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Hounds Notebook: Wait, where has time gone? Highmark Stadium to host 10th home opener

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

Wait a second.

This Saturday will mark the 10th home opener in the Highmark Stadium era for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Soccer Club?

Where has time gone?

April 13, 2013 was a day that was so memorable for me – and for so many of us who love soccer in Pittsburgh.

It felt like it was yesterday.

With the completion of Highmark Stadium in 2013, the Hounds finally had a stadium to call its own.

I was covering sports and writing features for Pittsburgh Sports Report back then, and wanted to make sure I was there for this monumental event.

If you want to read more about the specifics from that game, it’s pretty well documented and has been archived on Pittsburgh Soccer Now through the years, and of course — shameless plug here — in my book, Miracle on the Mon.

On this Day (April 13, 2013), Highmark Stadium hosted its first Riverhounds SC match

History of Home Openers at Highmark Stadium

A few years ago, ahead of the 2019 home opener, I wrote about the history of the Hounds’ home openers at Highmark Stadium from 2013-2018.

Column: Not so new anymore, Highmark Stadium now hosts a nostalgic Hounds home opener

Of course everything changed in 2020.

With the start of the pandemic, the Hounds couldn’t even play before fans in its home opener against the Indy Eleven in late July of that year.

That match, a 1-0 Indy Eleven win, proved to be an exciting affair, but maybe, with the Steel Army and fans in attendance, could have pushed the Hounds over the edge to pull out a win on a night when they surrendered a very late, stoppage time goal against a former Hound, Tyler Pasher and the Indy Eleven.

Going back to the 2013 opener, that was my first real introduction to the Steel Army.

They provided what every pro soccer franchise should aspire to have — a driving heartbeat pounding through the course of every home match in support of its team. At Highmark, the drums, chants and songs was a beautiful sound to hear along the Mon for the first time.

Yes — I was hearing “Ole, Ole, Ole” echoing in a Pittsburgh crowd.

Now, that was sweet music to my ears.

Indeed, it was a momentous night for soccer.

The result wasn’t exactly stuff of legend.

The Hounds lost, 2-1, to a team we would see a few more times again over the next six years, Harrisburg City Islanders.

That’s a whole other story, maybe one worth writing a book about someday.

Oh, wait, I’ve done that (second shameless plug!)

Here are some quotes and anecdotes that I gathered from that day.

Justin Evans, Riverhounds Head Coach in 2013, was also the first player drafted by the Hounds in 1999, a Peters Township native, and one of the first to be enshrined in the club’s Hall of Fame Class in 2019:

“Our ownership has really stepped up and brought in some good players, and we believe this is going to be a very positive season. The new guys are bringing a higher level of competition for spots, We’ve just got to find some chemistry and I am confident we will be able to do that.”

It was probably fitting that José Angulo scored the first goal for the Riverhounds, on his first touch, in the first game ever played at Highmark Stadium. Angulo entered in the 70th minute of the Hounds 2-1 loss to interstate Keystone Derby rivals, Harrisburg City Islanders — and he made an immediate impact.

In that moment, Angulo found himself in what would become a familiar place — on the receiving end of a brilliant Matt Dallman service.

That season, the dynamic duo of Angulo and Dallman would hook up for more goals than any other combo in team history.  Angulo (15 goals) and Dallman (12 assists) would lead the league in both categories.

It was also rather appropriate that the last home opener played before a full capacity crowd, without restrictions, was played in 2019, with two players who were on that Hounds roster back in 2013, stealing the spotlight once again.

It was Kevin Kerr delivering a goal and an assist in his final home opener against Hartford in a 3-1 victory.

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

And there was Angulo, back again at his old familiar place, scoring a highlight reel goal from nearly 40 yards that made its way onto ESPN Sportscenter’s Top 10 that night.

The season opener a year ago was played with fans for the first time since 2019, even though there were size restrictions in those early 2021 games.

The Hounds struggled early in the season in 2021, evident in its performance against nemesis, Charlotte Indpedence, losing 1-0.

FINAL: Charlotte Independence 1, Riverhounds SC 0

Here’s a closer look at through the years, the Riverhounds home openers, which have included some memorable and less than memorable matches.

  • 2013:    Harrisburg City Islanders 2, Riverhounds SC 1
  • 2014:    Wilmington Hammerheads 4, Riverhounds SC 3
  • 2015:    Riverhounds SC 5, Harrisburg City Islanders 2
  • 2016:    Rochester Rhinos 1, Riverhounds SC 0
  • 2017:    Riverhounds SC 3, NY Red Bulls II 3
  • 2018:    Riverhounds SC 0, Harrisburg City Islanders 0
  • 2019:    Riverhounds SC 3, Hartford Athletic 1
  • 2020:    Indy Eleven 1, Riverhounds SC 0
  • 2021;    Charlotte 1, Riverhounds 0

Now, heading into the 10th home opener in Highmark Stadium the Hounds are looking to snap a two game home opener losing streak as they face the last team they’ve beaten in a home opener.

Ironically, while they had the league’s top assist and goal scorer that season in the first ever home opener, heading into Saturday’s tilt, they feature the USL Championship’s all-time leading goal scorer, Dane Kelly and the league’s all-time leading assist king, Kenardo Forbes.

Hounds-Hartford This Saturday at Highmark  

We will have full coverage team at Highmark on Saturday. Look for updates and gameday coverage from me, along with Mark Goodman and Jordan Smith.

The Hounds head into the home opener Saturday with lots of confidence and feeling pretty good, after a comfortable 3-0 win at Memphis last week.

Not only did they win 3-0, but it also marked quite a Hounds debut for Kelly, who scored his 100th goal.  For his impressive performance, Kelly was named the USL Player of the Week.  In addition, Shane Wiedt was named to the USL Team of the Week, and rookie goalkeeper Chase Vosvick landed on the bench.

Head Coach Bob Lilley and his players know it’s early in the season, as they still have a lot of things they need to work on and plenty of room for improvement.

Alex Dixon, who played with the Athletic in 2019 and 2020, spoke earlier in the week with KDKA’s Bob Pompeani, pointing out that this team is keeing everything in perspective and taking it one week at a time.

More on the Athletic

While every other team in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference played last week, Hartford will open its season on Saturday in Pittsburgh.

Athletic captain Danny Barrera will be a player to watch.

Barrera enters the 2022 season with 44 assists, just one shy of the USL Championship all-time record. Coming off a season in which he won the assists crown (12) and was a USL Championship All-League First Team selection, he has a chance to take that record directly from its holder on Saturday night as Pittsburgh midfielder Kenardo Forbes is the current record holder with 45. This factor adds some drama to this division matchup, as the record could switch hands multiple times and is likely to do so throughout the season.

For the third time in four sasons, the Athletic have a new coach.

Harry Watling was named the third Head Coach in Hartford Athletic’s history in January.

At 31-years-old, Watling is the youngest Head Coach in the USL Championship and younger than Kenardo Forbes and a bunch of other players in the Championship!

Watling is a bit of an unknown at this level.

He is a UEFA A and B licensed coach, earning his B license at age 18 and A license at 26, one of the youngest coaches in England to have such licenses. Prior to his time at West Ham, Watling spent four years working in the Academy system at Millwall FC. He also spent five years at Chelsea FC where he worked under managers such as Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti. During his career he has coached players such as Declan Rice, Jack Wilshere, Callum Hudson Odoi, and many others.

On the other side, here’s a clip from Hartford’s new coach…

In addition to Saturday’s coverage, look for Goodman’s Scouting Report on Hartford and a new postgame feature to be coming on Pittsburgh Sports Live!

 

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).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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