Congratulations to Rob Vincent. The (former) Pittsburgh Riverhounds midfielder is now a member of MLS’s DC United. The terms of the deal between the two sides are undisclosed. The chatter indicates the return will be cash rather than players, but we’ll wait and see. As a myopic Riverhounds fan, that’s a bummer. From any other perspective, it’s great news. It’s good for the player, it’s good for the club, and it’s good for the league to show that USL is a legitimate path to bigger opportunities in the professional game.
Rob’s first season in Pittsburgh coincided with the team’s first year in Highmark Stadium. That season was also my first real introduction to the Riverhounds. When we started doing pregame shows for matches (partway through that season), Rob’s Liverpool origins, and our shared fandom of Everton, helped fill segments while I was still trying to get my head around the team and the league. I had been to a few matches as a fan, but I knew nothing. As a guest and a player, I liked Rob immediately.
I think it’s fair to say that throughout his soccer career, Rob Vincent had largely been overlooked. As a youth, he played in the Everton and Crewe Alexandra academies. When he wasn’t offered a professional deal upon the expiration of his youth contract, Rob chose to continue his education and soccer career at the University of Charleston. He scored nine goals in each of his college seasons, earning Division II All-American honors all four years to go along with two conference player of the year awards. Despite that impressive collegiate record, Vincent still needed to make his own way in the American professional ranks, talking his way into a trial with the Riverhounds before signing a professional contract ahead of the2013 season. His first two seasons in Pittsburgh were solid, if unspectacular. Playing a deeper midfield role, he proved himself a hard worker with a precise right foot and panoramic vision. Vincent chipped in seven goals over 58 total appearances. Solid, in the role he was asked to play, but nothing eye-popping. He became a fan favorite and a reliable player. Count me as someone who overlooked him during those two years.
It became apparent quite early in the 2015 season that Rob Vincent would no longer be overlooked. Two goals and two assists in the season opener against Harrisburg were an early indicator that Rob was on his way to a breakout season. Playing further forward on the left-hand side of the Hounds midfield, Rob flourished under Mark Steffens’s quick-passing, possession-oriented game. He showed the ability to work the left wing, keeping pressing defenses honest by spraying 40 yard passes to reverse the play, or playing more narrowly and unleashing long-range shots from outside the box. As his confidence grew, so did his goal tally. Two goals against Toronto, two more against New York, two more against Harrisburg in the “Miracle on the Mon,” a hat trick against Wilmington. Vincent scored the game-winning goal in each of the Riverhounds wins in the US Open Cup, and he converted the penalty kick that pushed his new club, DC United, into extra time at Highmark Stadium. It was that performance against United that prompted DC head coach Ben Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper (a former Hounds executive) to pursue Rob after the USL season concluded. He finished 2015 with 21 goals in 30 games (reminder: 7 in 58 over two previous years). For his achievements, Rob was named to the USL All-League first team after earning “Player of the Week” honors twice and “Team of the Week” accolades on seven occasions.
Rob Vincent turned 25 years old in October. He’s in his prime years as a footballer. I hope he’ll stick with DC United and continue to grow as a professional in MLS. I’ll miss chatting Everton with him (even though, lately, those Everton “conversations” were eye contact followed by vigorous, dissatisfied head-shaking). Wherever this franchise goes in the years and decades to come, Rob will be fondly remembered as a key member of the “new era” of Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer. Good luck, Rob. If you see this, just know that I plan on demanding to know “Where’s the Vincent money, Bill…?!!?” every chance I get.