The Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Harrisburg City Islanders renewed their Keystone Derby rivalry before a packed 4th of July crowd on a rainy night at Highmark Stadium in a hard-fought scoreless tie.
“I’m pleased with the physical and emotional effort which is a battle if you’re playing Harrisburg. It was a rainy night and I thought it started brightly and then turned into a war. I was obviously hoping we’d nip one a couple of times, but we didn’t and that’s disappointing, but we battled for sure.” said Dave Brandt, Riverhounds Head Coach.
Despite a decent showing on the defensive side, the Riverhounds (2-8-4, 10 points) failed to get a leg up on their in-state rivals City Islanders (4-11-2, 14 points) in the first of three games in the Keystone Derby.
For the Riverhounds, it was the first shutout of the season — and Harrisburg ended its six-game losing streak to pick up a point.
For the first time in over two years, the Riverhounds played in a scoreless draw. The last time was at Harrisburg, in June 2014, as Hunter Gilstrap earned the shutout on that night on City Island.
Here are my takeaways from the first leg of the Keystone Derby…
CLEAN SHEET — “IT HAD TO HAPPEN”
“I believe it was the first clean sheet of the season,” said Brandt.
“It had to happen for us. To get a point, and to have a shutout, that is important to us.”
The Riverhounds played an opponent that right now is a mirror image of themselves, as both teams have struggled most of the season, especially in converting on scoring chances. More on that in a bit.
But nonetheless, both teams could boast positive showings defensively, getting solid play from goalkeepers and defenders.
“We really have been putting a lot of attention in practice in our defensive shape and reducing chances, taking away the gaps,” added Brandt.
“It was our best defensive effort since I’ve been here.”
Another thing the Hounds can hang their hats on — was that it was the first professional career clean sheet for goalkeeper Maurcio Vargas, who made four saves.
“I was very happy to finally get a shutout. It’s feels good,” said Vargas.
While Vargas wasn’t tested as much in the first half, he got some help from his teammates and the official, Chuck Murphy.
First, late in the first half, he came sliding off the line to take a ball away from City Islanders forward Craig Foster, as he got to the ball first, Foster kicked his arm, then put the ball into the net for what appeared momentarily as a Harrisburg goal.
“I saw that it was a thru ball, and came out to make a play on the ball,” said Vargas.
“I got to the ball first, and (pointing to his arm) — he kicked me.”
Murphy ruled that Foster had kicked Vargas’ arm and the Hounds avoided a first half deficit.
Then, central defender Karsten Smith came to the rescue with this clearance…
“Our defense played well in front of me, and that was a big play,” added Vargas.
In the second half — Vargas made a pair of diving saves to deny Jose Barill — and came out strongly on a number of other dangerous crosses to help preserve the shutout.
“He (Vargas) made two big, big saves tonight for us,” said Brandt.
“I don’t know if we’ve been getting a lot of that from either keeper this year. It was great to see tonight.”
NOT MUCH FIREPOWER FROM EITHER SIDE
For those expecting two teams to light up the scoreboard on the Fourth of July, as they did a year ago, would not have expected this result.
The scoresheet had each team getting nine shots — but quality chances were few and far between.
Forget about 28 goals in this series this year — these two teams may be lucky to score five in the next two games.
The first 20 minutes the Riverhounds had some decent shots on goal — namely two good low, hard strikes at Harrisburg keeper Nick Noble from Zak Boggs from just outside the box. Corey Hertzog added another solid early strike at Noble — but he was solid — making four first half saves.
Even in the beginning of the second half, the Hounds were pressing — setting up four corner kicks in a 12-minute span. There were a few other advances into the final third, but again, the Hounds attack mostly fizzled.
Hertzog received a nice cut-back ball from Moloto, had time to deliver a strike, but instead sent a weak shot over the bar. And with that, Hertzog’s three-game scoring streak came to halt as that was his best chance.
In another sequence, Ewart made a nice run into the box, but had ball knocked away by defender, then Nick Thompson send a shot to Noble who punched it away — and Kevin Kerr’s shot was deflected away.
“I think we have to work harder to look for and make those runs,” said Brandt.
It was that kind of night for the Hounds attack.
Actually, it’s been that kind of year for the Hounds.
As mentioned above, after looking very sharp — and having most of the better of play for the first 20 minutes — the Riverhounds found themselves In a physical struggle, with numerous hard fouls and players going down.
Those were the kind of things you would expect in a rivalry game. And add the fact that both teams are both struggling, it became a slugfest at times.
There was one sequence where Hounds midfielder Danny Earls — as he’s known to do — took three fouls in about a five minute stretch, and both teams were exchanging free kicks from midfield.
In all, there were six yellow cards issued by Murphy. Two bookings went to Harrisburg’s Dante Leverock, who was sent off in the 85th minute after his very dangerous tackle of Moloto near midfield.
The Hounds picked up three yellow cards to Mike Green, Sergio Campbell and sub Duwayne Ewart.
Again, some of the credit should go to Harrisburg for turning the match into a grinder.
After the early Pittsburgh dominance in possession, the City Islanders adjusted, sat back and crowded the box to limit many of Pittsburgh’s chances. Then they started counter attacking when they saw opportunities.
Brandt again started the bigger center back tandem of Smith and Campbell, and that seems to be working pretty well. He started Green and Marshall Hollingsworth (who was replaced in 64th minute by Jordan Murrell). The odd man out on Monday was veteran Willie Hunt.
The two center backs held their own on most balls in the air and added a physical presence that Brandt likes.
“I have a number of options, yes,” said Brandt.
“But I like to be big at center back. I think we’ve been exposed a few times when we haven’t been.”
Pittsburgh Soccer Report — ANNUAL FIRECRACKER “MAN OF THE MATCH”
Made four saves, earned his first professional shutout
“I am very happy with the shutout and feel very fortunate to play for these great fans, and this team,” said Vargas after the match.
Vargas joins the following “Firecracker Man of the Match” Winners:
2013 – Matt Dallman
2014 – Andrew Marshall
2015 – Rob Vincent
Riverhounds – Mauricio Vargas – Marshall Hollingsworth (Jordan Murrell 66′) – Karsten Smith – Sergio Campbell – Mike Green – Danny Earls – Lebo Moloto – Kevin Kerr – Zak Boggs (Nick Thompson 77′) – Corey Hertzog – Jack Thompson (Duwayne Ewart 62′)
Subs not used: Hunter Gilstrap, Willie Hunt, Connor Branson, Drew Russell
City Islanders – Nick Noble – Shane Johnson – Liam Doyle – Dante Leverock – Shawn McLaws – Paul Wilson- Bobby Warshaw – Mouhamed Dabo – Josh Hughes (Cardel Benbow 62′) – Jose Barril (Danny DiPrima 90+’) – Aaron Wheeler (Craig Foster 17′ (Garret Pettis 50′))
Subs not used: Keasel Brooke, Matt Bolduc, Brett Jankauskas
PGH- Mike Green 14′ (Caution)
HAR- Bobby Warshaw 45+’ (Caution)
HAR- Dante Leverock 52′ (Caution)
PGH- Duwayne Ewart (Caution)
HAR- Dante Leverock 84′ (Caution-Red Card)
PGH- Sergio Campbell 90+’ (Caution)