PITTSBURGH — In front of a record breaking crowd, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (2-1-2) defeated Hartford Athletic (0-6-0) by the score of 3-1. It was the home opener for the Riverhounds of the 2019 season and also Hartford’s first game in Pittsburgh as the Hartford Athletic are one of seven expansion teams in the USL this season. It was also a homecoming of sorts, as former Riverhounds’ players Ray Lee and Jose Angulo started for Hartford.
To start the game, the Riverhounds were able to generate multiple opportunities early. Two minutes into the game, Steevan Dos Santos came close after a header barely missed the upper left corner of the net. The Riverhounds also came close to scoring after a shot by Kevin Kerr just flew over the net. Despite the misses, Dos Santos and Kerr made Hartford pay after a nicely played Kerr ball set up Dos Santos for the header. The Riverhounds led 1-0 fourteen minutes into the first half. That assist by Kerr was his 25th career assist which tied the team’s record.
“I never knew that,” said Kerr. “It’s nice, you stay around somewhere long enough you start to rack up some records.”
After generating multiple chances, but failing to find the back of the net, Anthony Velarde got knocked down and received a free kick for the Hounds. The free kick was blocked by Hartford though, and the score remained 1-0 just 27 minutes into the game.
At the 34-minute mark in the first half, Hartford came very close to tying things up when a cross found Giuseppe Gentile on the left side of the net. The cross happened to catch Ben Lundgaard on the opposite side, but Gentile had to get set and the Riverhounds were able to get in front of the shot. The score remained 1-0.
A yellow card was issued to Kyle Curinga of Hartford at the 44-minute. This was the last thing of note to happen in the first half as the Riverhounds entered halftime with a 1-0 lead over Hartford Athletic.
Right out of the gate, the Riverhounds were able to generate a free kick in the second half. Kenardo Forbes took the shot and found Joe Greenspan. Greenspan moved the ball to Dos Santos who’s shot was saved by Jonathan Kempin. Dos Santos had a pair of shots in the first five minutes of the second half, neither of which found the back of the net.
The Riverhounds came real close not long after when Neco Brett fired a shot off the crossbar about ten feet away from the net. The missed opportunity hurt the Riverhounds badly as Hartford moved the ball up the field where Angelo scored his first goal in Pittsburgh since the 2017 season when he played for St. Louis. The score was 1-1 at the 54th-minute.
“As soon as it bounced I knew we were in trouble,” said Kerr. “He’s scored a number of memorable goals here.”
Exactly ten minutes later, the Velarde’s shot was stopped by an incredible diving save from Kempin. The score remained 1-1 at the 64-minute. Shortly after that, Nickolaj Lyngo picked up a yellow card, the third of the game for Hartford. Forbes’s free kick sailed over the net however and the scored sat at 1-1.
The score didn’t sit at that forever though, as Kerr scored to make it 2-1. Kerr’s goal was his 20th in Highmark history and his 29th overall with 26 of those coming league play. The goal happened at the 74th-minute and was assisted by Valverde. Both Kerr and Valverde were subbed out shortly thereafter and replaced by Noah Franke and Mohammad Dabo. This switch didn’t kill the Hounds’ momentum as they extended their lead to 3-1 after a Neco Brett penalty kick in the 81st-minute. Brett was also subbed out, this time in favor of Rob Mertz.
“Well I have confidence, as always,” said Brett. “It’s just part of my job to take PKs, I was just doing my job.”
Mertz had an opportunity about six minutes later when he generated a breakaway. Unfortunately for Mertz, Hartford eventually caught up and the score remained 3-1 with three minutes to go.
Four minutes of stoppage time was added at the end of the game, but that didn’t contain any scoring as the Riverhounds won 3-1.
“We played pretty well tonight,” said manager Bob Lilley. “I tried to tell people all week that’s a good team. They have players that can hurt you and the fact that they haven’t quite done it yet, even the players they brought on the field, themselves have good quality. It was touch and go there.”
The home opener set the record for regular season attendance at 5,182. The team looks to draw a similar crowd next Saturday on April 20th when they host Saint Louis FC at 7:00 p.m.