Pittsburgh Riverhounds (1-3-2, 5 points) vs Harrisburg City Islanders (2-1-1, 7 points)
Saturday, April 29 – 7 p.m.
Broadcast – USL Match Center / YouTube
This will be the first game in 2017 of the Keystone Derby — a series between interstate rivals that have been competing against each other since 2004. Since 2015, the teams have been competing for Keystone Derby Cup, and for the second consecutive season, this series will be sponsored by the PA Lottery.
Pittsburgh captured the Cup in 2015 after four enthralling contests that featured 28 goals — clinching in the final game of the regular season at Harrisburg. Harrisburg returned the favor in 2016, beating the Hounds 2-1 in Pittsburgh in late July game that was sandwiched between two draws. In the finale last August, Hounds veteran midfielder Danny Earls was sent off after a very hard challenge, and in the scuffle that followed, he also put his hands on an official, prompting an eight-game suspension which he served through the beginning of this season.
The teams will play three times this season, and this will be the only game played in Pittsburgh this year. The teams will play twice again in Harrisburg in a mid-week tilt on Wednesday, May 24, and then a return match on Saturday, August 12.
After the excitement of 2015 finale (a 2-1 Hounds win), it boggles my mind as to why USL schedule makers don’t make Pittsburgh-Harrisburg the season finale or closer to end of each year for these two teams.
The Hounds come into this match needing a win to stop a bit of a slide, as last three games include two losses (both by 2-1 scores) and a lackluster draw at Charlotte.
The City Islanders are sitting in 8th place at the moment, having had some decent wins (over Bethlehelm Steel FC and New York Red Bulls II) and are coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw where they surrendered a goal in stoppage time to Orlando City B on April 18 at FNB Field.
For the Hounds, this is the third match of the season in the Old Guard Shield series between the five long-standing teams in USL. In the series, the Hounds have defeated Charleston and lost at Richmond. The City Islanders lost its opener at Richmond, 1-0.
KEYSTONE DERBY CUP RESULTS (2015/2016)
- March 25, 2015 – Riverhounds 5 City Islanders 2
- May 30, 2015 – Riverhounds 6 City Islanders 5
- July 26, 2015 – City Islanders 4 Riverhounds 3
- September 15, 2015 – Riverhounds 2 City Islanders 1 (HOUNDS CLINCH CUP)
- July 4, 2016 – Riverhounds 0 City Islanders 0
- July 17, 2016 – City Islanders 2 Riverhounds 1
- August 27, 2016 – City Islanders 1 Riverhounds 1 (CITY ISLANDERS CLINCH CUP)
MORE ON CITY ISLANDERS
Five goals in the box — from five different players.
That’s where the offensive output has come from long-time coach Bill Bechner‘s squad.
There’s been noticeable improvement for the City Islanders defensively this year, after surrendering 54 goals a year ago they’ve already managed a clean sheet, and given up four goals in four matches.
New additions Lee Nishanian and Abass Mohamed have anchored the center of the back line every minute of the season thus far, and together they’ve been instrumental in limiting shot opportunities for its opponents.
They are also a physical pair, and Harrisburg’s been prone fouling in the middle and defending third.
In goal, they have Brandon Miller, who helped the Rochester Rhinos win a USL title in 2015. With solid work in front of him, Miller’s only faced 11 shots this season.
In the attack, there are a number of familiar faces to the Keystone Derby — like Cardel Benbow, Denny DiPrima, Paul Wilson and Aaron Wheeler.
Another interesting player to keep an eye out for is Manolo Sanchez, a Puerto Rican born midfielder, who was taken by New York Red Bulls in 2013 MLS SuperDraft. After a few years in NY where he split time between top team (3 appearances) and Red Bulls II, he played last year in San Antonio FC. Sanchez found the game’s winning goal in the 62nd minute to lift Harrisburg to its first win of the season over his former team, NY Red Bulls II.
INJURIES / SUSPENSIONS
The Hounds still have a few players nursing injuries, most notably Ryan Adeleye (Hamstring – doubtful), who’s been out since the first game of the season. Both Stephen Okai (knee) and Jamal Jack (ribs) are probable.
WHAT TO EXPECT
From my view, these two teams are still trying to figure things out, but they both appear to be a bit more competitive with the rest of the field this year.
Whether either can take the next step and contend for a playoff spot remains to be seen, and the three Keystone Derby matches may be instrumental in determining the success of both team’s seasons.
So this is a pretty important game for both sides.
Getting a leg up in the Keystone Derby will provide a much needed boost that each team needs. For the Hounds, it would be a chance to end a bit of a slide and jump back into the middle of the table, and for Harrisburg, a win in Pittsburgh gives them three wins in April and a spot in the upper half of USL Eastern Conference standings. Not bad for a team that gave up 54 goals a year ago.
While the two teams scored a boatload of goals against each other in 2015, the series took a turn to become a slug-fest in 2016 with every goal really being important.
Surrendering two goals in the second meeting last year at Highmark Stadium really were catastrophic for Pittsburgh. They can’t let that happen again on Saturday if they want to have a chance to bring the Cup back to the Steel City.
By the time the teams met for the third time last year, physical play boiled over and tempers flared — most notably with Earls, a veteran losing his composure.
The Hounds continue to have long stretches of decent play and solid defending in most games, but still find ways to give up goals. Against St. Louis they only allowed two shots on goal — but they lost 2-1. At Richmond last week, in wet conditions, the Hounds allowed goals on a cross to near post area that caught the center backs looking at each other afterwards in disgust, and the other goal came when they couldn’t clear a ball that came in on a free kick.
Harrisburg, like Richmond last week, haven’t exactly been lighting it up. Four goals in four games. Becher, the only coach the City Islanders have ever had, always seems to have his teams ready for the Hounds, and last year the City Islanders really dictated pace and play of each match. Even though the City Islanders had one of the poorest defensive units in the league a season ago, they still found a way to keep the Hounds attack stifled to two goals in three games.
You better believe that Becher will make sure his players will be accounting for Hounds captain Kevin Kerr, who always seems to show up big against Harrisburg — with a total of six goals in six Keystone Derby Cup matches played the last two seasons.
Kerr scored three goals in the opener in 2015, and had goals in the Miracle on the Mon comeback and the playoffs/Keystone Derby Cup clincher. He scored the Hounds lone goal in the 2-1 loss to the City Islanders last year. Heading into this match, Kerr appears to be in solid form, taking turns playing at the top of the attack, and in central/attacking midfield too.
Becher might be content with a road draw, but he has a few players, namely Sanchez, Benbow and Wheeler who can take advantage of lapses in the Hounds back line that seem to happen a few times a game. He would be ecstatic to get up a goal (or two) and then build a fortress like he did for much of the last two games against Pittsburgh last year.
Since the first week of the season, the Hounds have not played a match where they’ve been able to sustain consistent attack for 90 minutes. If they can take the game to Harrisburg, and get an early goal, Dave Brandt‘s boys will have a good chance to earn its first home win of the season.