HARRISBURG, Pa. (Sept. 19, 2015) – The Pittsburgh Riverhounds hung on for a dramatic win when it mattered most Saturday night to qualify for the United Soccer League playoffs.
First-half goals from Lebo Moloto and Kevin Kerr were just enough to seal a 2-1 win over a battling Harrisburg City Islanders at the Skyline Sports Complex that elevated the Hounds into fifth place in the final Eastern Conference standings.
The Hounds (10-9-8, 38 points) now travel to the New York Red Bulls II (12-10-6, 42 points) for next Saturday’s opening round of the postseason. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. Information for Hounds fans intending to travel to New York will be released shortly.
New York defeated the Hounds by 3-2 at Red Bull Arena back on May 3 when Anthony Wallace netted a scorching 20-yard volley deep into stoppage time. Pittsburgh gained revenge with a 3-0 win at Highmark Stadium on July 4 that was fueled by a Rob Vincent double.
An intensity befitting the closing stages of a tight playoff race had been lacking from the Hounds’ play at times in recent weeks. That changed in Harrisburg. Kerr brought the first save out of Islanders goalkeeper Nick Noble after four minutes following good set-up play by Brazilian forward Vini Dantas.
Harrisburg also needed a win to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. Their first chance arrived on seven minutes when Jose Barril slid a pass in behind Hounds defender Sterling Flunder to release Antoine Hoppenot. The on-loan Philadelphia Union man could not find the power in his first-time shot to trouble Calle Brown.
A gritty opening period swung in the Hounds’ favor with two goals in the space of 65 seconds. Moloto added another stunning finish to his recent repertoire with a sweeping right-foot shot on 34 minutes. Vincent had nudged the ball to the South African playmaker on the left side of the penalty box after Harrisburg’s defense initially converged to thwart Boris Zivanovic’s menacing run.
The smoke billowing from the traveling Steel Army supporters’ section had barely cleared when Dantas freed Kerr on the right of the 18-yard box. The Scotsman kept his composure to slot his finish beyond Noble.
Kerr could have extended the Hounds’ lead to a 3-goal margin at the break from a near identical position. Noble gained the better of this exchange to deflect the ball wide for a corner kick.
Harrisburg brought on forward Garret Pettis for right-back Erick Cruz on 60 minutes as they clawed to get back into the game. Pettis almost made an immediate impact with his first touch, reaching a cross at the back post that he was narrowly unable to steer on goal. That sparked a quick flurry of action in the Hounds’ penalty box that goalkeeper Brown and his defense managed to survive unscathed.
Hoppenot finally broke through for the Islanders when he converted a Pettis cutback from close range on 75 minutes.
Results elsewhere meant that a tie would have been enough to catapult the Islanders into the playoffs at the Hounds’ expense. Harrisburg’s game announcer made sure to get this point across to the home fans. Islanders head coach Bill Becher waved defender Ken Tribbett into the attack as his side desperately launched balls into the penalty area.
Tribbett found the side net with three minutes remaining. Hoppenot slashed a shot wide from a great position just outside the 6-yard box, and Tribbett rose above the Hounds’ defense deep into stoppage time to power a header inches past Brown’s far post.
The final whistle brought relieved cheers from the Hounds’ players and a jubilant Steel Army. A playoff berth had been secured, and the Hounds had also won the inaugural Keystone Derby Cup to be contested between the two Pennsylvania rivals.