Kerr’s legacy with the club that this doesn’t even make the top five. 

Despite beating Harrisburg in two of three wild matches in 2015 which the Hounds outscored the City Islanders 13-11, the Keystone Derby Cup and an elusive spot in the USL Cup Playoffs were both up for grabs when the Hounds traveled to Harrisburg in the season finale.

This match started out as a tight, tense affair, but after Lebo Moloto lined up a one-time shot that sailed past Nick Noble to give the Hounds the 1-0 lead, Kerr didn’t waste any time moments later to deliver what would be the game’s decisive blow. The Hounds countered quickly after a City Islanders giveaway. Vini Dantas found Kerr in space on the right side. Kerr delivered a blast just inside the near post to beat Noble, and just like that Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead, then held on for the 2-1 win that captured the Cup and a playoff spot.

Riverhounds clinch playoff spot, win Keystone Derby Cup

“It’s what we worked for all year long. We knew it would come down to the wire, And we were up to the task. It’s a great feeling,” said Kerr.

Connecting with Corey Hertzog for first win at Charleston in six years (April 2017)

The two veterans came close a few times to connecting as the Hounds rallied from a 1-0 deficit. With Kay Banjo scoring a goal in the 58th minute, the Hounds started to believe they could pull out a win at Charleston for the first time in a long-time.

They would get it right the next time as the game reached its dying moments.

In the 90th minute, from the right side — finding enough of an opening — Kerr sent a lining cross to the near post area that Hertzog made a perfectly timed run and quickly headed into goal for the game’s go-ahead goal.

That was a fabulous quick-strike, set up by a perfect pass from Kerr.

Winning the Keystone Derby Cup back in convincing fashion (2017 & 2018) 

Kerr’s dejection was clear one season prior, in 2016, after losing the Cup in Harrisburg. It was the one thing remaining for the club to play for after a disastrous early part of the campaign that saw the Romeo Parkes incident, loss in Open Cup to an amateur side and the firing of coach Mark Steffens.

To make matters worse, Kerr and the Hounds couldn’t pull out any magic in one last ditch effort to salvage the 2016 season, losing the cup after an intense draw that also saw Danny Earls get shown off for a red card. Kerr, the consummate pro, still provided me with the time for a post-match interview in the dugout in Harrisburg that night.

Riverhounds battle City Islanders to intense draw, fail to win Keystone Derby Cup 

The following season, Kerr and Hertzog would connect numerous times as shown previously in the win at Charleston. They did it against Harrisburg in the opening match of the Keystone Derby Cup Series that gave the Hounds the edge in reclaiming the cup.

Sure enough, Pittsburgh would more than make up for a disappointing 0-0 draw at home in late May in the second leg of the series, by bulldozing the City Islanders in the final meeting in August 2017, 3-0, setting off quite a celebration with the many members of the Steel Army that made the trip.

More importantly, the Hounds had been struggling, as this was a win that would get them back on track in pushing for a potential playoff spot that season as Kerr and Hertzog, along with Chevy Walsh and Romeo Parkes started to develop better chemistry that season.

Hounds roll to 3-0 win, capture Keystone Derby Cup

Kerr and I once again met in the dugout at FNB Field after this one, and he was overjoyed to be able to deliver the Cup back to Pittsburgh once again.

Keystone Derby Cup clashes came to a conclusion in 2018, as Harrisburg became Penn FC, but ceased its USL Championship level club at season’s end.

In 2018, the Hounds walked away from Harrisburg one last time with another convincing win, to take the Cup for the third time in the four-year series.  In the history of the Keystone Derby Cup series, Kerr led the way in scoring six goals across 13 matches.

A few more of those will be chronicled below.

Delivering opening goal in PK shootout in playoff vs Bethlehem Steel FC (October 2018) 

Kerr had been sidelined for much of the final month and a half of the Hounds breakthrough 2018 season with a calf injury.  It looked bleak that he’d be able to help the club as they entered the USL Cup playoffs for the first time since 2015, and as they’d be hosting the first-ever playoff match in Highmark Stadium history.

The veteran’s rehab went well enough for him to make an appearance in the final match of the regular season, and he was made available on the Hounds roster for its playoff match vs Bethlehem Steel FC on October 20.

Hounds can’t put away Steel FC, lose historic home playoff match on PKs

In a back-and-forth affair that went into overtime, Kerr finally came off the bench later in the second period of extra time, but there would be no late game heroics in the run of play for Kerr.

When the Hounds took the field for the PK shootout, it was Kerr, who stepped up first.

While he couldn’t salvage another miracle moment in the playoff game’s final minutes of play, he would get a chance to have a brief moment of exhilaration in front of the beloved Steel Army, as he calmly scored the first goal in what would become a marathon shoot-out which the Hounds would eventually lose to cross-state rivals Bethlehem Steel FC.

“It sounds crazy, but I had image of me scoring a goal (in playoff game), as something to help keep me going. I would visualize that, and it helped motivate me,” Kerr said after that loss. “When I came on (late in OT playoff loss to Bethlehem Steel FC), and took the penalty, it felt great. I felt like this is it, we’re going to do this! It was so unfortunate. It was a sad way to go out. Especially to go to seven PK’s. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, if you make first seven PKs, you’re going to come out of it with a win. Now, we just have to work hard to get back in that position again.

TOP FIVE KEVIN KERR RIVERHOUNDS SC MOMENTS

5. Kerr’s extra effort buries Bethlehem Steel FC (August 2017) 

It was Kerr, who was the difference maker in an exciting game filled with a lot of momentum swings, as he provided a second-effort, game-winning tally and assisted on both of the first half goals.

“There’s that belief. Even when they came back, and it was 2-2. The boys were flying forward. They believed that we could win,” Kerr said. “We kept going and going, and staying in the game and getting stronger in the end. Hats off to the boys, it was a massive win.”

Here’s that game-winner that can probably be described as the quintessential Kevin Kerr finding a way to get it done moment in elevating his team to a victory.

This play embodies the essence of the Steel Army’s “He’s here. He’s there. He’s Everywhere” Kevin Kerr chant.

After the initial header comes off the post, he makes a run to the far post area where another veteran, James Chambers was trying to clear the bouncing ball. Kerr came through to poke the ball over the goal line.

That win put the Hounds in decent playoff positioning during an up-and-down season under coach Dave Brandt. That would be the closest they would come that season to sniffing the post-season. The Hounds’ captain had three goals, five assists and led the team in minutes played (2,817) during that season.

4. Another home opener to remember (April 2019) 

The man who 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 in the Hounds 2019 home opener vs Hartford played before a record crowd of more than 5,000 fans.

Highmark ‘originals’ Kerr and Angulo steal the show in Hounds 3-1 win (inc. player grades)

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 Anthony Velarde, Kerr moved in position on the top of the 18 to send a low, bending shot that beat Hartford’s keeper Jonathan Kempin.

“It couldn’t have worked out better,” Kerr added. “I got to a good spot, and defender was in the way of the goalie,”

Kerr’s brilliance on this day wasn’t limited to the goal. He delivered a terrific, pinpoint assist on Steevan Dos Santos’ opening goal. 

Kerr’s brilliance in the 2019 home opener would earn him a spot on the USL’s Team of the Week for the final time in his career — and sparked a very strong run of play in the first half of the 2019 season which he scored five goals.

 

3. Hat Trick vs Harrisburg in home opener (March 2015)

Kerr’s reputation as a fan favorite really started to take root as the Hounds took victory in the first-ever Keystone Derby Cup match (as the Trophy was introduced that year) against their cross-state rivals Harrisburg City Islanders.

It was an impressive coming out party for both Kerr and Rob Vincent — who combined for all the Hounds goals in a 5-2 win.

Kerr, Vincent lead Hounds to opening night win

Kerr’s hat trick remains the only one logged in the opening game of a club’s season in the USL’s modern era.

“It was just one of those nights,” said Kerr. “I rarely get one, but to get three, it was a bit of a surprise. I’m going to enjoy this.”

2. Taking DC United to the brink (June 2015) 

Thanks to Vincent’s game winner against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in May 2015, the Hounds had an opportunity to host a Major League Soccer club for the first (and only) time at Highmark Stadium. 

DC United scored early — and looked like they were well on their way to an overpowering win against the Hounds.

But Kerr’s relentless play in pressing high and disrupting the DC United back line in the 23rd minute created a penalty kick opportunity for Vincent that leveled the match, and changed the momentum.

From that point forward, DC were hesitant in playing the ball out — and had trouble trying to control the match, which would go to overtime, as Kerr was a constant nuisance to the MLS side.

Ultimately, the DC United would have to take advantage set pieces, and go through the air with two goals in extra time to shake off a pesky Hounds effort.

1. Miracle on the Mon (May 30, 2015) 

Much has been said, and will continue to be written about this game — and it was Kerr who delivered the game-winner. 

You probably already know the story. The Hounds were trailing throughout the match, including a 3-0 deficit at halftime, as well as trailing 4-2, and then 5-3 in the 90th minute.

Still, somehow they kept battling back,and rallied for an improbable 6-5 win by scoring three goals past the 90 minute mark.

MIRACLE ON THE MON — RIVERHOUNDS COMPLETE COMEBACK FOR THE AGES

“When I look back at that game, it was playing out as one of tne of my worst days as a Riverhound, but still, it will probably be remembered as when I was at my best, my peak,” Kerr said recently. “I had PK attempt,. I just had scored against Toronto so I took the one in the 72nd minute (with Hounds still trailing 4-3). But, I missed it, and it could have really compounded that I was already having a bad game.” 

Fortunately for the Hounds, Kerr’s shot to the center of the goal was stopped, but not secured by goalkeeper Nick Noble, as Danny Earls swept in to bang the rebound into the goal. 

After Earls scored another brilliant goal in the 90th minute to bring the contest to 5-4, Kerr lined up to take a free kick from just outside the box. But as he looked over to his right while Lebo Moloto stood on the ball, Rob Vincent was standing there, unmarked.

“Lebo was on the ball. Laid it off. I was the decoy,” Kerr said in recollecting Vincent’s game tying blast that made it 5-5 around the 94th minute. “Absolute madness that Robbie was there, in last minute, wide open. ” 

With about another minute of extra time left, the match wasn’t over, and Kerr still had time to create some heroics of his own.

Sure enough, the Hounds pressed forward after denying a dangerous ball in from Harrisburg.

Kerr took a touch after a throw-in, and made his way into the left side of the box.

“We got a quick throw. They (Harrisburg) should be organizing but it worked out. I saw Lebo Moloto in the center of the box,” Kerr recalled, as he broke to the space on the left side after the pass to Moloto. “It was a 1-2. As soon as he played it through, as soon as it came to me, I knew it would go in.” 

To Kerr, it was the biggest in a career full of numerous big moments.

“It was the highlight of my time here. I will never forget that feeling. That game, had 15 friends and family there. It was a beautiful night. Lot of people came down, and I wasn’t playing that well,” Kerr said. “I remember that feeling when the goal was scored. I’d still be celebrating now, if it had been allowed.”

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including 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 United States. 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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