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Miracle on the Mon

Pulse of Pittsburgh Soccer: Legacy of ‘Miracle on the Mon’ lives on nine years later

Illustration by Danny Earls

As a regular feature here on Pittsburgh Soccer Now, the focus of the Pulse of Pittsburgh Soccer is to take a look ahead at the schedule and dive into interesting topics and pertinent news relating to Pittsburgh soccer.

The weekend ahead will see a full slate of action for all of the Pittsburgh teams.

The Riverhounds SC return home to take on Indy Eleven on Saturday night, as they’re looking to bounce back following a 2-0 road loss at Memphis.  Look for our match preview to come, plus Mark Goodman’s coverage to come on Saturday from Highmark Stadium as the Hounds face another team in solid form.

In addition, Beadling SC looks to say unbeaten in WPSL play with its third straight match to open the season at home, when they take on Columbus Eagles.

Steel City FC‘s men will bookend the weekend with Friday and Sunday matches. Pittsburgh’s NPSL squad, who have started their 2024 campaign with a 2-0-1 mark, are tasked with two road matches in three days, when they travel to Akron on Friday, then Buffalo on Sunday.

Steel City FC‘s women’s team (UWS) will have the weekend off, before resuming competition next Saturday, June 8, at Founders Field.

‘Miracles come in moments, be ready and willing,” Wayne Dyer. 

Now, it’s time to get nostalgic.

This week — Thursday (May 30) to be precise — marks the ninth anniversary of one of the most remarkable matches in the history of USL Championship and in the 25-years of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds existence.

Those who follow Pittsburgh soccer closely probably already know by now — that the match I am referencing is when the Riverhounds stormed back from 3-0, 4-2 and 5-3 deficits to beat Keystone Derby Cup rival Harrisburg City Islanders, 6-5, with three goals coming in the 90th minute and into stoppage time.

It was such an astounding come-from-behind effort, that I began the lead sentence of my match recap with the following words:

I’m calling it the “Miracle on the Mon”.

As far as dramatic, come-from-behind soccer wins, this was about as thrilling as it gets.

This remarkable match provided the inspiration of my book, ‘Miracle on the Mon’ which not only chronicles the excitement from that wild night, but also shares the backstory of the struggles and challenges of a lower division soccer club during a time when professional soccer was in the infancy stages of unprecedented expansion and transition.

‘Miracle on the Mon’ is available now!

In some respects, it’s hard to believe that it’s been nine years.

In fact, if you take a glance at the rosters of both teams on that night in the late Spring 2015 — there are only a few players who are still playing.

One season following the trials of declaring bankruptcy and near franchise extinction in 2014, the Riverhounds took part in an unforgettable series of matches against their longtime rivals the following season — highlighted by this game for the ages, which provided Pittsburgh’s pro soccer club with a much needed spark.

Since that time, so much has changed, and as the case with lower division soccer — many of the players involved moved on, with most now in retirement, coaching or taking on new trades.

While both franchises continued their in-state rivalry and the Keystone Derby Cup series for three more seasons, by 2018 the tide had changed drastically for both franchises, and for the league.

On the strength of continued incremental growth due to stabilized ownership and having a soccer-specific stadium, along with the addition of Hall of Fame coach, Bob Lilley, the Riverhounds found more stability, emerging as a perennial top-of-the-table club and playoff contender in the USL Championship, which had become the sole Division 2 entity in US Soccer Pyramid.

As the case with many similar ‘Old Guard’ franchises in smaller markets, Harrisburg dropped out of the USL Championship after trying to compete one final season as rebranded Penn FC.

Pittsburgh ended the four-year Keystone Derby Cup series with a 3-1 advantage, capturing the trophy in 2015, 2017 and clinching the 2018 series when Lilley, who grew up in Carlisle, PA, and was the first head coach of an outdoor professional team in Central Pennsylvania (Hershey Wildcats, 1997-2001), would return to his roots one last time to lead the Hounds to the final Keystone Derby Cup victory, 2-0, on a rain soaked night at FNB Field on City Island.

Today, the Cup is on display in the Pub at Highmark Stadium.

Hounds supporter group, The Steel Army, has grown greatly since the ‘Miracle on the Mon’,

Being part of the Keystone Derby Cup series, and experiencing the euphoria of a ‘Miracle’ win against an intense rival provided an everlasting inspiration, inspires hope and a never-say-die attitude that permeates from the Paul Child Stand, on road trips and watch parties the group partakes in each and every match day.

“It was so cool to be part of that,” Mike Shoemaker, a Steel Army member for much of the 2010’s said in ‘Miracle on the Mon’.

“I fear that we’ll never going to be able to replicate that.  It’s tough to deal with because it was such as natural rivalry. That game showed what was relatable to all of us. Pittsburgh is a hard working town.  That team showed it had it in them to bring themselves back from an unthinkable deficit.  It meant so much to us.  The (Steel) Army was probably half the size of what it is now.  I am not sure how many people were at that game.  It was just, it gave us all a lot of hope.  That this team, this club, has something.”

Of the Harrisburg City Islanders roster from 2015, when the ‘Miracle on the Mon’ was played, the only players who were active on USL Championship rosters last season were Antoine Hoppenot and Yann Ekra.

Hoppenot played with Detroit City FC in their debut season in the USLC in 2022, when he led the league in assists, then finished up his career in Hartford last season, making 30 appearances and scoring three goal.  Ekra made 278 league appearances with Harrisburg, Charlotte and Tampa Bay, from 2013-23.  Ekra’s contract option for 2024 was initially picked up by Tampa Bay, but since the start of the season, with the roster overall and a new coach, Tampa Bay and Ekra parted ways.

This is somewhat relevant to the current Riverhounds, as Kenardo Forbes is approaching another major USL Championship milestone, as he currently has 274 regular-season appearances, only four behind the record held by — that’s right — Yann Ekra!

Another one of those former Harrisburg City Islanders, now retired goalkeeper, Nick Noble, returned to his alma mater, West Virginia University, where he’s an assistant coach. Noble has been a guest on Sounding Off on Soccer Podcast, and along with Neil Shaffer (one of those rare players who played for both the Hounds and City Islanders) contributed to telling the Harrisburg side of the story in ‘Miracle on the Mon’.

On the Riverhounds side, there are only a two players by our calculations who are still active, including Tyler Pasher, who began his time in Pittsburgh as a teenager.  Pasher, who did have stints in Major League Soccer, with Sporting KC and Houston, is currently with Birmingham Legion FC in USL Championship.

The only other player who is actively playing for a club — ironically — is Pittsburgh-area native and midfielder Nicky Kolarac, who remains an essential leader and contributor to Steel City FC.  Kolarac, who made one appearance with the Hounds that season and three in 2016, captained his hometown NPSL club to a Great Lakes Conference title and subsequent appearances in the NPSL Midwest Regional Final and in the club’s first-ever appearance in the U.S. Open Cup proper tournament.

Many of the players from that Riverhounds squad have moved on and away from Pittsburgh.

Still with the Riverhounds’ organization, are two of the most prominent participants in the ‘Miracle on the Mon’ — Rob Vincent, who has become an assistant to the senior team after a number of years with the Riverhounds Academy, and Kevin Kerr, who is coaching with the Academy.

Shortly after the book was published, Kerr and Vincent joined me to discuss the Miracle on the Mon.

Danny Earls, the team’s captain, is back in his homeland, in Ireland, where he now works full-time as an illustrator/artist who has included some very impressive projects with Marvel and Star Wars comic universes.

Of course, I am still very grateful that Earls’ was willing to take time out of his busy schedule back in 2020 to illustrate the cover for ‘Miracle on the Mon’.

“It was a great group of lads,” Earls, who also won a MLS Cup with Colorado Rapids, said in ‘Miracle on the Mon’.

“It was the best group we had in my time in Pittsburgh. As the captain, I was proud to play with those guys.”

If you haven’t read or ordered ‘Miracle on the Mon’ — what are you waiting for?  You can order your complete today — by clicking this link. 

Pittsburgh Soccer Schedule (Friday, May 31 – Saturday, June 8)

Friday, May 31, 2024

7 p.m. —  Steel City FC (Men – NPSL) vs Akron City FC (Green St. Stadium, Akron, OH)

Saturday, June 1, 2024

2 p.m.  — Beadling SC (Women – WPSL) vs Columbus Eagles (Southpoint Fieldhouse)

7 p.m. — Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (USLC) vs Indy Eleven (Highmark Stadium)

Sunday, June 2, 2024

7 p.m  — Steel City FC (Men – NPSL) vs Niagara 1812  (D’Youville University, Buffalo, NY)

Saturday, June 8, 2024

2 p.m.  — Steel City FC (Women – UWS) vs FC Buffalo (Founders Field)

3 p.m.  — Beadling SC (Women – WPSL) at Greater Toledo FC (Toledo, OH)

7 p.m. — Steel City FC (Men – NPSL) vs Cleveland SC (Founders Field)

7:30 p.m. — Riverhounds SC (USLC) vs Charleston Battery (Charleston, SC)

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).

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Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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