USL Soccer: Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ Strong Finishes Produce Better Start to Season


Riverhounds midfielder Kevin Kerr (bottom left) scores past Toronto keeper Quillan Roberts in the first half of Saturday’s 5-1 victory at Highmark Stadium. (Credit: Terry O’Neill/

SOUTH SIDE – The trend began on opening night March 28, when the Pittsburgh Riverhounds netted three second-half goals to put away in-state rival Harrisburg City Islanders.

It continued with rallies against Rochester and Saint Louis FC, although only the latter of those led to a result – a 1-1 tie on the road April 11.

On Saturday night, the Hounds’ success after halftime became even more of a story, as the home team scored four times in the final 45 minutes to bury Toronto FC II by a 5-1 count at a chilly Highmark Stadium.

“We’ve been doing it all season,” said midfielder Kevin Kerr of the Hounds’ second-half proclivities. “We know we’re a good team. When you have that, the game’s never over.”

The Riverhounds (2-1-2, 8 points) have outscored their first five opponents 9-3 after intermission, which has helped them avoid the type of impotent start that has stunted this franchise since its move to Station Square in 2013.

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First-year Hounds coach Mark Steffens espouses a relentless approach to the game, so perhaps their foes are simply being worn down in the late stages.

“That’s really the M.O. of our team, a big work rate on both sides of the ball and getting numbers into the attack,” Steffens said after his team’s latest victory.

“Our manager wants us to be a high-press team, make (the opponent) make mistakes…and score goals that way,” said Hounds captain Danny Earls. “We have the bodies and the energy to do that.”

Speaking of bodies, the Hounds had the advantage there for much of Saturday’s match, as Toronto’s Tarik Robertson was sent off for a desperation penalty-area tackle on Kerr in the 41st minute. Not only did Kerr convert the resulting spot kick to tie the score 1-1, the visitors were also forced to play with 10 men the rest of the way.

Heading into the second half, it seemed the Hounds would be able to take command against the inexperienced Toronto side, but Steffens took no chances with his team talk.

“I don’t like playing with (the extra man), because sometimes you let up a bit,” said the USL hall of famer. “We just made it a point at halftime to keep possession and keep going forward because they could come back against the flow of play and score again.”

Go forward they did, with strong-footed Rob Vincent scoring in the 56th and 68th minutes to cap brisk forays into the attacking third. Kerr assisted on Vincent’s first goal and forward Vini Dantas helped on his second, demonstrating the kind of quick combinations that make the Hounds look like they could fill the net all summer.

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  • “We’re just starting to build our chemistry right now,” Steffens said. “I think there are better things to come for this club. Look around the pitch and we have a lot of veterans. They don’t get flustered.”

    Earls, who got into the scoring action with a thunderbolt of a strike in the 72nd minute, said it was just a matter of keeping the ball rolling downhill.

    “Adversity’s going to come every game,” said the Irish midfielder. “For us, it was, ‘Stick to the game plan.’ They couldn’t handle us…we were getting over the top all night. If the lads are feeling it, keep giving them the ball.”

    It’s worth asking if maybe these Riverhounds just enjoy hunting more than protecting.

    Last Sunday evening, while trying to defend a 1-0 lead, they allowed Louisville City multiple opportunities in the final 10 minutes before Kadeem Dacres struck in stoppage time to forge a bitter draw.

    Saturday night provided a chance for Pittsburgh to rebound from that setback.

    “Obviously last week hurt, and it took a day to digest,” Kerr said. “Tonight the team was looking good, even when we were down. We knew chances would come. Robbie scored the second and that broke their back. From then on it was a goal fest.

    “It was a great response.”

    The road beckons for the Hounds, who will face another Major League Soccer reserve squad next Sunday, May 2, in New York Red Bulls II. Then they’ll head south to play the Charleston (S.C.) Battery before starting a home-and-home with the Richmond Kickers on the South Side.

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