The home opener for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds featured no other than New York Red Bulls II, a team that won just about everything last season including the Regular Season, Eastern Conference, and USL Cup titles.
The weather was perfect, the atmosphere absolutely electric, and the gameplay was much more of the same. The first half featured a goalfest of sorts as four goals were scored and both sides played entertaining football. The goals came at a frenzied pace, early and often for both sides.
The first came from NYRB II striker Florian Valot he finished past the Riverhounds keeper. Corey Hertzog would respond just three minutes later, scoring the first of his two goals.
Hertzog was literally “Mr. Everything” for the Hounds, scoring at will and keeping the Red Bulls II defense on their heels all night long. He even picked up a ball boy and ran him down the sideline after scoring a goal, a moment that endeared him even more to Hounds fans.
“I coach him every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, so he told me he was going to be there,” Hertzog commented when asked about the supreme gesture. “I told him if I score down there, I’ll pick you up.”
Hertzog’s brace moved him into a tie for eighth all-time in goals in club history – Said Ali and Gary DePalma being the other two.
Vincent Bezecourt would get his first in the 16th, set up by midfielder Andrew Tinari. The 2-1 score wouldn’t last long as Kevin Kerr, thanks to a great leadup play from both Marshall Hollingsworth and Rich Balchan, would bring things even at 2-2 in the 39th.
The speed of play slowed in the second half as the match became a tale of penalty kicks. Bezecourt converted a PK in the 76th and just five minutes later Hertzog did the same after a brilliant stop from Rafael Diaz gave him an opportunity off the rebound.
Neither side could get the advantage in the waning moments of the game and the result would stand at 3-3. The Hounds looked vastly improved from 2016 and gave the defending champs everything they could handle. Head Dave Brandt thought they even had more quality scoring opportunities.
“I thought Jack should have had two. First, second, third minute it’s on his left foot, his hips open to the back post, somebody laid it off for him perfectly- that’s a goal. And then there was a head ball point-blank. But Corey had chances. Kay Banjo, you only saw a few minutes of, is a really dangerous forward. I do think there are some things to build on.”
A home draw against the defending champs is certainly a place to start, a foundation to build upon. The draw marked an encouraging start to the season for the Hounds compared to last year, when the club scored three or more goals only twice.
The pieces and parts are there as Pittsburgh fans have the opportunity to see a mix of youth and experience, world-class players right in their backyard. Columbus Crew SC have trusted them with some of their top young talent and they are working with an incredible group of experienced players.
Hertzog and Balchan both showed why they are such talented players and once played in MLS. More performances like Saturday will surely give them another opportunity at the top-flight. Victor Souto, a University of Akron product, was arguably the most impressive youngster on the pitch, making a difference in every corner of the pitch over 90+ minutes.
The Hounds return to USL action next Saturday at Highmark Stadium, as they will take on one of their closest rivals, FC Cincinnati, at 5 p.m. ET. Expect another bumper crowd, perhaps exceeding the 3,352 we saw on Saturday night.