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Hounds Feel ‘Real Energy’ Ahead of Highmark’s Playoff Debut

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 10/18/18, 6:58PM EDT

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Pittsburgh, Orange County, Phoenix all set for first home USL Cup Playoffs contests this weekend


Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will host its first USL Cup Playoffs contest at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night, which will also mark the 100th game in the venue's history since opening in 2013. | Photo courtesy Delaney Hoolahan / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

PITTSBURGH – As someone who was on hand when Highmark Stadium first opened in 2013, longtime Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC midfielder Kevin Kerr is one of many people associated with the club who has waited for the club’s first home USL Cup Playoffs game at the beautiful venue for quite a while.

The game this Saturday, when the No. 3-seed Hounds host in-state rivals and No. 6-seed Bethlehem Steel FC for the 100th game in the venue’s history in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+), is already building a major sense of anticipation around the club.

“You can feel the buzz already,” said Kerr. “It’s only Wednesday, and in this squad there’s a real energy. I think that’s going to be the exact same Saturday night with the fans. They’ve been waiting as long as anyone, and I’m sure they’re going to make the most of it.”

Highmark Stadium has seen memorable moments in single-game knockout contests before, including the club’s 2015 Open Cup victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies that saw former Hounds midfielder Rob Vincent score in the first minute of stoppage time to lift the side to victory.

The Hounds’ playoff history hasn’t been as good, though, with the side falling at the first hurdle on the road in each of its prior three trips. With the club’s resurgence under Head Coach Bob Lilley this year, though, there is focus within the squad on what’s ahead, not what is now past.

“I’m excited for the game, so it’s going to be a great game,” said Pittsburgh winger Christiano Francois. “We’re going to give our best. I don’t think the 34 games we’ve played matter anymore. We’re focused now on the playoff game.”

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Orange County SC fans will get their first taste of USL Cup Playoffs action on Saturday night at Champions Soccer Stadium. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

Pittsburgh is one of three clubs that will host its first USL Cup Playoffs contest this weekend, with Western Conference No. 1-seed Orange County SC and No. 3-seed Phoenix Rising FC also getting the opportunity to welcome their home support to outstanding soccer-specific venues.

For Orange County in particular, the night at Champions Soccer Stadium is one the club envisioned when the new venue opened a year ago and allowed it to start putting its imprint on the local fanbase.

“We are incredibly excited to be hosting our first ever home playoff game this Saturday at our Championship stadium” said Orange County Vice President & General Manager Oliver Wyss. “Our entire community and especially our core fans have been fantastic all season long and this game is a tribute to them. Their support has contributed greatly to our Western Conference Regular Season Championship and will help inspire our team all the way to the USL Cup.”

The sense of occasion in Phoenix is also being felt around the club as it looks to challenge for a USL Cup in Didier Drogba’s final season of competition. With the club organizing a blackout among various promotions that should pack the stands of the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Friday night’s opening game of the postseason against No. 6-seed the Portland Timbers 2 should be a must-see.

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After playing its first playoff game in club history on the road last season, Phoenix Rising FC open this year's USL Cup Playoffs before passionate home support. | Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

Back in Pittsburgh, however, the wait for a game that’s been six seasons in the making has everyone ready to put their best foot forward for the Hounds.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Kerr. “It’s been a goal every year since I’ve been here. It’s brilliant to finally make it happen.”

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