July 4, 2016
7 p.m. Kickoff
What’s At Stake / Key Storylines
Throw out the records. For now, you can forget about playoff implications.
This is about the Keystone Derby.
With the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and City Islanders you have two teams that are struggling in 2016 — but have a chance to still win the Keystone Derby Cup. The Cup made its debut in 2015 and was won by the Riverhounds in a series of four matches that were filled with many goals, two epic come-from-behind finishes (each by the home team) and a Derby clinching nail biter in the season finale.
The two franchises have been playing each other since the debut of the City Islanders in 2004. The Riverhounds were founded in 1999.
Since USL began its current league structure and format in 2011, the two rivals are almost dead even — with City Islanders holding a slight edge — 6-5-3.
Despite last year’s wild series of high scoring affairs, the last time the Riverhounds played in a scoreless, 0-0 game, it was at Harrisburg, in June 2014.
Since this season’s originally planned opening match between the in-state rivals in early April was postponed due to inclement weather, this will be the first of three matches this between the Hounds and City Islanders.
And before we start looking at this year’s match-up in more detail, it’s worth another look back at last year’s remarkable Keystone Derby series:
TOTAL GOALS: Riverhounds 16 City Islanders 12
2015 KEYSTONE DERBY RESULTS/HIGHLIGHTS:
March 28 — Riverhounds Win 5-2 Kevin Kerr and Rob Vincent combine for five goals including a hat trick by Kerr, as Hounds begin season and Mark Steffens era with impressive showing in opener at Highmark Stadium.
May 30 — Riverhounds Win 6-5. After watching a stunning Riverhounds comeback from deficits of 3-0, 4-2 and 5-3 in the 89th minute, along with everyone else at Highmark Stadium amazed. I simply called it “Miracle on the Mon”.
July 26 — City Islanders Win 4-3. In Harrisburg, the City Islanders returned the favor. The Hounds were leading 3-1, and in complete control by the 70th minute, when things unraveled. The home team completed a three-goal flurry in the final 20 minutes, leaving the season finale as the deciding game in the 2015 Keystone
September 19 — Riverhounds win 2-1. (capture playoff berth and win Keystone Derby). Returning to Skyline Sports Complex in September with the season and an inaugural Keystone Derby Cup on the line, the Hounds stunned the City Islanders with two goals in two minutes in the 34th and 35th minutes, by Lebo Moloto and Kerr, and it was enough to hold on to capture the Keystone Derby and the newly heralded Turnpike Cup.
Oh, and by the way, the Hounds also cliniched a spot in USL’s Eastern Conference playoffs.
Of course, that was last year. This year, much has changed.Gone from the Hounds are Steffens (let go after slow start) and Vincent to D.C. United (who scored five of the Hounds 16 goals vs City Islanders last year).
The Riverhounds have replaced Steffens with long-time college coach, Dave Brandt who spent more than 30 years in Harrisburg, at his alma mater Messiah College, where he played, then as head coach won NCAA Division III National Championship. Brandt continued his collegiate coaching success at Division I Navy, where he was for the past eight years with a winning percentage over .800.
“They’re a team currently ahead of us in the standings and one we’d like to gain ground on as well. Living. in Harrisburg myself for 32 years, and knowing almost everyone in the City Islanders organization, I can tell you these matches mean a lot to that club as well,” said Brandt.
One more side story leading up to Monday’s game, includes the return of Danny Earls to the Hounds lineup after mid-season re-signing.
One of the 2015 Keystone Derby heroes — Earls — played 90 minutes in his first game, last week at Rochester and appears to be in good form after training in his home Ireland.
Earls, 2015 team captain, acknowledged to both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Meg Ryan and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Matt Grubba in articles posted this weekend that he was not re-signed in the offseason due to a strained relationship with Steffens..
And, for what it’s worth — the Keystone Derby Cup is now being sponsored by K&L Gates and the Pennsylvania Lottery.
MORE ON CITY ISLANDERS
While the Hounds are struggling this season, the City Islanders have slipped of late too.
After two wins on May 22 and 24 over Bethlehem Steel FC and Tornoto FC, to improve their record to 4-5-1 after 10 games, the City Islanders have lost their last six, and are USL Eastern Conference worst team in goals allowed, conceding 30 in 16 games.
Like the Riverhounds, most of the City Islanders losses have been in close, hard-fought matches.
While in 2015, the City Islanders found success with quick, counter striking opportunities, this year’s team plays more possession-based under the direction of long-time coach Bill Bechner.
Jason Plumoff and Yann Ekra were both thorns in the Riverhounds side in 2015, are both gone.
The team’s top scorers are Paul Wilson (6 goals) and Aaron Wheeler (5 goals)
Regular starting defender James Thomas has been suspended for the game due to picking up a red card in the last game.
Also, another familiar foe for the Hounds for the City Islanders is goalkeeper Nick Noble, a favorite whipping boy of the Steel Army.
TACTICS & STRATEGIES
The Riverhounds have lost four of their first five games under Brandt as they are trying to play more direct, and bring more numbers forward when they get a chance to attack.
The last two games, the Hounds attack has shown some improvement with more sustained attacks, chances with center forward Corey Hertzog getting into a scoring groove as he has found the back of the net three straight games, including scoring the lone goal in a 2-1 loss last week at Rochester.
Without Thomas on a back line that is already given up the most goals in Eastern Conference, the Hounds will likely look to be on the attack early and often.
From the looks of it, these two teams have been strikingly similiar in many aspects, that it looks like we may have three more close, hard fought Keystone Derby matches again.
Let the fireworks begin on July 4th — at Highmark Stadium.