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Hounds aim to clinch 2017 Keystone Derby Cup

By Anthony Picardi, 08/11/17, 2:00PM EDT

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Just two seasons ago, the Riverhounds hoisted the Keystone Derby Cup, presented by K&L Gates and the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Receiving the award on the field of the Skyline Sports Complex – a stone’s throw from FNB Field, where the two clubs will face off tomorrow night – after a 2-1 victory over Harrisburg, players leapt in triumph while gathering around and lifting the symbol of their success into the air. The team then continued its celebration with the Steel Army before enjoying an upbeat bus ride home back across the state.

The victory capped off the 2015 campaign while also providing the Hounds with the three points they needed to crack into the postseason. Now just two years later, Pittsburgh finds itself in a familiar position.

In the final leg of the 2017 Keystone Derby Cup at 7 p.m. this Saturday, Pittsburgh (5-8-9) is once again on the road. It once again has a chance to clinch the cup. And it once again can reenter the playoff race with a win.

“It would be awesome,” Kevin Kerr said about the possibility of reclaiming the cup. “It’s sad to lose it last year, but we had a real good time in 2015 and it could be huge in gaining a little bit of momentum for the rest of the season.”

Recently, the Hounds have relied upon draws to help them tread water in the standings. Tying five of its past six games, Pittsburgh trails New York Red Bulls II, the owner of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, by three points. The Black and Gold may not clinch playoff berth with a victory like it did in 2015, but it can use this match as a springboard heading into the final two months of the season.

“We could really use that energy and that confidence for the final nine games after,” Kerr said. “Put a smile on a few faces around the club and in the stands.”

This season, the Hounds have fared well against the City Islanders (6-11-6). They have shut out the in-state rival in both prior meetings, winning the first 1-0 and tying the second 0-0. With these results already in hand, Pittsburgh can clinch the Keystone Derby Cup with a win or a draw come Saturday.

“All we need to do is stay focused, be together, take everything the coaches say to us to heart and execute everything that they want us to, especially on the field of play,” Stephen Okai said. “I think if we do that as a unit, we can come out victorious.”

One aspect that the Hounds will need to adapt to when they take the field this Saturday is FNB Field’s grass playing surface. Pittsburgh, playing most of its games on turf throughout the season, will train on a grass surface on Friday to help with this adjustment.

Kerr said the ball holds up differently on a surface like the one at FNB Field and the team will need to play clean on defense while staying aggressive in case any Harrisburg passes go awry.

If Pittsburgh executes these principles, holding strong defensively and turning interceptions into counterattack breaks, it could very well come away with the Keystone Derby Cup after the final whistle and collect a much needed three points – the same point total it currently trails the final postseason spot by in the table.

“I will tell you guys nothing good comes on a silver platter and every good thing that’s going to happen you have to go through ups and downs,” Okai said. “That doesn’t mean that we should give up. We will keep on fighting. You never know. Anything can happen at any given point. We’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to keep pushing until we get to where we want to be.”