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.”
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup