The Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2-1 loss on Saturday to the Charlotte Independence on Saturday in Rock Hill, S.C., spoiled the homecoming for Head Coach Mark Steffens, who spent 18 seasons at the helm of the Charlotte Eagles.
Although the Independence are a new USL expansion franchise, imprints from Steffens’ tenure with the Eagles were still present on Saturday night.
One of his former players, Jorge Herrera, who played for the USL Hall of Fame coach for eight seasons, completed the Independence comeback by easily sending his penalty kick past Columbus Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who was on loan to the Riverhounds.
The game turned on the play that led to the penalty kick, as Hounds captain Danny Earls made a nice diving save on Tomasz Zohorski’s shot that was headed into the goal.
The only problem, Earls is not a goalie. And he was sent off for the remainder of the match (more on this below).
With the loss, the Riverhounds are now sitting a 4-4-4, good for 16 points, just inside the playoff line in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings. You could say that the Hounds are giving new meaning to the expression, “win one, lose one.” In a bit of a bizarre side note, they have had all-even records (1-1-1, 2-2-2, 3-3-3 and now 4-4-4), after every three games this season.
At least they’re consistent.
So, before we begin preparations and preview the big Open Cup match on Wednesday at Highmark Stadium against the D.C. United, lets take a look at the three things we learned from this tough road loss — Pittsburgh’s first defeat in all competitions since losing at Charleston in early May.
GAME TURNS ON ONE PLAY
With the Independence carrying all of the momentum of the match after getting the equalizer a little more than ten minutes earlier, one play would ultimately decide the outcome of the rest of the match.
After a cross from the right side – that sailed past the far, left post, Alex Martinez took a touch and sent a ball to Tomasz Zahorski in the middle of the box. With his back to the goal, Zahorski turned, and fired a shot into the open area in the left side of the net.
That’s when Danny Earls took a calculated risk. His instincts to save a goal at all costs took over — and he extended his arm to keep the ball from going in the goal. The game then would ride on Herrera’s penalty kick — and the Hounds would hope that their newest goalkeeper, Lampson, could possibly make the save that would turn the momentum back to the Hounds.
We’ve seen the before on the game’s biggest stage, most notably in 2010 World Cup, when Uruguay’s Luis Suarez’s blatant hand ball prevented a certain Ghana game winner in the very late stages of their quarterfinal match. Ghana’s Asamoa Gyan would then miss the awarded penalty, and eventually Uruguay would win on penalties later to advance.
Unfortunately for the Hounds, Earls’ calculated risk didn’t pay off like Suarez’s.
In one play, Pittsburgh gave up a goal, and lost their captain, and had to play a man down.
Getting positive results on the road soccer is never easy. It’s a big reason why the Riverhounds remain in the middle of the pack of the USL’s Eastern Conference.
The Riverhounds have been solid at Highmark Stadium, with a 3-1-3 record in league play (5-1-3 overall in all competitions), On the road, that’s another story. After Saturday’s loss, the Hounds dropped to 1-3-1 in games away from home.
Although they broke through to take the lead just before the end of the first half with a terrific build up, and combination of passes between Rob Vincent, Fejiro Okiomah and Lebo Moloto — that led to Moloto’s volley, they couldn’t hold off a strong second half surge from the Independence.
If the Riverhounds are going to solidify their spot in the playoffs, they will have to earn points on the road. Nine of their final 16 matches will be away from home — with the next one being at a place where they’ve only won once in 15 years, Rochester’s Shalen’s Stadium.
GOALKEEPER REVOLVING DOOR
I think the first question I have before each Riverhounds game lately is — who’s in goal tonight?
Since Ryan Thompson started the first seven games of the season, the Hounds have had a revolving door of keepers minding the net.
It was ironic that on Saturday, on the field at Winthrop University, there were four goalkeepers who started games for the Riverhounds in the past two seasons.
Lampson — on loan from Colombus — made his debut with Pittsburgh as Ryan Hulings was his backup. On the other sideline, the Independence featured Mike Lisch who was also on loan from the Houston Dynamo and recent additional loanee and former USL Goalkeeper of the Year with the Hounds, Hunter Gilstrap.
In all, the Riverhounds have had seven different goalkeepers start during the past two seasons.
Part of the reason for this has been that their primary net minder, Thompson was called up to the Jamaican National team, where he’s on the roster as the Reggae Boyz compete in the 2015 Copa America Tournament in Chile. (Thompson did not play in the Jamaica’s opening 1-0 loss to Uruguay.)
But the Hounds felt the need to add an experienced keeper in the absence of Thompson, and with having two rookie goalkeepers, one (Calle Brown) who’s been injured, and another (Ryan Hulings) who’s filled in admirably, but still has made some costly mistakes. Brown played one game, the home match vs Richmond, while Hulings has taken on the bulk of the duties while Thompson’s been gone.
This move — in getting Lampson — the Riverhounds showed that they are willing to make moves if necessary.
While it didn’t produce an immediate positive result, it showed they are willing to go aggressively in the market to fill a need, and were able to work out a loan with Columbus to get a bit more polished goalkeeper for an important league game (and potentially the next Open Cup game?).
If anything, this shows that the organization is clearly moving forward beyond last season’s cloud of bankruptcy, and won’t stand pat, instead looking to make upgrades when needed.
For now, until Thompson comes back, the team’s biggest question mark will continue be going into each match will likely be — who’s in net tonight. Who’s starting vs D.C. United? That’s anyone’s guess at this point.
NEXT UP – D.C. UNITED
In the course of the next few days, I will be previewing the Lamar Hunt Open Cup match on Wednesday. D.C. United will be coming to Highmark Stadium after a second straight loss — as they fell 1-0 on Sunday evening at Orlando City as Kaka’s rebound from a saved penalty kick in the 30th minute was the difference. One of the biggest concerns after the Charlotte match may have been with the status of Lebo Moloto, who left the game in the late minutes as he fell to the ground in pain, holdlng his leg.