MIRACLE ON THE MON — RIVERHOUNDS COMPLETE COMEBACK FOR THE AGES

The Riverhounds completed a miracle comeback at Highmark Stadium on Saturday.
The Riverhounds completed a miracle comeback at Highmark Stadium on Saturday.

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.

It was a game for the ages, as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds completed a come-from-behind 6-5 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders with three goals in the very late stages to overcome a two-goal deficit.

“Being down two goals with a minute to go in the game, and then tying it, then getting the winner. It was amazing. I really don’t have a lot of words for that,” said Mark Steffens, Riverhounds Head Coach.

Harrisburg’s Garrett Pettis delivered a terrific finish in 86th minute to give his team what seemed to be a commanding 5-3 lead, by chipping the ball forward, then heading it past Riverhounds goalkeeper Ryan Hulings, who had come off the line.

Down two goals as the game entered the last minute of regulation, Riverhounds captain Danny Earls gave his team some hope, with a perfectly placed, one-time volley that went into the upper right corner that cut the deficit to 5-4.

Moments later, the Riverhounds drew a free kick from 20 yards on the left side, just above the penalty box. Lebo Moloto and Kevin Kerr lined up on the ball.  Moloto played it back to Rob Vincent.

Vincent had plenty of space to drive a shot from the top of the arc past a diving Harrisburg goalkeeper Nick Noble for his second of the game, and his now league leading eighth goal of the season.

“I told Kev (Kerr). I can hit this one, if you guys can roll it to the side, to me, if you see you don’t have anything, give me a nod, and I’ll do my best to put it through,” said Vincent.

As the stands were shaking, and the crowd was still buzzing about the two previous goals that brought the game level at 5-5, Moloto and Kerr then hooked up on a classic one-two, give-and-go for the game winner.

Kerr took the ball toward the left side just inside the box, found Moloto, who was about 12 yards from goal. Moloto played it right back to Kerr, who slid a low grounder to right side of the goal past a diving Noble.

In a moment of exhilaration, Kerr streaked to the left corner area, taking his shirt off, and was joined by the entire team.

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“An amazing, amazing night for us,” said Vincent.

“A couple of times I thought the game was over. We kept getting hit with those sucker punches, and we thought it’s not going to be our day,” said Vincent.

The Riverhounds came back from deficits of 3-0, 4-2, 5-3, to win the second leg of a Keystone Derby match that will be remembered for a very long time.

“A few minutes to go, two goals down, you’re thinking.  Honestly, I don’t know what we were thinking,” chuckled Vincent.

“Actually, thinking you’re not going to come away with three points. But we showed tons of character to keep going all the way to the end.”

There were many twists and turns throughout the match.

Harrisburg opened the scoring with three goals in the first half. The City Islanders got the scoring going in the 28th minute, as Yann Ekra received a cross into the box with his back to the goal, turned and sent a low shot to the right side past Riverhounds goalkeeper Ryan Hulings for the 1-0 lead.

Then the Hounds really came apart with a few defensive lapses.

Both Stephen Okai and Anthony Arena stepped forward to challenge for a ball in the 37th minute, and Danny DiPrima got behind both of the them and into the box where he sent a right-footed blast past Hulings.

Moments later, Arena was trying to clear the ball, and lost possession. Harrisburg’s Jose Barrel swept in to take the ball away — darting toward the goal to send an easy finish past Hulings.

Trailing 3-0, and playing poorly, Steffens let his team have it at halftime.

“I had a little tantrum. Said a few words,” remarked Steffens.

“Yeah, he wasn’t happy. We heard about it,” confirmed Vincent.

The game was already played at a frantic pace in the first half, but the Riverhounds came out full throttle in the second, not letting up for a second. They responded immediately.

Vincent got things going in the 48th minute, thanks to a nice cross from Moloto that was played right into the goal box. Before Noble could get to it, an opportunistic Vincent jumped to the ball — and knocked it home.

Second half substitute Amara Soumah then provided a highlight goal in the 52nd minute. As Miro Cabrilo delivered a short, lofty service from the left side, Soumah beat Harrisburg’s Dante Leverick to the ball in the air just inside the penalty area to head the ball toward the goal.

Noble came out just a tad too far, and the ball sailed over his head, and suddenly the Riverhounds were in business, only trailing 3-2.

In this game, momentum would swing back and forth.

And Harrisburg seized it again, as Jason Plumoff took advantage of a Cordel Benbow cross that both Riverhounds defender Mike Green and Hulings were unable to clear away from danger. Plumoff’s goal would give Harrisburg a 4-2 lead in the 56th minute.

Things remained the same until the 80th minute when maybe the wildest sequence of the game ensued.

As a ball was played into the left side of the goal box, Moloto somehow was able to dive forward, toward the ground to head the ball past a lunging Noble.

As it appeared the ball may have crossed the line, the referee John Douglas signaled for a penalty, as he ruled that Moloto was fouled as he was making the attempt to head the ball.

Kerr lined up to take the penalty, but Noble stopped the shot right at him.

But Earls was the man on the spot, as he stepped in to put the rebound in, making the score 4-3, and setting the stage for the exhilarating finish.

“Danny is always opportunistic. Making big plays defensively all the time. And two goals tonight. Wow. He’s a winner. He never surprises me,” said Steffens, praising his captain.

Here are the goals…

Both teams were coming off U.S. Open Cup games on Wednesday night, but still had plenty of gas in the tank.

“They played 120 minutes, we played 90 plus, but it was crazy. Both teams were really pushing each other,” said Steffens.

Steffens, who coached in one of the most talked about games in recent USL history as his Charlotte Eagles team lost 7-4 in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando in 2013 Championship Game, said tonight’s game even topped that classic match.

In two Keystone Derby matches between the interstate rivals this season, they’ve combined for 18 goals, as the the Hounds hold the edge (11-7). Here’s the box score as Pittsburgh outshot Harrisburg 23-18. 

The win catapults the Riverhounds (4-3-3, 15 points) past the City Islanders (4-3-1, 13 points) in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings. The teams will meet again July 25 at Harrisburg’s City Island Stadium, and for a final time in the last game of the season, also in Harrisburg on September 19th.

Riverhounds starting eleven included: Hulings (G), Tyler Pasher, Mike Green, Arena, Willie Hunt, Earls, Okai, Vincent, Kerr, Moloto and Cabrilo.

Pasher was injured in the 19th minute, and was replaced by Anthony Virgara. Steffens also expended his full five subs, bringing in Soumah at the beginning of the 2nd half for Okai, Drew Russell for Green, Dantas for Cabrilo and Fejiro Okiomah for Arena.

The Riverhounds return to action next Saturday at Highmark Stadium as they take on St. Louis F.C. at 2 p.m.

They also announced that limited tickets will be on sale exclusively to season ticket holders for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match on June 17 — on Monday. Then on Wednesday, tickets will be made available to the public. Word has it that D.C. United have already used their allotment of 300 tickets, and once tickets are made available to the public, there’s a good chance that United fans will gobble them up.

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