KEYSTONE DERBY CUP FINAL
Pittsburgh Riverhounds (5-15-4, 19 points) vs Harrisburg City Islanders (7-14-4, 25 points)
7 p.m. Kickoff – FNB Field – Harrisburg, PA
2016 Derby Results (with links to PSReport Game Summaries)
KEY STORYLINES / WHAT’S AT STAKE
This is what’s at stake…
With the City Islanders holding the edge heading into the final game, here are the scenarios:
HARRISBURG TAKES THE CUP IF …they win or tie
PITTSBURGH RETAINS THE CUP …they win
Last season, Keystone Derby Cup was introduced as a new twist to a series played between in-state and USL rivals.
In 2015, as the teams played for the prestige of winning a Derby Cup trophy — it was an exhilarating series with a mind-blowing 28 goals (Advantage Hounds 16-12) and two remarkable come-from-behind wins by each team at home.
The fate of the Derby came down to the the fourth and last game between the two teams on the final weekend of the season — as Pittsburgh triumphed 2-1, thanks to first half goals by Lebo Moloto and Kevin Kerr as they also nudged past Harrisburg to clinch a USL Eastern playoff spot, giving the team’s loyal supporters, The Steel Army, who made the trip, a chance to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh.
But that was a year ago. And much has changed.
This year, in two games, there’s been a mere three goals (all in the second game).
In the second game, Harrisburg scored twice in the first half taking advantage of Pittsburgh mistakes — and Kerr had the lone goal in the second half — a very important goal in the series — to keep the goal differential at one heading into Saturday’s final match.
Only Harrisburg (25 points) seems to have a fighters chance at a playoff spot — as they are trailing eighth place Orlando City B by seven points in the standings with only five games remaining.
This will be Pittsburgh’s first visit to the State Capital since bringing the Cup back in September 2015. And it will be the first time the Hounds will be playing in the City Islanders new field — also located on City Island but the home of the Harrisburg Senators baseball team — FNB Field.
On the field, the Riverhounds have been up and down of late. They’ve won their last two home games (over struggling Bethlehem Steel FC and Wilmington Hammerheads), and have been dealt 3-goal losses at both Montreal and Rochester.
Reading, PA native and former Penn State standout Corey Hertzog has quietly put together a solid season — after two more goals on Wednesday against Wilmington — he’s now the Hounds clear cut leader with 11 tallies this season.
Riverhounds Head Coach Dave Brandt spent many years in Harrisburg — attending and then later coaching at Messiah College where he won six NCAA Division III National Championships — so this game will be a homecoming of sorts for him to a place where he had a lot of success.
In addition to winning the Keystone Derby Cup — as Nick Thompson correctly pointed out after the win in the post-game media session on Wednesday — the Hounds can also win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
MORE ON THE CITY ISLANDERS
While the Hounds have been busier in August (playing five games) — Harrisburg hasn’t played since August 14, and have only played three games this month.
On August 5, they were taken behind the woodshed, and absolutely pummeled by first place NY Red Bulls — 5-0. Since, they’ve rebounded a bit with a 1-1 tie at Louisville and a 1-0 win over Toronto FC II.
Midfielder Jose Barrill has been the playmaker and top scorer for the City Islanders, along with forward Aaron Wheeler (5 goals) and watch out for Paul Wilson in the midfield as well — as he’s a good two-way player (4 goals/4 assists).
Although the Steel Army would love to be able to taunt their favorite whipping boy — veteran Nick Noble in goal, the younger, former NY Cosmos’ keeper Keasel Broome has been the primary goalie for the City Islanders since mid-July. Broome was in net the last time the Hounds and City Islanders met.
TACTICS & STRATEGIES
City Islanders coach Bill Bechner has been the only coach in the history of the franchise.
He’s taken his team to two USL Championship games, one as recent as two years ago.
Thus far, in the first two matches between the two teams, he’s had Harrisburg prepared and they’ve been the better side that’s made the fewer mistakes.
The Riverhounds played a spirited second half in the 2-1 defeat in the second game — and will need that type of effort again. The first game, a draw, was the Hounds first clean sheet of the season and the first in Mauricio Vargas‘ career as he was superb — along with some help from the back line (Karsten Smith — who’s no longer with the team – made a goal saving clearance).
Defensive lapses in a five minute span are the difference in the series, and why the Hounds trail 2-1 going into the final game.
Here’s what happened in the last game in a five minute span:
Mike Green tried to head a ball back to goalkeeper Vargas in a tight spot to the side of the goal by the end line.
Green’s header doesn’t go right to Vargas — who has to make a lunging attempt to keep the ball from crossing the end line.
Unfortunately, as Vargas pounces on the ball, the linesman ruled that the ball crossed the line, and awarded a corner kick to Harrisburg.
Sure enough, Harrisburg takes advantage of the corner kick opportunity, as the suddenly shaken and disorganized Hounds lost focus –and did a poor job of marking on the far post area, as Dante Leverock came through to head the ball easily into the goal for the 1-0 lead.
Only moments later, the Hounds give up another goal when failing to clear a ball after Vargas made a nice save.
Harrisburg’s Jose Barril got to the rebound — and scooted past a lunging Willie Hunt — and then pushed a shot toward goal that ricocheted off Green’s leg and past Vargas for the goal.
Just like that — in five minutes — the Riverhounds were down 2-0.
“What went wrong is this group’s reaction to when something goes wrong is not conscious, it’s not mental,” Brandt said.
“It’s just a downing of spirits that leads to a lack of concentration, a lack of belief. You see us in a lot of games — for 15 minutes — not being ourselves and that’s caused a problem in a number of games. We lose control and we lose focus.
The Hounds have also had similar collapses in recent road games at Montreal and at Rochester.
After the sting of that last loss to Harrisburg, Kerr reflected how important these games against their in-state rivals are to him.
“If we want to do anything in this league, we have to beat this team,” Kerr said.
In addition to his goal in July, Kerr scored five times in four games against City Islanders last year — including the game winner in stoppage time of the Hounds remarkable 6-5 comeback from a two goal deficit in the 89th minute.
Can the Hounds captain summon up one more great performance against the City Islanders?
Regardless, the Hounds will have to defend well — and with a core back line that looks like Green, Marshall Hollingsworth, Hunt and Sergio Campbell — with Danny Earls in front of them in the holding mid spot — they are capable of a strong defensive effort.
Only Toronto FC II (47) have surrendered more goals than the City Islanders (45) in USL this season. With Hertzog –and the midfield playing well of late (they were stringing together more than one minute possessions multiple times vs Wilmington) — they are more than capable of taking it to Harrisburg and scoring a few goals.
Pittsburgh will also have heavier legs than Harrisburg — as they played Wednesday night, while as previously mentioned, the City Islanders have not played since August 14.
The final 30 minutes could prove to be critical — and it may come down to a bit of a chess match between Brandt and Bechner. Brandt will have to use his player subs effectively and maximize the team’s energy level — as anything less than a full-effort will be the difference between the Cup staying in Harrisburg and returning to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Soccer Report’s John Krysinsky will be in Harrisburg on Saturday and will provide complete coverage. You can follow John’s coverage — on Twitter.