Scenes on the Susquehanna

Weeds sprout from the sidelines of Harrisburg’s Skyline Sports Complex. Large patches of dry grass pepper the pitch and make the ball bounce erratically on the players. Rickety bleachers provide a view of the Susquehanna River and the State Capitol rotunda glowing in the night. There could not be a more fitting setting for an important minor league soccer derby with playoff implications.

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A defunct scoreboard on the east end of the field starts to be taken over by shrubs

City Island seemed unaware of the stakes associated with the Keystone Cup contest. There was plenty to distract them away from the play. Kids dug their feet into the beach volleyball courts while the adults filled up on bottomless drinks at “Socceritaville.” The sound of the mini-train circling the island interrupted the PA announcer’s relentless giveaway of prizes. It was half soccer, half carnival.

The Steel Army ended any chances of a fun family-friendly atmosphere when they crossed the pedestrian bridge and marched into the grounds. The battalion greeted the home crowd with a chant of, “we should be the capital, not you.” They had a much different objective than the locals trying to pleasantly enjoy their Saturday night. They came for the cup.

“When we stepped on the field and they were chanting, it helped our intensity,” said Lebo Moloto.

That intensity showed as the Riverhounds opened the first half pacing themselves to beat of the drum. Defenders went into challenges with a little more intent than their opponents while the attackers worked tirelessly to get behind Harrisburg’s back line. The traveling fans made all the noise in the park and turned the match into a home game for the Hounds.

It took only 15 minutes for trouble to find the Steel Army. A security guard came over attempting to silence their support. The group refused to back down. They adapted their songs with PG-13 language and remained as loud as ever. Not long after they were rewarded for their continued commitment.

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The Steel Army celebrates cautiously after Lebo Moloto’s opening goal

Moloto’s opening strike brought subdued celebration. The blue smoke just trickled into the sky and fan reaction to the goal was hardly outrageous. They knew it would take more than one goal to seal this unpredictable rivalry.

Then Kevin Kerr broke free right in front of his followers a minute later. The much-taunted Islanders keeper Nick Noble was the last man standing in front of the Scotsman. Kerr pushed the ball beyond him and into the net.

Pandemonium.

Kerr wasn’t just on, but over the moon after scoring the critical second goal. He wheeled over to his fan base and shot his imaginary arrow into the sea of gold. Members of the Steel Army lined up in the front row to share in the moment. The shouts were deafening and the smoke fired out of its canister this time around. Danny Earls rushed over to tackle his teammate into the boards. The rest followed shorty and huddled together knowing that the goal could be the payoff of an arduous journey.

“The Steel Army were ledge,” said Kerr. “They gave us a massive boost.”

Harrisburg refused to go away gently. They compiled most of the possession in the second half right in front of the Steel Army. The tension around the ground went up a notch when the City Islanders pulled one back on 75 minutes. A collective gasp from the whole crowd could be heard when Ken Tribbett’s header with three minutes remaining went inches wide.

The final blew whistle after what seemed an eternity for Pittsburgh. There would be no late game equalizer this time. Head coach Mark Steffens and his squad celebrated their postseason clinch. The Steel Army was jubilant over claiming the Keystone Cup over their turnpike foes. The two collided into one happy scrum at midfield. They staked their ground on foreign soil by winning the battle that will go down in Hounds’ history.

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The Steel Army raise the Keystone Cup after the Riverhounds gifted them the trophy as thanks for their dedicated support (Photo: Ian Thomson, @PghRiverhounds)

The postgame festivities soured quickly for the hosts. The Harrisburg-colored light and navy blue balloons tied to the cup were clipped off to disappear into the night. The captain Earls eventually grabbed hold of the trophy and proceeded to be swarmed by the rest of his team. They relinquished the cup to the Steel Army to do who knows what with it. Fireworks provided an unintended congratulation for the visitors.

It wasn’t a grand finale for the Hounds however. New York Red Bulls II awaits them next weekend. Even more members of the Steel Army are expected to make the trip to Red Bull Arena. Harrisburg offered a magical night, but it also increased the ceiling for the Hounds’ hope. Like the Steel Army says, where the Hounds go they will follow.

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Oregon State Outlasts Defiant Duquesne

No. 12 Oregon State overcame jetlag and an unrelenting Duquesne squad to squeeze out a 3-2 victory on top the Bluff. A Dukes penalty on 89 minutes ended up being the difference, a decision that was greeted harshly by a dedicated student section backed by members of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ Steel Army. Duquesne keeper Sam Frymier did everything in his power to keep the Beavers away from a third goal, but his save bounced right back to Timmy Mueller who drove home the rebound. Beavers head coach Steve Simmons will feel lucky that his nationally-ranked team remains undefeated (4-0) on the season.

The Dukes matched any challenge Oregon State presented for most of the match. A sluggish Beavers defense missing the toughness that shut out their first three opponents also helped the underdogs stay competitive.

Talisman Jordan Jones took the initiative on 27 minutes to break open the reserved opening stages for the Pac-12 program. Jones followed up his initial shot that hit the post to finish at point blank range. Duquesne went down a minute later to equalize. Oregon State’s nightmare in defense began when they couldn’t clear away the corner allowing Colin Phillips to take the chance.

Leading goal scorer Jones completed his brace right at the start of the second half. The sophomore sent a missile into the back of Frymier’s net on 50 minutes from just inside the penalty area. The captain Phillips wouldn’t be out-staged and answered with a double of his own. Beavers keeper Nolan Wirth left his cage on 58 minutes and the Ontarian capitalized on the empty goal. Phillips continues to be the main source of offense for the Dukes contributing 4 of their 5 goals.

Oregon State started to assert their dominance in the final minutes. Frymier made a powerful save on Mueller on 84 minutes that kept the loud student crowd hopeful. That hope soured when referee Pete Lubinsky deemed that the contact on a Beavers attacker was enough to award a penalty. Mueller rescued the result to keep his team’s no. 12 ranking intact.

The match completed the first day of the Duquesne Invitational. Cleveland State edged Cornell also on a penalty that came in overtime. Oregon State will play this Sunday for the chance to take the trophy with them on the 3,000 mile flight. They face the Ivy Leaguers at 11 a.m. while Duquesne hosts Cleveland State at 3 p.m.

Women Fall Late To West Coast Opposition 

Duquesne women’s soccer couldn’t compound on a successful trip to New Jersey last weekend and lost 2-1 in overtime to UC-Santa Barbara. Mallory Hromatko’s curling strike on 97 minutes made the journey east worth while for the Gauchos.

A scoreless affair picked up with 5 minutes remaining in the second half. Pitt transfer Malea Fabean changed that when she opened the scoring for the Dukes. Santa Cruz charged right back as Chace Schornstein found the equalizer that forced Extra Time.

The loss means a developing Duquesne program drops to 4-2 on the season. They will want a quick bounce back against Cincinnati this Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.