By SCOTT KESSLER – USLSoccer.com Contributor
Sunday, March 20, 2016
PITTSBURGH - Out with the old, in with the new for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
Kevin Kerr, now a veteran leader on the team, and the Riverhounds head into the 2016 USL season coping with the exits of multiple key contributors on – and off – the field.
The sale of Rob Vincent on Feb. 17 left a large void in Pittsburgh’s midfield. Vincent, 25, departed for D.C. United and Major League Soccer with 24 goals in 78 USL games (28 goals in 86 games overall) during his time with the Riverhounds. The Englishman rode his 18 goals in 2015 to a USL All-League First Team selection and a climb up the American soccer league ladder.
Riverhounds Head Coach Mark Steffens faces a tough challenge replacing Vincent’s contributions on game days, according to Kerr, beyond just the goals he scored.
“I don’t know if one person will fill [his role],” Kerr said of Vincent. “We’ll definitely miss him on and off the field.”
The German-born Scot spoke fondly of his former teammate, lamenting the effect of his loss, while placing numerous plaudits upon Vincent.
“He’s one of the hardest working professionals,” Kerr said. “He’s got what he deserved. I’m confident he’ll do well in D.C., but if he doesn’t it won’t be for a lack of trying on his part.”
Nearly as influential as the talismanic Vincent was striker Jose Angulo, who moved to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 2014. The Colombian led the Riverhounds with 23 goals in 47 games. The Riverhounds survived his transfer, Kerr points out, despite initial questions about how the club would progress forward from Angulo.
“We were asking the same questions as we did when Rob left – can one guy do everything Jose did?” Kerr said. “We figured out ways.”
For Kerr, an overlooked movement out of the team came in the form of Sterling Flunder, who retired after six years of service with Pittsburgh. Per the club’s press release about his retirement, Flunder “remains with the club in a full-time capacity as a director of the Riverhounds Academy East youth training program.”
“Monday to Friday him not being here is huge,” Kerr said of Flunder. “Other people have to step up and take leadership responsibilities. He was a top, top pro and I’ll miss him.”
In spite of the changes in the roster makeup, Kerr is confident in how the team is constructed and set to perform this year. To replace Vincent, Flunder and others, Steffens and the Riverhounds front office have brought in players like Ben Swanson – on loan from new MLS partner Columbus Crew SC – and the duo of Sergio Campbell and James Bissue, both of whom have spent time with MLS first-team squads.
“There’s a good buzz around this club,” Kerr said. “Everyone, including the new guys, has been here since day one. We’ve had a nice six-week-long preseason – the longest in the history of the team – and that gives us plenty of time to build chemistry.”After 10 goals and a team-high nine assists a season ago, Kerr will be in the driver’s seat as the Riverhounds look to build on a season that saw them return to the USL Playoffs for the third time in five seasons.