All Corey Hertzog wants to do in his second season with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds is win, and if he scores a few goals along the way — that’s just fine with him.
The former Penn State standout from Reading, PA’s professional soccer journey has included numerous stops after being the top pick of New York Red Bulls, in 2011 Major League Soccer (MLS) SuperDraft (13th overall).
Hertzog, 26, made 12 total MLS appearances early in his pro career, five with the Red Bulls, and another seven with Vancouver Whitecaps. He’s found success in the second and third division of U.S. soccer with a number of teams including: Wilmington Hammerheads, Orlando City, FC Edmonton, Tampa Bay Rowdies before returning to his home state a year ago.
His first season with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2016 included a horrendous start for the team while he was battling through his ankle injury and when he was on the field, many missed scoring opportunities in the early portion of the season.
Still, the veteran forward persevered through a tough campaign, regained his confidence and scoring touch. Hertzog finished as the team leader in goals — a career high 13, along with being the team leader in points scored, minutes played and shots on goal despite a season which the Hounds finished second to last in United Soccer League (USL) Eastern Conference standings.
In the off season, Brandt made it a priority to bring back a core group of players that he wanted, and at the top of the list was Hertzog.
“He (Brandt) said he wanted to bring us back, and that made us feel good. Last year wasn’t the best, so we weren’t sure about everything,” said Hertzog.
“It’s good to have a coach that believes in you, and hopefully we can make it happen on the field and thus far in the preseason I feel like we’re doing that.
Along with longer tenured Hounds Kevin Kerr, Mike Green and Danny Earls, Brandt views Hertzog as one of the key leaders of this year’s team.
“It’s great to have a good, core group back from last year. We brought them all back intentionally, on purpose,” said Brandt.The most important thing is that they’re the right guy. That’s why they’re back. Having been here before and having been in the league and going through what they did last year is really important and critical moving forward.”
With Brandt having the bulk of his roster in place by the New Year, he decided to start training camp by January, and that was just fine with Hertzog.
“This time last year it was a struggle,” said Hertzog.
“I had an ankle injury and was limited in what I could do right up to the start of the season and into the first month.”
“I just want to win games. We missed out last year. We just didn’t win enough games. A lot of guys with us now weren’t here last year. Guys like me and Kevin told them about what things were like here. We want to win. They (new guys) want to win games too.”
“It’s like a starvation of wins.”
This year though, Hertzog is getting good vibes about how things are going.
“This year, it feels good. It’s nice to be healthy. We’re winning games and that means something. I thought we’ve played well most of the preseason,” said Hertzog..”
On Sunday, against University of Charleston (WV), pairing up with newcomer Key Banjo at forward as part of one of the two 10-men field player rotations utilized by Brandt, Hertzog scored a nifty goal.
After receiving a pass right to his feet from Banjo, he evaded Charleston goalkeeper Paulo Pita‘s lunge to keep the ball away from him, then burying a shot into the open goal to score his fourth goal of the preseason.
Being paired with Banjo, Hertzog has been been impressed with the young player who was drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2015 MLS SuperDraft.
“I think we’re a good combination. He’s strong, holds up the ball well, all that.”
“In the last three goals — I scored, he got an assist, then he scored and I got an assist, and again, I scored, and he got an assist. So the relationship’s there. Now, we got to keep it going. Keep it together.
The Hounds have mostly gone with two forward combinations in the preseason thus far — including the tandem of Hertzog and Banjo, Kerr has also played at the top spot along with former Cincinnati Bearcat John Manga.
With a healthy Hertzog returning as one of the two forwards in Brandt’s 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2) formation, there are only so many spots for playing time to go around when the season rolls around.
“It’s going to be a tough one for coach, but that’s always a good thing. You can’t complain when the other forwards are scoring. It’s going to be a tough decision,” said Hertzog.
While Brandt decides on where he’s going to slide his players into the line-up to put the best possible attacking combinations, Hertzog is focused on doing all the things his coach is demanding — and what he needs to do to help the Pittsburgh Riverhounds have a bounce back season.
“We’re just looking for confidence right now. We’re doing that through ball possession, getting game fitness and training hard every day, regardless of the competition in the preseason,” added Hertzog.
Last season’s preseason didn’t go well either for the Hounds, even losing matches to college teams.
Two years ago, some Riverhounds fans may recall that before his breakout season, Rob Vincent began racking up goals and leading the Hounds to strong performances in the preseason too. After Sunday’s 1-1 tie against a University of Charleston team that has made it to the NCAA Division II Final Four in each of the last three seasons, Pittsburgh has outscored opponents 10-3 in five preseason games. In 2015, after a solid preseason, the Hounds would go on to qualify for the USL Eastern Conference playoffs and have one of the highest scoring outfits in the league.
Could a strong preseason be an indicator of things to come for Hertzog and the Hounds?
“I want to score 15 or more goals this year, but the main goal is winning games,” said Hertzog.
“We want to win games and be in the top four, and all that. If we win games and in the top four then I’ll be scoring goals.”
“But for now, we’ll see next week against Rochester (in first preseason game vs USL opponent), we’ll see where we are at. It will be interesting and good test.”
#PGHSOCCER VIDEO SERIES: Hounds Veterans Bring Focus, Intensity Early In Preseason (2/26/17)