The Pittsburgh Riverhounds battled back for a hard-fought 1-1 tie with the Richmond Kickers at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night as it proved to be a night of ups and downs for Anthony Arena.
The Riverhounds center back overcame a first half miscue that led to a goal by his former Houston Dynamo teammate and roommate, Brian Ownby, by getting the equalizer in the 55th minute that helped the Riverhounds earn an important point against one of the top teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
In the 24th minute, Arena slipped on the wet turf as he was receiving a ball played back to him from Rob Vincent. The opportunistic Ownby took the ball, made a nice run toward the goal and delivered a strike that gave the Kickers the early 1-0 lead.
Redemption came in the second half for Arena and the Riverhounds, as he delivered a header on a Rob Vincent corner kick in the 55th minute for the equalizer.
“The first goal, Rob (Vincent) played a ball back, and I lost my footing. That was a mistake on my part,” said Arena.
“Mistakes happen. I had to keep my head. It was a relief. I was lucky enough to have that opportunity. I got it across the goal and it was fortunate enough to get in.”
The goal was a culmination of yet another strong effort by the Riverhounds after they fell behind early in a match.
“It’s tough in this game to chase a lead. We’ve been in that position way too much this year,” said Mark Steffens, Riverhounds Head Coach.
“We do have confidence when we are behind, but the problem has been consistency,”
“But, I’d much rather score first,” Steffens chuckled.
With their backs against the wall, the Hounds responded with their share of scoring chances as both teams battled back and forth throughout the night.
In the 36th minute, the USL’s leading goal scorer, Vincent, delivered a perfectly placed low cross right at the center of the goal box for forward Vini Dantas, but Dantas just missed on what looked like a simple one-touch finish.
Moments later, in a pivotal turning point, Ownby found some room on the left side, and made a run into the box with what seemed like a clear path between him and the Hounds rookie net-minder Calle Brown. He was in very dangerous position to give the Kickers a two-goal edge, but his pal Arena swooped in for a perfectly timed slide tackle that averted danger for the Riverhounds.
“It’s always fun,” said Arena when talking about the battle with Ownby.
“Yeah, he was my roommate for year and a half. I have nothing but mutual respect on the field. But we play hard and want to win. We’re best friends off,” said Arena.
Steffens kept his starting lineup on the field through the first hour plus of the match, but brought in Lebo Moloto, Drew Russell and newly acquired Serbian, Boris Zivanovic, to refuel the attack.
Russell had a few headers that went wide late in the contest. Kevin Kerr and Vincent had a few combination passes into the box that were thwarted by timely defensive plays by the Richmond back line.
Early on in the match, the Riverhounds seemed to be more concerned with staying organized — keeping numbers back, as their backup goalkeeper, Brown made his professional debut, as starting man, Ryan Thompson was resting what was reported as a sore back.
“That was the game plan,” confirmed Steffens.
“We asked the outside backs to settle in more, and the team as a whole to defend as a unit. Once we settled in, we were able to get the better of the play. We had a lot of opportunities. There were five or six chances there.”
As the second half wore on, the game became more physical, and both teams had players getting booked for yellow cards, including Ownby for Richmond, and Moloto and Stephen Okai for the Hounds.
Riverhounds starting eleven included: Brown (GK), Anthony Arena, Willie Hunt, Tyler Pasher, Matt Dallman, Danny Earls, Stephen Okai, Mike Green, Rob Vincent, Kevin Kerr and Vini Dantas.
With the draw, the Riverhounds earn a point, to bring their season mark to 2-3-3, good for nine points as they are just below the line for a playoff spot as they complete the first quarter of the season. Richmond improves to 4-1-4, with 16 points as they remain in third place in the USL Eastern Conference.
This will begin a busy stretch for the Riverhounds.
“(Recovering) starts right now. We’ll get some rest in next day or so. We have a team that’s going to come out and fight. It’s all about preparation. We’ll be ready,” said Arena.
The two teams won’t have to wait long for their rematch, as they meet again next Saturday, at Richmond’s City Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
First up though, they will both be in action in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Second Round Wednesday night, May 20. The Riverhounds will host the West Virginia Chaos at Highmark Stadium, while Richmond hosts Virginia Beach FC.