WEEK 1 RIVERHOUNDS WRAP: Highlights, What We Learned, Player Ratings

Riverhounds Coach Mark Steffans was all smiles after 5-2 opening night win.
Riverhounds Coach Mark Steffans was all smiles after 5-2 opening night win.

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds thumped their rivals, Harrisburg City Islanders on Saturday night with a convincing 5-2 win.

If you missed the goals — there were seven of them — so the Riverhounds put together a seven minute highlight reel…

WHAT WE LEARNED

In my preseason preview, I said that the three keys to successful Riverhounds season would be the following:

— Getting off to a good start to the season
— Fan Support
— Replacing Angulo

It was just one game, but the Riverhounds are already off to a good start (last year, their first three points weren’t attained until May) and they found the back of the net five times against a USL team that they scored two goals against in three games a season ago.

It’s starting to become clear the stamp that Steffens is having on this organization. Just hearing from players, staff and front office has been singing praises of his even keel demeanor, and the level of professionalism that he seems to have brought to a franchise that a year ago — was not as cohesive as it is now.

And the guy can coach.

He saw something in Kerr and Vincent.  He’s found a place for them to thrive on the outside.   In preseason both were getting a lot of chances, and scoring goals as the Hounds under Steffens are taking a more direct approach.  Kerr and Vincent have been the catalysts for the attack so far in replacing Jose Angulo.  They both have room to maneuver, freedom to go forward, and despite being on opposite sides of the field, they seem to know where they were for much of the match last night. While the central forwards Miro Cabrilo and Vini Dantas, and central midfielders Danny Earls, Stephen Okai and Lebo Moloto work rate in pressuring Harrisburg, and possession was solid, it allowed Kerr and Vincent to take advantage of cracks in the City Islanders back line throughout the match.

The Turnpike Cup made its debut in the Riverhounds new and improved sports pub last night
The Turnpike Cup made its debut in the Riverhounds new and improved sports pub last night

Under the weather conditions, and with Harrisburg with a lot of new players, taking a more direct approach in their attack, benefitted the Hounds.  But, after the match, Steffens reiterated they still must be able to be a good possession team, that they won’t be successful over the long haul without playing 1-2 touch soccer.

As for the fan support, with about 2,000 plus people in the house, it wasn’t a sellout by any means.  But then again, temperature at kickoff was hovering in the low 20s and the wind chill dipped into the teens.  The Steel Army was there — doing their thing.   Can you imagine if the Army were to double or triple in size in the coming season or two?   The atmosphere at Highmark Stadium will become even more frenzied.   The cold weather certainly kept the casual sports fans away on a night when March Madness was at a fever pitch and people had probably preferred to stay indoors.   The Hounds will need to capture the casual fans in the coming months if they are going to move he franchise forward and to where they want to go.

The Steel Army weathered the elements, and were rocking Highmark Stadium
The Steel Army weathered the elements, and were rocking Highmark Stadium

After new coach Mark Steffens was hired, new team President Richard Nightingale said that the most important thing they could do to build fan support, was to put a good product on the field. About an hour and a half before the game, I walked over to Nightingale, and in speaking with him briefly, I gathered that he was just hoping that they would have a respectable showing last night considering the conditions.

It was more than respectable.

GAME 1 PLAYER RATINGS/COMMENTS

(out of 10)

Ryan Thompson (GK) – 8 – Made two really nice saves in first half. Came out when he needed to. Solid outing.

Anthony Arena (D) – 6 – Harrisburg’s first goal seemed to be a bit of a breakdown in the middle between Arena and Okiomah. Also was booked in 2nd half for what appeared to be a solid tackle, but had studs up.

Fejiro Okiomah (D) – 5 – While he and Arena both appear to be solid backs, athletic and strong in the middle, and they will provide quality the Hounds need in central defense, you can see that first game was a bit of a work in progress. Okiomah and Arena were caught either not pushed up enough, or missed their marks on the first goal. And on the second goal, he fouled Pettis in the box to set up the penalty kick.

Sterling Flunder (D) – 6 – It was Flunder’s 110th appearance for the Hounds. Quite a milestone as he climbs up the team’s all-time list. At one point in the week before the game it appeared that Flunder might not be able to go due to injury.

Mike Green (D) – 7 – It seems like whatever the Riverhounds ask him to do, he will do. Last year, he found some success at attacking mid and forward. But was called back to help in outside back role on Saturday, and held his own.

Stephen Okai (MF) – 7.5 – holding center MF, was solid, in his first Riverhounds outing, doing the little things.

Danny Earls (MF) – 7.5 – the team’s captain provided his usual rock solid performance in the middle and seems to work well with new teammates Okai and Moloto.

Lebo Moloto (MF) – 7 – He showed some flashes of his skills on the ball. If teams start to pay more attention to Kerr and Vincent in coming weeks, he may be the beneficiary.

Kevin Kerr (MF) – 10 – my goodness, what a night for the Fighting Scot. His post game quote got some chuckles, “I rarely get one, but to get three, that was a surprise.”

Rob Vincent (MF) – 10 – Vincent and Kerr were all over the place. Capitalized on every opportunity presented with two goals — or two well played balls to Kerr that led to goals. Seems to be thriving in this system with room on the flanks to operate.

Miro Cabrilo (F) – 6 – only his second start for the Hounds, and did just fine in his role in his first half minutes, as lone center forward in winning balls, drawing defenders and redistribution.

Vini Dantas (F) – 7 – the Brazilian, coming off playing indoor winter season in Baltimore, showed some flashes of brilliance playing the second half at forward. He had a nice run where he and Kerr played a one-two, then he made a run across the box and nearly flicked a ball past Nick Nobles with his outside foot.

Willie Hunt (D) – N/A – came on late for Flunder, in his Riverhounds debut at outside back.

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