Led by three goals from their leading scorer, Rob Vincent, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds blanked USL rival Wilmington Hammerheads, 3-0, on Saturday at Highmark Stadium to end their three-game losing streak before a near sellout crowd.
On a night when the Riverhounds honored an English-born soccer star, Paul Child, who made a special mark here in Pittsburgh over the years — it was their current English goal scoring wiz that stole the show with his first-ever pro hat trick.
By bringing his league season total to 16 goals, Vincent catapults back into a tie for the USL’s lead with OKC FC’s Danni Konig, while the Riverhounds gained a much needed three points as they remain inside the playoff line of the Eastern Conference standings.
“It’s a great feeling, but the best thing was we were able to get back on track,” said Vincent.
Vincent’s first goal in the 20th minute came courtesy of a terrific pass from Kevin Kerr, whom he’s played so well with all season long. Kerr, from the right side of the box, found Vincent breaking toward the goal with a simple pass on the ground that was converted with a clinical one-time finish.
“Very rarely do I score individual goals. I usually rely on good passes. It’s nice to be on the end of them, and nice to score as many as I have. I couldn’t do it without the guys around me,” said Vincent.
It was Kerr’s eighth assist — also good for a tie for the USL lead along with LA Galaxy II’s Raul Mendiola.
After taking a 1-0 lead, the Riverhounds were unable to convert for the rest of the first half and for much of the second frame.
They relied on workmanlike performance from a make-shift back line that consisted of veterans like Willie Hunt, Fejiro Okiomah, Sterling Flunder and Matt Dallman — and solid goalkeeping from rookie Calle Brown, who picked up his fourth clean sheet of the season on a night when Head Coach Mark Steffens wanted to emphasize defending as a team.
“That was very big for us. We asked our veterans to step up, and they did,” said Steffens.
“When you’re in a three-game spin like we were, that’s where you start. On the defensive side.”
The Hammerheads, who’ve only scored three goals in their past eleven matches, were pushing forward, threatening the Riverhounds at various stages.
“They only kept two center backs behind, and were pushing everyone else forward,” observed Steffens.
Early in the match, it was Qudus Lawal who was giving Hounds defenders fits, as he broke through for a few opportunities but couldn’t convert.
In the 42nd minute, Wilmington came awfully close to getting the equalizer, as Brown robbed Mark Godelman with spectacular diving save, reaching to his left on an inward bending shot.
“Calle was very good tonight. He came up with two or three big saves with the game on the line — and kept us one up,” said Steffens, praising his first year goalkeeper.
“I wasn’t happy with how we were defending in the first half. I came in at halftime and I wasn’t pleased. It was important to make some adjustments — which we did. I asked our back four to tighten up, and keep their shape. Once they did that, I felt that’s when the match turned in our favor.”
Despite some added pressure in the second half, Brown and the Riverhounds defense kept their composure, while facing six corner kicks and a few dangerous crosses.
Still, the match remained tight, as Wilmington threatened on consecutive sequences in the 80th minute, getting runs behind the right side of the Hounds defense, but again failed to get a quality shot on goal.
The Hounds would finally break through as Vincent took matters into his own hands.
After receiving a pass from Lebo Moloto in the 86th minute, Vincent made a run just inside the left edge of the box, beating the Hammerheads defender with a little move to the right, then to the left end line where he had space, unleashing a shot from an extremely tight angle, putting it past the Hammerheads keeper Andre Rawls, giving the Hounds a more comfortable 2 goal edge.
In stoppage time, Vincent added another goal to complete the hat trick. He was assisted by Dallman, who passed up an open shot to get the ball to Vincent, who simply passed the ball into net past a diving Rawls, who had little chance.
It was an important win for the Riverhounds (8-8-4, 28 points), in ending a three-game losing skid to remain in position to earn a playoff spot with eight games remaining. It was especially satisfying after a tough loss at Harrisburg on Sunday, surrendering a two-goal lead and playing with a man advantage.
“Everyone was pretty down. It was the lowest point we had been this season. It was pretty hard to stomach afterwards,” said Vincent.
“But he (Steffens) was getting on us to believe in ourselves again. Had us remember things we’ve done well. The games against Red Bulls, Toronto, where we passed it around well. Kind of gave us that belief again. Tonight, it took us some time to get going, but once we did, we did well.”
Riverhounds Starting eleven and subs included: Brown (G), Okiomah (Miro Cabrilo 87′), Hunt, Dallman, Flunder (Tyler Pasher 68′), Stephen Okai (Nick Kolarec 88′), Danny Earls, Vincent, Kerr, Moloto (Amara Soumah 87′).
Steffens immediately dismissed any controversy after the game about the goalkeeping situation, as Ryan Thompson has returned to the team, after his run of play in the Gold Cup with Jamaica, but didn’t dress on Saturday as he’s still sore from playing in the final four matches for the Reggae Boyz.
“Calle’s played well, but with Ryan being a national team keeper, with his experience, deserves the opportunity to get back in their when healthy. We’re going to have to wait for him because his knees were pretty swollen. Not sure how long it’s going to take. He’ll get his opportunity as soon as he’s healthy,” said Steffens.
The Riverhounds return to action on Saturday, August 8, as they travel to Toronto FC II. The Hounds have won both meetings with the Baby Reds this year (5-1 at Highmark Stadium in April, and 2-0, in Canada on July 8)
PAUL CHILD HONORED AT HALFTIME
“It’s just a great, great honor tonight. I am very grateful for everyone’s support over the years,” said Child.
Child, who had been involved as an assistant coach and member of the Riverhounds front office in their early years, has remained with the team as a member of the broadcast team.