The Pittsburgh Riverhounds stayed alive in the race to earn a spot in the USL playoffs by playing to a hard fought 1-1 draw against league-leading Rochester Rhinos at Highmark Stadium on Wednesday night.
Rochester’s Christian Velosky got behind the Pittsburgh back line on a through ball in the 82nd minute to score the equalizer that nullified a spectacular goal by Lebo Moloto earlier in the second half.
“It seems to be the story of the season for us, giving up another goal in the last ten minutes of the game,” said Anthony Arena, Riverhounds defender.
“It’s tough to give up a goal like that, especially after the goal we scored, we were in the drivers seat.”
With the draw, the Riverhounds (10-9-8, 38 points), fall behind both the Richmond Kickers (41 points) and Harrisburg City Islanders (39 points) in the USL Eastern Conference standings, both who won on Wednesday.
With one more game at hand against Harrisburg, and with Richmond done for the season, the Riverhounds will still have an opportunity to reach the playoffs, but will have to win on Saturday in the season finale and fourth edition of the Keystone Derby played in the State Capital.
“We battled really well. We wanted six points (in the last two games), we knew that we if we get four (points) — we know we can still get through,” said Mark Steffens, Riverhounds Head Coach.
“When you’re up one-nil and you are in control most of the second half, than it’s a bit of a disappointing result, but we’re still in this,” said Steffens.
After a first half that Steffens felt his team played into the hands of the defensive-minded Rhinos, who’ve only given up 13 goals all season, the Hounds responded early in the second half with numerous scoring opportunities.
At the center of their attack was Moloto.
“I thought when he moved forward in the attack, things really started opening up for us. He was so mobile, and dangerous,” said Steffens.
In the 68th minute, after nice combination passing that ended up with Moloto finding the feet of target forward Miro Cabrilo near the top of the box, Cabrilo played the 1-2 right back to Moloto in space and the South African native sent a well-placed, bending right-footed strike to the upper right corner of the goal.
“That was a world-class goal there,” said Steffens.
“He’s not a big goal scorer, but he’s a guy that going to be all over the field. He’s so good with his passing. But he’s capable and I know he has that in him.”
The Hounds followed up Moloto’s goal by continuing to press forward for the second goal. They had a few quality opportunities to double their lead, but couldn’t capitalize.
Substitute Tyler Pasher sent a cross toward the middle of the box, that Moloto nearly headed cleanly, but just missed while trying to fight off a hard challenge in the air.
There was another shot from Cabrilo just inside the box a few minutes later that Rochester keeper Adam Grinwis had to dive to his left to stop.
Rochester responded as Nate Bordgau sent a pass behind the Hounds defense that linked up with Volesky to tie the contest in the 82nd minute.
“That’s on us. We can’t have any lapses. This is a very good team. They’re tops in the league — and it was good goal, but we have to be better,” said Arena.
The Riverhounds and the Rhinos both pressed forward in the moments that followed for an entertaining finish.
Moments after the Volesky goal, Hounds defender Mike Green made a run just toward the left corner of the box, where he ran into a pair of Rochester defenders for a hard collision. Referee Guido Gonzales Jr. awarded a free kick to Pittsburgh.
Kerr lined up on the right of the ball, and Cabrilo on the left side. Cabrilo took one step forward, but Kerr quickly back heeled the ball to Vincent, the Riverhounds leading scorer, who unleashed a stinging shot toward the low right side of the goal.
Grinwis, the Rhinos back-up keeper, reacted quickly enough to make a highlight reel save that kept the contest level.
Niether team could score in the final minutes, and the contest would end 1-1.
The Hounds started with two forwards — playing a more standard 4-4-2 — as Max Touloute made a rare start, using his speed and technical skills to make a few nice runs inot the box,
Rhinos forward Steevan Dos Santos was particularly a thorn in the side of the Hounds defense in the first half. A big, physical player, Dos Santos made a few dangerous runs — setting up a pair of corner kicks and had one dangerous shot on goal that hit the base of the left post and cleared away in the 33rd minute.
Overall, it was another strong defensive effort by the Riverhounds, who were up to the task playing in tight “playoff” style game where most of the night scoring goals were going to be tough to come by, and they faced their share of corner kicks and set pieces.
“We give up one goal again. Overall. we’ve been good defensively for the last stretch of the season. Giving up one goal each game with a shutout sandwiched in between. I am proud of the way the guys played. This is the top team in the USL right now. One mistake cost us, but I thought we had the better of the play most of the second half,” said Steffens.
Rochester improves its league best record to 15-1-10, good for 55 points with two games remaining.
For the Riverhounds, who now ride a four-game unbeaten string (three straight ties and one win) – it will now come down to this — having to win in their season finale at Harrisburg in what basically will be a game where neither team can settle for tie.
“We have to win now to get in. Being with the way things went the first three times we played them (Harrisburg), it’s going to be crazy,” said Arena.
The first three matches between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg have been high-scoring affairs that produced a total of 25 goals and featured a pair of stirring come-from-behind victories for each team at home in the past two games. The Hounds hold the season series edge 2-1.
The teams will also be playing for the newly created Turnpike Cup. The game will kickoff at 7 p.m. from Skyline Sports Complex in Harrisburg. It will be streamed live on Riverhounds.com.
Riverhounds Starting XI
GK- Calle Brown, Anthony Arena, Willie Hunt, Matt Dallman, Mike Green, Danny Earls, Rob Vincent, Kevin Kerr, Lebo Moloto, Vini Dantas (Miro Cabrilo 62′) and Max Touloute (Tyler Pasher 60′).
Bob Lilley penciled in a strong lineup for Rochester.
Adam Grinwis-GK, Sean Totsch, Vasileios Apostolopoulous, Onua Orasi, Tony Walls, Marcos Ugarte, Alex Dixon, Jonny Mendoza, Mike Garzi, Christian Volesky, Steevan Dos Santos