On Independence Day, it wasn't a continuous display of fireworks or the rugby-like physicality of a rivalry game, but a single rocket that sent Steel Army and the packed Highmark Stadium into a holiday frenzy.
That rocket, once again, came from the leg of Kenardo Forbes as he lifted Riverhounds SC to a 1-0lightning-delayed win over Bethlehem Steel FC. Forbes took two free kicks in this one, and after crossing into the area from scoring range the first time around, he wasn't going to take any chances.
"In the first half I crossed the first one and kind of tricked the goalkeeper," Forbes said after the win. "He was looking for the cross, and I just surprised him.”
Honestly, and with all due respect, Kenardo ... I think it was less "trick" and more holy heck he hit the living heck out of that ball. Seriously. Take a look at that first photo up top. That's Steel keeper Tomas Romerotrying to fight his way toward a blistering, perfectly placed free kick from Forbes. He was unsuccessful.
I still feel like the video, although it shows off the strike, doesn't do it the justice it deserves. I was in the near corner of that video and the ball was paced so well over the heads of the narrow Steel wall that no one had a chance to track it.
Where the "trick" does come in, though -- to me, at least -- is the run by Kevin Kerr at the top of the box. He sprints in toward the six-yard box, pieces move, attention is paid by Steel defenders and Forbes goes for goal.
Now watch Forbes, and I asked him about this because I noticed it live. He goes through his run-up, hits the ball and the only step forward he takes is due to his momentum from the lengthy run. He stops in his tracks, throws his arms up and celebrates where he finished the kicking motion.
The guy knew it was in when he hit it. I knew it, so I asked him.
“That's a celebration," he said through a smile. "That was a celebration. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in, so, that was a celebration.”
Then, I asked if Romero got a hand on it.
"I don't even remember. I just saw the net shaking," he replied with the same smile ... what a cheeky son of a Riverhound.
Beyond Kenardo's winner, this was a scrappy match filled with six yellow cards, three to a side, slightly Steel-tilted possession, and a number of just mistouched chances for the Hounds. In particular, Christian Volesky -- mixed into the lineup for Neco Brett -- looked to be a better first or second touch off from a goal or two of his own.
I asked Bob Lilley about Volesky in particular, knowing he'd seen his forward was getting close to having it back:
Volesky was probably the closest outside of Forbes to finding the netting for the Hounds. He made some truly wonderful runs, created two chances and had two shots, one of which just missed, but couldn't find the target with either of them.
That was a theme for the home side, by the way. The Hounds attempted 14 shots to Steel's five, but only put two on target. They key there is that they held the visiting squad to zero shots on target. Can't lose if the opponent can't hit the rectangle.
Lilley spoke a bit there, and continued afterward, about the importance of getting Volesky, Mark Forrest (who replaced Volesky in the final minutes), Daniel Rovira and others more minutes with the squad. It's what he called "educated risks" in order to have a squad ready to go against Charlotte on Sunday in North Carolina.
"We rested enough guys that we should have some fresh legs for Sunday," Lilley said of the upcoming test. "I know Charlotte played tonight, so they'll probably have some squad rotation. The trick was to try to take some educated risks so we could get the points and still have enough for Sunday. Part one is done, [and] hopefully the guys that are asked to step on the field on Sunday are ready for a good Charlotte team recently."
Charlotte's recent form is fine -- winning twice and drawing every other in their last five matches. The Hounds, though ... the Hounds are riding a superior form, winning their last four after falling to Columbus Crew in US Open Cup play. Those four games? They've won them by a combined 13-1.
The change in form isn't cause for complete celebration from Lilley, though. He knows his team, who was dropping more points than expected after last season's showing, is becoming a bigger target each time out.
"As we climb the table, we're going to have to win these types of games," Lilley said. "I think with people below you in the standings, you're always going to be a massive target. People are trying to drag us back and we're trying to keep climbing."
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE HOUNDS’ 1-0 WIN OVER BETHLEHEM STEEL FC: