PITTSBURGH RIVERHOUNDS 1 HARRISBURG CITY ISLANDERS 0
It wasn’t exactly the prettiest game, but the Pittsburgh Riverhounds gutted out a win over the Harrisburg City Islanders, 1-0, on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium, thanks to a familiar connection — Kevin Kerr to Corey Hertzog.
In two wins this season, it’s been the combination of Kerr and Hertzog hooking up for the game winner. On April 8, at Charleston, Kerr found Hertzog in the box in stoppage time to beat the USL’s Eastern Conference leaders.
It happened again.
Playing up a man for most of the second half, yet having problems connecting passes in its final third and failing to get a shot attempt for a long stretch, it would take Kerr and Hertzog to rescue the Hounds.
Kerr sent a lining, pinpoint cross which was finished by Hertzog with a well-placed header in the 75th minute that broke a scoreless affair.
“When ever Kev gets the ball, I just try to be somewhere, where he can put it,” said Hertzog.
“He put it on top of my head twice in a row. Me and Kevin, I think, are very dangerous together.”
Kerr was elated to help the Hounds get a much needed three points, and after five seasons of playing against the City Islanders, and coming up short a year ago, he is savoring the win in front of a spirited home crowd.
“We really wanted to win it last year. It felt great to bring it back home two years ago, and to play for this Cup, it means something and we know we can win it,” said Kerr, who has scored six times in seven Keystone Derby Cup games since 2015.
For the Riverhounds it was a much needed win after a three game slide that included a sluggish draw at Charlotte and two losses to Saint Louis FC and at Richmond.
With its first shutout of the season, the Hounds also now have a leg up in the three-game Keystone Derby Cup series after securing their first victory at home.
From the beginning of the match, the Hounds established possession and both Kerr and Hertzog had a few decent chances to propel Pittsburgh into the lead.
“At first, I was frustrated with them,” chuckled Brandt after the game.
“I thought we dominated play in the first half, and had some really good chances that we couldn’t finish.
“(Hertzog and Kerr) Good combination – they were dangerous early in the first half as well and it’s a shame they couldn’t get one then.””
In 30th minute, with ball in box – Kerr lofted a chip to Jack Thompson, who’s shot was deflected by defender and saved by Miller. The Hounds argued with the official for a hand ball in the box, to no avail.
Both Kerr and Hertzog had chances around the box — but both shots sailed over the bar.
It proved to be a physical match throughout, as both of Harrisburg’s center defenders were booked for fouls on Kerr and Hertzog in the first half.
The Hounds defenders were playing equally physical and not giving any ground.
On one sequence, Harrisburg forward Aaron Wheeler collided hard with Hounds defender Joe Greenspan. After trying to give it a go, Wheeler had to come out in the 35th minute.
At the end of the half, the Hounds had a free kick opportunity from close range that Kerr sent in, which also deflected off a defender and Miller secured. Again the Hounds pleaded for a handball, but the teams went into halftime knotted in a scoreless tie.
Early in the second half, the match turned on the second yellow card being issued to Abass Mohammad, who carelessly pushed Hertzog in the corner on a Hounds through ball that didn’t connect – rolling out of bounds into the corner.
With Mohammad being sent off to the showers, the Hounds were up a man, but were still having trouble finding their way.
“For about 10 minutes after that, we waited to figure out things,” said Brandt.
“And for a while there, it got nervy.”
The City Islanders came close to taking the lead when James Thomas surged into the penalty area and was denied at the near post by Riverhounds goalkeeper Trey Mitchell in the 64th minute. That was probably the City Islanders best chance other than Manolo Sanchez’s free kick opportunity where he slid the ball to the right of the Hounds wall that forced Mitchell into making a diving save.
It was Mitchell’s first career shutout — and the Hounds first clean sheet of the year.
“I thought our back four — and Trey were solid tonight, and have been getting better,” said Brandt.
“We cut down on mistakes, and it showed.”
In the final 10 minutes, with the lead, the Hounds held off a few Harrisburg runs into the final third, including a free kick from midfield in stoppage time that brought up goalkeeper Brandon Miller.
After the ball swung into the box, and the Hounds escaped a dangerous ball in, Miller let his frustration out on the game official Calin Radosav.
Miller was issued a red card as the game whistle blew, giving the Hounds the early edge in the Keystone Derby series which will be completed with two games in Harrisburg (Wed., May 24 and Sat., Aug 12).
“We said at halftime it doesn’t matter how we do it, we just have to start winning games, said Kerr.
“Winning is a skill. It’s different than playing well, getting over the finish line and taking the three points.”
When the whistle blew, Mitchell turned around and ran toward the Steel Army as they unleashed a cloud of yellow smoke into the Pittsburgh night that set off a celebration of the Hounds first win against Harrisburg since clinching the first Keystone Cup in September 2015.
“This is a big win for us. We know how important it is to the fans and for us to jump ahead of Harrisburg in the standings,” added Brandt, who lived in Harrisburg for many years when coaching at Messiah College.
Pittsburgh (2-3-2, 8 points) can now look forward to a big game on Wednesday night when Toronto FC II visits Highmark Stadium (for the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3).
In two seasons, the Hounds have not lost to TFCII.
I will have more on this match with a new edition of “WHAT WE LEARNED” on Monday — and will be posting a new edition of #PGHSOCCER FILM SERIES on Sunday.
Brandt said after the match that right back Rich Balchan, who had to leave the game halfway through the second half, had a serious foot injury, and will have to be re-evaluated on Monday.
“There’s no doubt that’s a blow for us. He’s been a solid player for us, and if he’s down, it will be tough,” said Brandt.
Trey Mitchell (G), Rich Balchan (Stephen Okai), Joe Greenspan, Jamal Jack, Taylor Washington, Victor Souto, Abuchi Obinwa Kenroy Howell), Jack Thompson, Marshall Hollingsworth, Kevin Kerr and Corey Hertzog.
Keasel Broome (G), Gale Agbossoumonde, Ritchie Duffie, Michael Green, Key Banjo
Brandon Miller (G), Jamie Thomas, Tiago Calvano, Abass Mohammad, Lee Nishanian, Rasheed Olabiyi, John Gkosh, Mohammad Dabo, Aaron Wheeler, Monolo Sanchez, Johnny Mendoza
Nick Noble (G), Jake Bond, Pedro Ribeiro, Mike Olla, Paul Wilson, Cardell Bembo, Ropapa Mensah