PITTSBURGH – “A Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman” is a common opening line in jokes, usually set in a bar, that pander to the national stereotypes of those three nations.
The Los Angeles Galaxy reserves left Highmark Stadium Saturday night failing to see the funny side of another characteristic often attributed to the sons of those lands – grit.
Kevin Kerr, Rob Vincent and captain Danny Earls hauled their Riverhounds teammates up by the bootstraps to clinch a 3-1 win after conceding an early goal to the Galaxy’s Jose Villarreal. The result edges fast-improving Pittsburgh to within three points of the final United Soccer Leagues Pro Division playoff spot with six games remaining.
“We know that those guys are going to get stuck in,” Riverhounds interim assistant coach Scott Gibson told The Soccer Observer after the game. “L.A. are technically very good and we couldn’t get near them in the first 20 minutes.
“The boys really dug deep, Kerr got forward and our first goal changed everything.”
Villarreal almost opened the scoring on 13 minutes when his back-header from Rafael Garcia’s free kick rolled narrowly wide. The 20-year-old forward found the net five minutes later with a lobbed finish after working a one-two with Raul Mendiola that released him inside Pittsburgh’s penalty box.
Former Galaxy draft pick Joseph Ngwenya leveled the score on 29 minutes with his first league goal for the Riverhounds. Scotsman Kerr surged down the right wing to receive a pass from Matt Dallman. Houston Dynamo loanee Jason Johnson steered Kerr’s cross on target with a near-post header that forced Galaxy goalkeeper Cody Laurendi to palm the ball across his goal. Ngwenya tapped into an empty net from four yards.
Pittsburgh took the lead six minutes before half-time courtesy of Earls’ set-piece excellence. The Irishman whipped a dangerous, inswinging free kick toward the far post that evaded Ngwenya’s jump before shooting off the turf into Laurendi’s top corner.
The hosts could have extended their lead early in the second half. Earls lifted a pass into the 18-yard box for Mike Green to race onto. The former U.S. U-20 midfielder appeared to be barged by a defender as he connected with a volley that Laurendi pushed away.
Another sprightly forward burst from Kerr on 55 minutes saw him fizzing over a cross from the left side that narrowly evaded Green at the back post.
Kerr was the architect of the clinching goal on 77 minutes. The German-born Scot gained possession in midfield before releasing Dallman on the right flank. Kerr continued his run into the penalty box to meet Dallman’s cross with a firm 12-yard header that nestled in Laurendi’s bottom corner.
Earls had spent most of the season operating as a left-back or left-midfielder since his arrival from the Rochester Rhinos. Vincent, a Liverpudlian who played college soccer at the University of Charleston in West Virginia, likewise often found himself stationed on the left.
Saturday’s game saw Vincent operating as the holding midfielder behind Earls and Kerr. The trio’s industry disrupted a young Galaxy side at a time when the visitors were beginning to find rhythm in their passing, while Kerr’s regular forward bursts allowed him to frequently arrive in the final third untracked.
Reaching the playoffs seemed an unlikely scenario for Pittsburgh after a 10-game winless start to the campaign that yielded four points. Fifth-year head coach Justin Evans was discarded in May with the team’s Croatian defender Niko Katic installed as an interim replacement.
Katic and Gibson spent June shuffling the line-up as results continued to underwhelm the Steel Army. Five wins in seven games since the start of July have presented a huge opportunity for the Riverhounds to reach the post-season, particularly with the remaining games involving their fellow chasers.
The Hounds can leapfrog 10th-placed Orange County Blues Friday night when the Southern Californians fly east for the first of a three-game road trip. Katic’s side travels to struggling Arizona United on Aug. 16 before hosting the F.C. Dallas reserves one week later.
Pittsburgh ends the month with a testing double-header road trip to the Charlotte Eagles and Charleston Battery before Arizona travels to Western Pennsylvania for the regular-season finale on Sept. 6.
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