In only its second game of the year, Pittsburgh Riverhounds salvaged a point on Sunday on the road against a much-improved Toronto FC II team, thanks to some late trickery on a Conor Branson free kick in added time that tied the contest at 2-2.
Toronto stays unbeaten at 1-0-2 (5 points) and Pittsburgh moved to 0-1-1 (1 point) and had to play Sunday’s road match without the services of three opening day starters — and two top scorers from 2015 — midfielders Kevin Kerr (Green Card/Visa) and Lebo Moloto (injury -hip flexor), along with defender Sergio Campbell (Green Card/Visa).
Nick Hagglund opened up the scoring when he got on the end of Raheem Edwards‘ corner kick to put Toronto in front in the 12th minute.
The Hounds responded late in the first half when Romeo Parkes made a terrific run througth the middle of the field — played a ball with his outside right foot to Marshall Hollingsworth for a nice one-two – that the Jamaican finished into the back of Toronto’s net.
Parkes celebrated with a nice display of acrobatics and the Hounds went into halftime level at one goal a piece.
Edwards continued to be a thorn in the Hounds side.
Making a run into the box along the left endline, Edwards blew past Hounds’ interim captain Mike Green to draw a foul in the box.
Edwards buried the penalty under the diving Hunter Gilstrap to put the home side up by a goal in the 55th minute for his third goal of the season.
The Riverhounds made a few substitutions after conceding another go-ahead goal. Caleb Posterwait and Isaiah Schafer provided the Hounds with a lift — and after struggling for much of the game to create much build-up and possession — the Hounds attack finally started to sustain more pressure in the final 20 minutes of the match.
Branson’s free-kick equalizer was set up by a foul right on the edge of the box, as Parkes again made a strong run — but this time was tripped up by a Toronto defender.
The kick came in the 92nd minute, as Branson lined up on the ball, along with Parkes to the left of the ball, and Jordan Murrell on the right. Parkes provided the decoy, stepping over the ball, causing TFCII goalkeeper Alex Bono to cheat a bit to his left. Murrell took one step forward, and stopped. Then Branson sent a low shot to the left side of the goal past Bono.
Then things got really interesting as both sides pushed for three points with a fast-paced, end-to-end finish.
Here’s the game’s final sequence…
TFCII pushed forward sending in a few dangerous balls into the box. Fortunately for the Hounds and goalkeeper Gilstrap, who was in the near post area, Karsten Smith was there by the far post to clear the ball heading toward goal away.
The clearance came to Parkes who received the ball past midfield with a lot of space — forcing Bono to come off the line to make a nice save to preserve the draw.
The Hounds return to action next Friday, April 22, at 7 p.m. when Orlando City B visits Highmark Stadium for the first of twenty USL matches to be broadcast on ESPN 3 this season.
PGH-TFCII THREE TAKEAWAYS
1.) Young and Hungry
At the team’s preseason media day, Hounds veteran keeper Gilstrap spoke about what sets the USL apart and makes it different than NASL, where he played a year ago for Carolina Railhawks.
“You have two different types of leagues. I don’t think one is better than the other. NASL has more older, more international, more seasoned players. They’re just different,” said Gilstrap.
“This is a league of younger, hungrier players.”
When you look at the results – last year in Open Cup – a lot of that was a result of that the younger, hungrier players trying to make it to the next level,” explained Gilstrap.
That was evident on Sunday at Ontario Soccer Centre – and Gilstrap was defending a goal against one of the youngest pro teams he’ll ever see — facing numerous players nearly half his age.
TFCII is a roster filled with promising teenage players (12 teens on roster!) — and the best player on the field on Sunday was Raheem Edwards — who is just 20 years old. It was also the second appearance for 16-year-old Shaan Hundal who was called-up from the Kia TFC Academy prior to last week’s match against FC Montreal.
For the third straight game, Edwards was a force, and someone the Hounds were having trouble keeping contained. He set up the game’s first goal with a perfectly played corner kick, then in the second half, he beat Green to set up the penalty kick that beat Gilstrap.
The Hounds, trying to replace two key veterans in Kerr and Moloto, started a mostly veteran lineup. But as the match wore on — added 18 year-old Ben Swanson (on loan from the Columbus Crew) to the midfield as a late 1st half sub.
Pittsburgh’s roster has young, new players too, but it’s a different breed than what we’ll be seeing from MLS second-teams like TFCII.
What the Hounds have assembled in fortifying depth to its roster includes a lot of battle-tested players who came through the college ranks, including the three second half subs: Posterwait, Schafer and Smith, who replaced veterans, Zak Boggs, Green and Steven Okai.
Schafer and Posterwait did some nice things on the right side — and Schafer at right back did a nice job of containing Edwards on a run into the box. Posterwait showed some tenacity and was not backing down on 50/50 balls.
And Smith made the game saving clearance in the dying moments.
And with a chance to draw even in added time, the Riverhounds coaching staff had no problem relying on the foot of young Liverpool, England native and recent College of Charleston product Branson, to deliver the game-tying strike.
As Riverhounds Head Coach Mark Steffens said after the first match against Rochester, there’s a lot of competition for playing time. Yesterday, Steffens wasn’t afraid to insert a few of them into the match to provide a lift that the team needed.
2.) Parkes Shines
While Branson came through with the late equalizer, it was Romeo Parkes who asserted himself throughout the match as the Hounds most dangerous player.
The Jamaican’s run through the middle of TFCII back line at the end of the first half — and his give-and-go with Hollingsworth — provided a spectacular highlight for the team’s first goal of the season.
Starting on the left flank, in what appeared to be a 4-4-2, Parkes was active throughout the match and also fouled numerous times — and created his share of opportunities.
One of those fouls set up the game-tying goal. In addition, moments earlier his shot late careened off the bar and had a break-away on the game final sequence could have provided the game winner, but Bono alertly came off the line to deny Parkes.
In setting the lineup in the absence of some key players, along with Parkes on the left, Steffens moved Hollingsworth into the central midfield. As the match progressed, both Parkes and Hollingsworth grew more comfortable in their roles and seemed to play well together along with the forwards.
3.) Vital Road Point
It’s just one point, and it’s very early in the season, but for the Riverhounds, it was an important point to salvage against a team that will be in the mix of the race for the playoffs. While much of the USL’s Eastern Conference have played three or four games — the Hounds sit near the bottom of the table with a road point and home loss to defending champs Rochester Rhinos.
They’ll now have to build off of that — with another full game under their belt as they built some team chemistry through the game.
They will need to be in top form in the coming week, as they suddenly play three games in an eight-day stretch. This includes Friday’s home match vs Orlando City B (0-3-1, 1 pt) and consecutive road games at front-running Louisville City FC (3-1-1, 9 pts) and Charleston (2-1-1, 7 pts).
Gilstrap (G), Murrell, Willie Hunt, Branson, Nick Kolarac (Swanson 42′), Stephen Okai (Karsten Smith 84′), Green (Schafer 67′), Zak Boggs (Caleb Postlewait 67′), Marshall Hollingsworth, Romeo Parkes and Corey Hertzog
Subs not used: Mauricio Vargas, James Bissue, Ryan Dodson
Toronto F.C. II:
Alexander Bono – Wesley Charpie (Bubacarr Jobe 66′), Nick Hagglund, Skylar Thomas (Eriq Zavaleta 62′), Anthony Osorio – Adam Bouchard (Christopher Mannella 66′), Aidan Daniels (Robert Boskovic 83′), Brian James – Shaan Hundal (Salvador Bernal Flores 71′), Raheem Edwards, Malik Johnson
Subs not used: Phil Di Bennardo, Martin Davis
SCORING / MISCONDUCT SUMMARY
TOR – Nick Hagglund 12′ (Raheem Edwards)
PGH – Romeo Parkes 41′ (Marshall Hollingsworth)
TOR – Raheem Edwards [penalty] 56′
PGH – Conor Branson 90+
PGH – Ben Swanson 75′ (caution)
TOR – Raheem Edwards 84′ (caution)
TOR – Robert Boskovic 90+’ (caution)