Within seconds of tasting victory that would have lifted them past a few teams in the USL Eastern Conference playoff race, Pittsburgh Riverhounds instead settled for a 1-1 tie with the Charleston Battery after giving up a goal in the closing moments of stoppage time.
In the final seconds of the match, Maikel Chang’s clever back heel, redirected a shot from Ricky Garbanzo that beat Riverhounds goalkeeper Calle Brown that evened the contest that would keep the Battery (10-6-10, 40 points) four points ahead of the Riverhounds (10-9-6, 36 points).
Chang’s tally negated Kevin Kerr’s early second half goal that broke open a tight contest that gave the Riverhounds the lead in the 52nd minute.
“This is not the first time this year we’ve failed to close out a game. It continues to be something we have to continue to work on doing better,” said Jose Rife, Riverhounds assistant coach.
“I’ve been here many times, and said sometime these (ties) feel like wins, and some feel like losses. This one feels like a loss,” said Rife.
After a hard fought first half, which the Riverhounds controlled possession and had a few decent chances against a formidable Charleston defensive unit, they broke through in the beginning of the second half.
After the Hounds cleared a Charleston corner kick in the 52nd minute, Lebo Moloto made a nice run through the midfield and into the left side of the attacking third. As Moloto tried to play a ball to Tyler Pasher, it appeared that he was pushed in the back by the Battery’s Navion Boyd. Moloto then collided hard with Pasher, and referee Bernhard Hosu, awarded a free kick to the Riverhounds.
Former USL assist leader Matt Dallman lined up alone on the ball, on the left side about 35 yards from goal, sending an in-swinging, bending ball toward the far side of the goal that Kevin Kerr headed into the goal.
“We talked about it before the goal a couple of times. He (Kerr) said he would make a run to the middle of the goal, and I was fortunate to find him,” said Dallman.
It was Kerr’s 10th goal of the season, as he trails only Rob Vincent (18 goals) for the team lead. Vincent sat out the game due to an accumulation of yellow card suspensions. Kerr moved into the central midfield, as the Riverhounds revamped line-up handled Charleston attack for most of the evening.
Rife was encouraged by the defense, even as they had to replace recent pick-up, and starter Ben Newnam early in the match, bringing in Tyler Pasher who moved up to the left outside midfield, while Dallman slid to outside back. Fejiro Okiomah also came in later in the match for Anthony Arena.
“We’ve had a good selection of guys that we can choose from now that have filled in, and done a good job. It’s a good sign as we play these type of games late in the season,” said Rife.
As the game enter the late stages, the Hounds faced numerous threats, including a few close free kicks set up by what only Rife would suggest were some “embellishments” that seemed to frustrate the coaching staff, who had a word with the officials after the game.
“We’ve come a long way here in the U.S. Players have come a long way too. They’re more savvy now. You see some nuisances and gamesmanship,” said Rife.
The Riverhounds held off Charleston for 93 minutes, but after a long throw-in from the right side, Garbonzo sent a shot into the crowded box that Chang was able to redirect into the goal that silenced the home crowd — and spoiled a Riverhounds celebration.
With Richmond and Charlotte (both now at 37 points) both also settling for ties as their games ended only moments before, it was an opportunity for the Riverhounds to move past both in the standings. Instead, the Hounds now trail both by one point, and lead Harrisburg (who play on Sunday against St. Louis FC) by two points.
“There’s three games to go. It’s still in our hands,” said Rife.
“We are not relying other people. We can still get three wins and control our own destiny.”
HOUNDS STARTING XI
Calle Brown (GK), Anthony Arena, Willie Hunt, Ben Newnam, Sterling Flunder, Kevin Kerr, Danny Earls, Lebo Moloto, Boris Zivanovic, Matt Dallman, Mike Green
In addition to Pasher and Okiomah, the Hounds also used Miro Cabrilo, Drew Russell and Amara Soumah off the bench in the final 10 minutes.
Brown made five saves as the Battery outshot the Riverhounds 15-7. It was a physical contest — as the Hounds were called for 14 fouls, while Charleston had 11 fouls.
The Riverhounds will travel to Wilmington, N.C. on Saturday, as they take on the Hammerheads on Saturday, September 12. They will finish the season in the final week with a Wednesday, September 15 match at home against league leaders, Rochester Rhinos, then travel to Harrisburg on Saturday, September 19, for the final match against their Keystone Derby rivals.