Although they are still a club in transition, the ‘Hounds have managed to progress to the Fourth Round of the cup without conceding a single goal. In their Third Round clash with NASL side Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Riverhounds managed to advance through a dramatic, last-minute goal from midfielder Rob Vincent, whose well placed shot from about 25 yards out just squeezed by the inside of experienced Rowdies’ goalkeeper Matt Pickens’ post.
“It was the greatest feeling to score the winner,” said Vincent. “Scoring any time is nice, but late in the game… and it had been a really hard fought battle between the two teams, and we really wanted to avoid extra time so it was a big relief.”
The Riverhounds certainly have enjoyed some positive changes in the last couple of years, as their upturn in quality of play reflects. They opened their new venue, Highmark Stadium, in spring 2013. The stadium sits right next to the Monongahela River overlooking the Pittsburgh skyline, and will be the setting of their Fourth Round match against MLS club D.C. United (LIVE 7:08pm ET on ussoccer.com).
In the past few years, attendance numbers at the Riverhounds’ home games have increased two or three-fold, while their main fan group, “The Steel Army” has also increased in size.
The team can’t help but notice the increase in both numbers and fervor in the stands.
“It's brilliant,” said Riverhounds midfielder Kevin Kerr, who recently also scored a dramatic late winner in USL play. “You've got the Steel Army that keeps getting bigger and bigger. They're top notch for this league. They're there whatever the weather, whatever the time. I'm sure they'll be out in full support for the D.C. game.”Recently appointed manager Mark Steffens, who took over for Croatian-born Niko Katic (the Croat remains on the Riverhounds’ staff as an assistant coach) this past winter, agrees with Kerr about the value of fan support like that, which the Steel Army brings to the team.
“The more support we get from our fans the more life and energy it gives our players,” said Steffens. “Crowd support is not overrated. Our players thrive on a good, noisy crowd!”
The Scottish Kerr and fellow UK native Vincent, who is from Liverpool, England, are both relatively recent additions to the team, both having joined in 2013, just around the time the new stadium was unveiled.
Even newer additions to the team’s roster are Ghanaian midfielder Stephen Okai, who put in a great shift against Tampa Bay in the Third Round, Guinean forward Arama Soumah, Hatian forward Max Touloute and Jamaican goalkeeper Ryan Thompson, among others. In fact, more than half the team’s roster has been acquired by the Riverhounds within the last calendar year, which makes their Open Cup run this year all the more impressive.
The Riverhounds' Terry O'Neill shields the ball from a Tampa Bay Rowdies defender in the Third Round of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup
The relatively new squad has shown composure and cohesiveness under Coach Steffens’ leadership, especially in defense. After two matches, their clean sheet cup run is no mere stroke of luck. The Riverhounds’ back line has defended like lions, and starting cup goalkeeper Ryan Hulings has done a superb job of cleaning up shop. Another reason for all the clean sheets is that the ‘Hounds’ midfielders have performed spectacularly, passing well and holding possession.
However, not everything about the team this year has been easy going. The team’s forwards could definitely contribute more goals, with midfielders like Kerr and Vincent contributing a large portion of the goals all season, especially in the cup. Still, with so many new players, not to mention a new coach, many fans are happy the team is where it’s at right now.
“I don’t think any of us expected to see an MLS team here so quickly,” said Steel Army president Maria Petrillo. “Competitions like this in previous years have been hard on us, so we’re excited to host such a big team, especially with home field advantage.”
The Riverhounds don’t have much experience against MLS teams, and they have an unimposing 1-3 record against Division I clubs in U.S. Open Cup matches. However, the ‘Hounds are looking to gain a reputation as giant beaters, and not without reason. Two years ago, the club announced that it has plans to expand to the MLS by 2023. While the Riverhounds have since made clear that they are only focusing on taking on the USL right now, beating a team like D.C. United could very well put them on the map of soccer fans across the country.
Tickets are reportedly close to selling out for the Riverhounds’ match against D.C. United on June 17, as excited Pittsburghers clamor for a chance to possibly see a moment of Pittsburgh soccer history. As far as pressure on the team, Kerr isn’t worried about clash with the MLS club.
We're up for it! We're on a great streak with four wins and two ties in our last six games. Our confidence is as high as it's been all season. We know we're dangerous going forward; we can defend as well. We're really excited about it. - Pittsburgh Riverhounds midfielder Kevin Kerr
“This is Pittsburgh we’re talking about,” said Petrillo with a laugh. “A winning team will always bring supporters. You can bet we’ll all be out in full voice come the 17th.”
Ever wondered what a day in the life of a U.S. Women’s National Team player is like? We followed WNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to get an inside look at a day inside WNT training camp, a day that included a weight session and on-field practice.
After a grabbing a quick coffee, the busy day starts early for Harris and the WNT, as they are headed to a weight lifting, the first of two trainings sessions that day.
“The bus ride is always total shenanigans with the people I sit around with. Usually that group is Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger. It’s just fun and good vibes heading into our workout.”
First stop of the day: weightlifting. The WNT usually spends about 90 minutes at the gym, and each player has a specialized workout sheet that is tailored to their needs.
“At lifting I usually spend time on my shoulders and continue to strengthen my back; things I need as goalkeeper. Every day I hit the ground, so I have to make sure my arms are strong. Shoulder strength and shoulder stability are key to make sure my arms are moving well and to prevent any injuries.”
As the team exits the gym, several fans await them by the bus and most players, including Harris, stop to sign a few autographs and pose for a few selfies.
“It’s always just really cool to stop and have a chat with the younger generation after or before training sessions. They’re just awesome.”
“Our van leaves the hotel about 45 minutes before the field players whenever we go to the training. I always have a pre-training and pre-game routine of taping my fingers and hands. It’s a personal preference and to be honest, I’ve always done it. Being at training earlier helps us get some good stretching in, stay focused and it allows us to nail down techniques and work individually and collectively as a small group before we jump in with everyone else.”
For afternoon training, Harris, along with Alyssa Naeher and Jane Campbell, as well as goalkeeper coach Graeme Abel, all pile into a team van and head to training earlier than the field players to spend some time working on their technique and specific areas before the rest of the team arrives.
“Alyssa and I have very good communication and no one has a better view or can critique one another better than each other. If we see something we tell each other and help each other out.”
After training, the players all cool down, chat with each other, hydrate and reflect on the session they just completed.
“We tend to immediately grab our protein shakes. We talk about the day, what we saw on the field, what we can fix, what wasn’t good, what was good and we just overall critique the game in every way we can to become better.”
“Once we’re back in the hotel, it’s all about treatment. Like true professionals, we must take care of our bodies and be responsible to get the treatment we need. Our bodies take a beating from all the impact at training so we take care of it to do it all over again the day after.”