Party Crashers – City Islanders Spoil Highmark Debut
Sainey Touray battles for possession
(Photo courtesy Christopher Horner / Tribune Review)
One of the major storylines entering the 2013 USL-PRO season is the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ new downtown facility, Highmark Stadium. Built with a seating capacity of 3,500 and spectacular views of the Pittsburgh skyline, Highmark Stadium is a major achievement for the Riverhounds organization and rapidly expanding USL-PRO. The Harrisburg City Islanders were selected to help christen the new stadium, with the Keystone Derby serving as the perfect opener for the City Islanders’ 10th season.
The match opened with numerous question marks for the City Islanders. Injuries deprived coach Bill Becher of several key cogs, including Stephen Basso, Jason Pelletier, and Garret Pettis, while many new faces continue to be incorporated into the lineup. Harrisburg welcomes four members of the Philadelphia Union on loan for the 2013 season, defenders Greg Jordan and Don Anding and midfielders Cristhian Hernández and Jimmy McLaughlin, while defenders Cody Andrews and Damani Richards, forward Jamiel Hardware, and midfielder-forward Matt Bahner signed following open tryouts. A solid core of veterans return, but make no mistake about it, this is a young team with an average age of 22.7 years and no player older than 28 year-old starting goalkeeper Nick Noble.
Considering that several newcomers were making their professional debuts, the City Islanders opened the match confidently and without nerves. Harrisburg controlled possession early and demonstrated an ability to distribute the ball efficiently and cleanly on Highmark Stadium’s artificial pitch. The Riverhounds occasionally mounted dangerous counterattacks, but Harrisburg carried the run of play throughout the first half. Despite a marked edge in possession, the City Islanders could not find net with Sainey Touray failing to capitalize on the first half’s best opportunity. It seemed as though old friends would come back to haunt Harrisburg, as former Islander Andrew Marshall delivered a crunching tackle on Yann Ekra that probably should have earned a booking. To make matters worse, another former Islander, Jose Angulo, broke the deadlock with a headed goal in the 70 th minute, leaping over Colin Zizzi to give the hometown ‘Hounds the lead.
The addition of these players indicates Pittsburgh’s ambitions for 2013. A new stadium generates new revenue, and those funds helped the team land Jhonny Arteaga, the USL-PRO’s leading scorer in 2011 and, like Angulo, a former New York Red Bull. Mike Seamon was a Seattle Sounder from 2010-12, while Ryan Kinne played for the New England Revolution before signing with Pittsburgh. Despite this MLS-caliber talent, the City Islanders continued to move the ball in the second half and found an equalizer seven minutes after Angulo’s goal when Jamiel Hardware fed the streaking Touray a beautiful through ball. The rangy Gambian nutmegged Hunter Gilstrap for the goal, a well-deserved reward for his dynamic running. A draw looked inevitable before Lucky Mkosana struck an incredible volley in the 90th minute to give the City Islanders a 2-1 win and spoil Pittsburgh’s coming out party.
One match does not make a season, but Bill Becher must feel good about his team’s performance. The new center back pairing of Coady Andrews and Greg Jordan were well-organized while Don Anding filled in capably for the injured Basso at left back. Cristhian Hernández orchestrated the City Islanders’ attack nicely, distributing passes and controlling the ball like a true #10 even if he wears #23. Morgan Langley and Tom Mellor offer speed and pinpoint crosses from the right and left flanks respectively, and Touray looked dangerous throughout. Tom Brandt did a nice job replacing the injured Andrew Welker at defensive midfielder, and despite a brief substitute appearance, Mkosana generated several scoring chances and netted the game winner with his left-footed strike. Harrisburg continues their season-opening roadtrip next weekend at the Colorado Rapids Reserves.
Photo courtesy Jeff Gamza