Fireworks launched the Riverhounds into the second half of the 2017 campaign.
Celebrating Independence Day after a Fourth of July match at Highmark Stadium, the team remained very well in the playoff hunt and earned a point in each of its four ensuing games to keep pace in the Eastern Conference.
At the height of the Hounds playoff run was an in-state clash against the rival Harrisburg City Islanders on Aug. 12. Pittsburgh came out victorious, clinching a needed three points as well as the Keystone Derby Cup.
The Black and Gold finished August with a 3-0-1 record, and it looked like the team could very well hold another celebration at Highmark Stadium when mid-October would roll around. But as the calendar flipped to September, the season wrote a different narrative.
Following a draw against FC Cincinnati at imposing Nippert Stadium on Labor Day weekend, the Hounds slowly slipped from postseason contention. Currently, Pittsburgh has lost three straight games – a rarity in a season that has seen the Hounds not lose back-to-back games until this current streak.
“I think training has been good,” head coach Dave Brandt said postgame after the club’s third straight loss. “There has been a good spirit in the group. It’s a group gets along together and all that. But I do think there’s something hanging in the air without a doubt. And I think we saw that today.”
Perhaps this lingering presence surrounding the team results from its playoffs elimination. But despite this feeling, the Hounds still aim to bounce back as the 2017 season comes to a close.
“I think it’s difficult,” Brandt said about finishing out the regular season while being eliminated from the postseason hunt. “They’re professionals and they need to. This is my job and I need to. We need to.”
The Hounds will complete their season this Saturday at Highmark Stadium against Ottawa Fury FC. This will be the second time the two teams will battle, as Pittsburgh won the first meeting north of the border this past May.
“We have one more game left,” forward Corey Hertzog said. “We can end this season on a ‘W.’ That’s all we need to look at there. It doesn’t matter about three points. It doesn’t matter about anything. We need to win this game.”
As Pittsburgh prepares for its season finale against Ottawa Fury FC, here is a look back at the best of this season’s second half.
Clinching the Cup – at Harrisburg on Aug. 12
The Hounds got the best of the rival City Islanders in 2017, winning the Keystone Derby Cup this past August. Pittsburgh dominated the cup-clinching game both offensively and defensively, recording a shutout in its 3-0 victory. Romeo Parkes started the scoring in the first half, and Chevaughn Walsh put the game away with two tallies in the second stanza.
O Captain, My Captain – vs. Bethlehem on Aug. 26
Taking the reigns of the Pittsburgh offense, Kevin Kerr steered the team to victory against Steel FC. Early in the game, the midfielder collected a couple of assists to help provide the Hounds with a 2-0 lead. But when Bethlehem rallied to knot it up at 2-2 in the 71st minute, Kerr once again added to the score sheet – this time with a goal of his own, knocking a loose ball on the goal line into the back of the net. The captain’s efforts and four points led the Hounds to a 3-2 win.
Hertzog passes Vincent – at Bethlehem on Sept. 24
Corey Hertzog has stuffed the score sheet this season, and the forward reached a career milestone in the team’s second trip to Bethlehem. In the process of recording his third multi-goal game, the Penn State product tied and passed former Hounds great Rob Vincent for third all-time in the statistic. Hertzog currently has 26 tallies in his Pittsburgh career and only trails David Flavius (56 career goals) and Thiago Martins (30 career goals).
Perrella’s spectacular performance – at New York on Sept. 30
Serving as a bright spot in a tough road loss, Matt Perrella had one of his best games for the Hounds against the high-powered New York offense. The goalkeeper tied a club single-game high six saves in the contest. Perhaps his best stop came late in the game, when he dove to his left to punch the ball up overtop of the crossbar.
Forwards: Corey Hertzog and Chevaughn Walsh
In the second half of the season, it was a rarity to see a Hounds goal without Corey Hertzog or Chevaughn Walsh not involved in on the scoring. The duo has scored 11 of Pittsburgh’s 17 goals and combined for 25 points since the start of July. On three of these goals, the duo accounted for both the tally and the assist. With these second half numbers, both forwards rank first (Hertzog with 28) and second (Walsh with 12) on the team in points for the year.
Midfielders: Kevin Kerr, Romeo Parkes, Victor Souto and Stephen Okai
Kevin Kerr set the tone for the Hounds throughout the season and was strong in the second half, recording six of his 11 points from July onward. The captain logged 1,373 of a possible 1,440 minutes in this timeframe heading into the season finale. On the opposite wing of Kerr, Romeo Parkes has provided the Hounds with another consistent scoring threat, and he has one goal and three assists in the second half. Victor Souto and Stephen Okai have solidified the center of the midfield. Souto leads Pittsburgh with 64 tackles this season, and Okai scored his first goal (assisted by Souto) of the 2017 campaign in its second half.
Defenders: Taylor Washington, Jamal Jack, Tobi Adewole and Ritchie Duffie
Mainstays on the Hounds backline since the season opener, Taylor Washington and Jamal Jack have pieced together a successful second half. On the season, both players lead the team in a key defensive statistic as Washington paces Pittsburgh with 96 interceptions and Jack heads the club with 153 clearances. Tobi Adewole, Jack’s center back partner, has had an impactful rookie campaign. All 15 of the George Washington product’s caps have come since the start of July and he has averaged 6.67 clearances per game. Like Adewole, Ritchie Duffie has seen an uptick in playing time in the second half. In five appearances, Duffie has totaled six tackles and 17 clearances in this timeframe.
Goalkeeper: Matt Perrella
Starting and winning his Hounds debut against Bethlehem Steel FC on Aug. 26, Matt Perrella has held down the goalmouth in the second half after goalkeepers Trey Mitchell and Keasel Broome underwent season-ending surgeries. Perrella has made a total of 17 saves on the season, including tying a club-best six saves in a single game on Sept. 30 against New York.