Sixth-year Pittsburgh Riverhounds defender Sterling Flunder (left) tries to step past a Harrisburg player in a 5-2 opening-night win. (Credit: Terry O’Neil/Riverhounds.com)
SOUTH SIDE – After all the opening-week talk of new management, coaches and players, a pair of third-year Pittsburgh Riverhounds paced the way in a 5-2 victory over visiting Harrisburg last Saturday at Highmark Stadium.
Veteran midfielders Kevin Kerr (three goals) and Rob Vincent (two goals, two assists) provided the majority of the offensive thrust on a brisk opening night at Station Square, which didn’t surprise head coach Mark Steffens one bit.
“They’re leaders,” Steffens said. “They’re great players and they work tremendously hard. When you work that hard, good things happen. They were outstanding all preseason and I didn’t expect any less (against Harrisburg).”
Despite being new in town, Steffens has trust in Kerr and Vincent, who are playing closer to the sidelines this year compared to last. The adjustment has boosted their output on the finishing end, as the British duo has combined to score 13 of Pittsburgh’s 20 goals since the team took the field for its first preseason match.
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“It’s a completely different game out there,” said Kerr, a 26-year-old Scot. “It was a bit of a surprise to us at the start (of training) when we found ourselves out wide. We played together in the middle last year, but from Day 1 of the preseason it’s gone well. It’s not a fluke.”
Kerr and Vincent, a 24-year-old Englishman, make up a tight core of players who are playing for their third manager in the club’s three seasons on the South Side. Justin Evans served as bench boss in 2013 and for the first seven games of 2014 before current assistant Niko Katic was appointed to take over on an interim basis.
Having a few familiar faces around provides some stability to the on-field product, one that employs 14 players born in the 1990s. In addition to midfielders Kerr, Vincent and Seth C’deBaca, wing backs Matt Dallman and Sterling Flunder have witnessed all three years of the Highmark Stadium era, as has the versatile Mike Green.
Danny Earls, a playmaking midfield regular for last year’s club, said he feels a responsibility to be part of that leadership group as well.
Rubbing the Rock
“I’m coming into the stage in my career where I need to lead by example,” said Earls, 25. “I’m not a young kid anymore.
“We’re young, we’re eager. I think you can mold players like that. You need a good mix of experience and youth.”
The 29-year-old Flunder – one of Pittsburgh’s eldest outfield players and their longest tenured overall – said he takes a proactive approach to help the greener pros along.
“I know a lot of things I would’ve liked to be shown to me when I was a rookie and they weren’t necessarily said,” said the sixth-year Hound. “I can let some of the younger guys know how things work around here and make the transition easier for them.”
Expounding further, Flunder said he can advise the newer faces in the locker room regarding practical matters, like how to get the most out of one’s body as the years progress. He mentioned an improved diet as a factor in his longevity, on top of consistent strength work and other maintenance practices.
“Just now I got out of the ice bath, so I’m doing more precautionary things,” he said after a recent training session. “You have to do these things throughout the year. Everyone wants to see how long they can play. As long as my body allows me to keep doing it, I’ll do it.”
Although it wasn’t a concern in an emotional Keystone Derby opener against Harrisburg, intensity is another area where Hounds stalwarts can show the way over the course of a six-month season.
“Every manager likes to see hard work, but I don’t think it should ever be praised,” Earls said. “It’s a given thing, you play football for two hours a day, so you should give whatever you can. Especially during the games, you wanna fight for your lads, you wanna fight for your club.”
The battle continues at 7 p.m. Saturday when another rival squad, the Rochester Rhinos, invade Highmark Stadium.
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