Before I move on this week — and start looking at the upcoming Pittsburgh Riverhounds season and other Pittsburgh-related soccer news and stories, I wanted to take a look back at Rob Vincent’s contributions to the Riverhounds franchise as he really did make his mark in three years in the ‘Burgh.
There were a lot of mixed emotions for Pittsburgh soccer fans, members of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, members of the team’s academy — and especially for Rob Vincent last week.
For Vincent, it was quite a day on Wednesday, as his contract was transferred from the Riverhounds to Major League Soccer’s DC United after a successful preseason trial which he made two starts in friendlies and earned a spot on the United’s 28-man roster. In addition, having a green card, the Liverpool, England native won’t take up one of the United’s International roster spots as they head to Mexico to began play in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night.
In the letter, Vincent expressed his heartfelt gratitude to many for making his experience in Pittsburgh a very memorable one.
It’s been a privilege for me to play a part in some memorable occasions that will live long in the minds of Pittsburgh soccer fans. I was honored to receive the Steel Army Player of the Year award last season and I’ll never forget seeing the fans raising a banner with my jersey on it ahead of our Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game against D.C. United.
The Riverhounds also shared a pretty cool tribute video to Vincent.
And the Steel Army (and numerous other fans) shared their gratitude on twitter and Facebook…
Vincent has always been a pleasure to deal with from the media perspective and a true professional. Add his work-ethic and success on the field — it was clear why he quickly became a fan-favorite.
Here’s a TIFO that the Steel Army created for Vincent, ironically unveiling it for the DC United US Open Cup game last June.
Heading into this year’s campaign, I am sure that he would have been at the top of the list of players Mark Steffens would have asked to wear the captain’s armband for the Hounds. This would not be so much for being a vocal leader or for his goal scoring abilities, but more so for a being a leader by example who earned the respect of those he played with and made better.
As an aside — after watching that tribute video produced by the Riverhounds, I can’t seem to get past Vincent’s somewhat striking resemblance to Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor) in the Star Wars prequels — and his metamorphosis from young (clean-shaven) first-year player to experienced veteran (bearded) who took his game to another level.
Vincent came to Pittsburgh as a solid young player with an outstanding work rate and became a valuable contributor immediately. However, when it came to goals, that particular team relied mostly on the scoring tandem of Matt Dallman on the flank, and Jose Angulo, as a left-footed finisher at the top, as both set USL goals and assist records in a more traditional 4-4-2 formation. Yet, there were times you could see his talents — and strong leg, but he was mostly doing the workmanlike things to keep his spot in the lineup, in more of a defensive midfield role with that team.
Vincent’s time would come.
After a forgettable 2014 Vincent and most involved with the Hounds — a bearded, stronger and more confident Vincent became the go-to guy and a dangerous scoring threat in 2015, especially with the ball at his feet anywhere near goal, finishing the season with 18 goals in league play and three more in the US Open Cup.
Last season’s turn-around was able to happen in large part because Steffens recognized and got the most out of the talents the players that he inherited – like Vincent.
Vincent’s success is a great lesson for many young soccer players. Sure, he has the talent. Yes, he had the pedigree (trained with Everton in his youth and a successful collegiate career). But he needed a lot of hard work and persistence to match his abilities and take his game to another level. Making it to the top-tier of soccer is not easy.
Following a successful career at the University of Charleston, Vincent was invited as trialist with the Riverhounds by then Head Coach Justin Evans, and signed with the team in 2013 as they moved into Highmark Stadium.
It was a good fit for him, for more reasons than one, as he mentions in his letter.
It was during my time at UC that I met my wonderful wife, Katie. She is from Wexford, so it is with great pride that I call Pittsburgh my home from home.
If you showed up early for a Riverhounds game during the past few years, it was almost a sure bet that Vincent was the first player on the field getting ready sometimes a few hours before kickoff.
Vincent’s hard work paid off, as he’s now preparing for a season in Major League Soccer.
“Rob’s dedication toward improving every facet of his game is phenomenal,” said Mark Steffens through the Riverhounds media release.
“He has been a fantastic servant to the Riverhounds as a player and as a coach in our Academy. He is a superb role model for every aspiring young player in the Western Pennsylvania area to follow.”
Finally, I can’t conclude this column without mentioning (and repeating) my favorite Rob Vincent moment on the field at Highmark Stadium. It’s arguably one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever had watching a soccer game.
It was the game tying goal in the “Miracle on the Mon” come-from-behind 6-5 win over Keystone Derby rivals Harrisburg last May. Vincent was on a roll coming into the game –leading the USL in goals and having scored the game winner in the 9oth minute vs Tampa Bay in the US Open Cup only days before.
With the Hounds trailing 5-4 in stoppage time, and the City Islanders inexplicably leaving him unmarked to the right of Kevin Kerr and Lebo Moloto, who both lined up on the ball just outside the box prior to a free kick.
Kerr played the ball to the right — and the top of the arc for Vincent.
With plenty of room to shoot, Vincent’s kick was a laser into the upper right corner — stunning the City Islanders — who had two goal leads trimmed twice by Danny Earls in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
“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,” an exhausted but happy Vincent told me after the game.
Harrisburg’s exhausted players didn’t react quick enough, and looked in disbelief as Vincent ran to the corner for the celebration as his teammates joined him — and the stands shook the press box like never before. Then, the City Islanders were completely broken a minute later when Kerr and Moloto hooked up on a ‘1-2’ that set up the game winner.
“An amazing, amazing night for us,” said Vincent.
It was Vincent’s goal that broke the will of the City Islanders, and set Highmark Stadium into bedlam, providing this generation of Pittsburgh soccer fans with their own version of the “Immaculate Reception”.
Here in Pittsburgh, I am sure that I can speak for most soccer followers in saying that while it’s unfortunate he’s leaving, Vincent was a key building block on a team and franchise that had a memorable turn-around season. He will be missed, and hopefully his fellow attacking midfield mates, Kerr and Moloto, won’t miss a beat in leading the attack in 2016.
I guess we’ll now have to be on the look out for the next Rob Vincent.
We’ll also be looking forward to seeing him in DC United Black and Red (and hopefully not in Richmond — DC’s USL affiliate where he could be loaned).
I have no doubt, that Vincent will make his mark where ever he goes.