Pittsburgh Riverhounds defender Mike Green boots the ball upfield in a recent game at Highmark Stadium. (Credit: Nick Milliron/City of Champions)
Matt Gajtka is the play-by-play voice of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The following is his commentary on a thrilling week for the pro soccer franchise.
“Amazing” was the adjective of choice among Pittsburgh Riverhounds players and coaches in the moments following Saturday’s come-from-way-behind 6-5 triumph against Keystone State foe Harrisburg City.
Take just one look at the highlights, and I’m sure you’ll agree with that label:
I had the privilege to call the game – along with Pittsburgh soccer patriarchs Gene Klein and Paul Child – for the USL’s YouTube channel. As you can tell from the above video, it was a wild ride to say the least.
At some point in the midst of the Hounds’ four-goal burst in the final 12 minutes, the press box at Highmark Stadium was shaking – and rather violently I might add.
Yes, soccer made the earth move in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
As you might expect for someone raised in this region, I had never experienced an earthquake. After Saturday night, I know the feeling, even if that particular tremor couldn’t be measured on the Richter Scale.
But even if what soccer reporter John Krysinsky dubbed the Miracle on the Mon never happened, last week would have still been a massive one for a franchise that has struggled to gain a foothold in local consciousness since its birth in 1999.
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Last Wednesday, in what I thought was the most important game in team history, Rob Vincent’s stoppage-time blast pushed the Hounds past the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies in third-round U.S. Open Cup action.
It was a compelling battle on its own merit, with the Hounds eventually taking control in a matchup against a team from what U.S. Soccer has deemed to be a superior league to the USL (at least for now). More to the point, the spoils of victory were enormous: a visit from D.C. United of Major League Soccer on June 17.
Much like Saturday’s offensive eruption – which ignited social media during and immediately afterward – the win over Tampa Bay brought much-needed positive attention to the Riverhounds, who went through an arduous bankruptcy restructuring last year.
Rubbing the Rock
Just as important as the immediate social-media sugar rush is developing long-term staying power. That’s where the real work lies for the Riverhounds front office, led by new team president Richard Nightingale and a small but dedicated staff.
However, brand-building always comes back to the product on the field, especially in a major-league town. The Hounds are miles ahead of where they were at this time last year, when an 0-6-4 start put a damper on the second season of the Highmark Stadium era.
Beyond their 4-3-3 record in USL action and 2-0 mark in U.S. Open Cup, the Hounds are playing an ambitious, attacking style of soccer, as promised by new coach Mark Steffens in his introductory press conference last December. They lead the 24-team league with 25 goals in 10 matches, including eight by golden-boot frontrunner Vincent and five by fellow midfielder Kevin Kerr.
(Of course, the Hounds have also allowed the most goals in USL with 20, but prior to Saturday they had conceded just four in their past four overall matches.)
Pittsburgh’s pro soccer team returns to the South Side on Saturday afternoon for a league matchup with Saint Louis FC. It’s a bit unreasonable to ask for an encore, but it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say this is a new breed of Riverhound.
In a similar vein, I joined host Dan Kingerski on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan to talk about the Hounds’ huge week and what it means to the franchise’s visibility and status in the region: