After a few games where things didn’t quite go their way, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds had some breaks on Wednesday — with a golden opportunity to steal three points on the road against the top team in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
Instead, the Hounds settled for a 2-2 draw at Louisville City in a rain-soaked and twice-delayed match that had a little bit of everything.
The Hounds capitalized early, as Romeo Parkes scored his team leading third goal of the season, the 10th minute, as he finished a one-time shot on the left side after receiving a quick poke and alertly played ball from a sprawling Stephen Okai from the middle of the box.
As the first half came to a close, with Louisville City bringing repeated pressure, the Hounds precariously hung on to their one-goal lead thanks to some outstanding goalkeeping by Hunter Gilstrap who made four first half saves.
Then mother nature took over in the 40th minute.
For about the next hour and half, the teams sat out one extended delay due to lightning, returned to the field. Finished the last five minutes of the first half, took at very short break, then after a few minutes, another long delay ensued.
It was nearly 10:50 p.m. EST when the heavy rain, and lightning cleared, and play resumed.
Just like that, Louisville City struck quickly as Mark Anthony-Kaye delivered a lobbing ball in the air to the USL’s leading goal scorer, Chandler Hoffman. Hounds defender Sergio Campbell went up, and Gilstrap came off the line to try to punch the ball away, but Hoffman beat them both to head the ball into the open net to level the match at 1-1 in 56th minute.
Again, Louisville City dominated possession as the Hounds really sat back, absorbing pressure and waiting for counters.
Sure enough, in the 75th minute, Hounds forward Corey Hertzog broke past the City back line after receiving a through ball. Hertzog put a nice move on Louisville’s goalkeeper Scott Goodwin, drawing a clear path foul — and a red card,
Hertzog calmly drilled the penalty kick into the lower right side of goal, and the Hounds took their second lead of the long evening.
Moments later, Hertzog got past the back line again, but Goodwin’s replacement Greg Ranjitsing took away a shot attempt by coming off the line, lunging to take the ball away from a possible scoring chance.
In the 85th minute, Louisville capitalized on a few rebounds deep inside a muddy box,, while Hounds defenders appeared flat-footed and unable to clear the ball away — as Connor Shanosky bundled home a close-range finish to make it 2-2 after Kadeem Dacres had sent a low cross into the six-yard area from the left.
LOUvPGH THREE TAKEAWAYS
For the Riverhounds, two road games early in the season, and they’ve picked up two points. That’s good.
Parkes continues to be a threat — and has shown the ability to finish and has taken the mantle as the Hounds top scorer. Lots of credit to Okai as he made a nice play to keep the possession alive in the box. Okai asserted himself well in the match — especially when the Hounds were in the attacking third, he had a stronger presence than usual with the exception when he tried a one-time scissor kick that ended up in the Bob Uecker seats late in the game.
Lebo Moloto returned to the lineup — and that’s also a positive for the Hounds going forward. The attacking midfielder played a lot on the right side on Wednesday, and while playing on a sloppy surface doesn’t suit his game best — he showed at times — again when the Hounds were pushing forward — why he can really help orchestrate the Hounds possession game with his creativity and decision making. Unfortunately, the Hounds chose not to open things up as much — probably due to getting the early lead, the weather conditions — and the threat of giving up too much space to a dangerous Louisville attack.
In goal, Hunter Gilstrap was a man under fire for much of the night. The stat sheet said he faced 12 shots on goal, but throw in some additional 12 corners, and he was clearly very busy. In the first half, Gilstrap was terrific, making a pair of diving saves on shots from Kaye and was in command of the net and box.
As well as Gilstrap played while under pressure for much of the night, it’s still hard to ignore his mistake on the Hoffman goal. He came out to play the ball, but didn’t get there in time — and Hoffman delivered his league leading 7th goal of the season.
I know defending can be difficult on a muddy, sloppy surface. In terms of shape and positioning, the Hounds did a decent job at times. Still, it appeared that when the Hounds were under pressure in the box, they were flat-footed and waiting for balls to come to their feet to clear the ball. After a bunch of close calls, their inability to mark opponents, close down on shots and eliminate rebounds caught up with them in the 85th minute on the game tying goal.
The news came earlier on Tuesday that captain Kevin Kerr had to sit out Wednesday due to his red card in previous game against Orlando City B. While I am not sure if he would have been a huge difference, his leadership and energy was missing on the field. He will finally be able to return to action on Saturday, when the Hounds finish a two-game road trip at another tough place to play — Charleston.
THE SOGGY (UGLY)
After four games the Riverhounds are now in the same place they were in 2013 and 2014 — without a win.
While in 2013, they did turn things around, they still dug such a big hole they had to open the playoffs having to play on the road against the top seed. In 2014, a very poor start led to a coach’s firing –a missed playoff berth.
Things are not quite at the 2013 level yet. However, if I recall Head Coach Mark Steffens said that one of the team’s primarily goals this year is to get a home playoff game — which would indicate progress on the field for the franchise. Going through the first four games without a win is a sign that they have already dug themselves in a bit of a hole to start the season.
It’s still early in the season and things can turn around. They have enough talent to do so. However, the team we’ve been watching is still stumbling to maintain possession, were under attack for much of the night, and needed conservative tactics to have a chance to beat Louisville. And they almost pulled it off getting a results-oriented, and yes — “ugly” win. But their inability make an effort to keep and possess the ball — and eventually the lead provided instead for an “ugly” tie.
A home playoff game is going to be an uphill climb for this club based on what we’ve seen thus far.
Multiple rain/lightning delays are never fun for soccer players. In a sport where it’s so important to get body warmed up, stretched and get a heart rate going, long weather delays can be frustrating.
While for moments, it seemed that the Riverhounds might escape Louisville with a rain-SHORTENED win. But as the second delay began, the announcement came through on the ESPN3 broadcast that the forecast appeared to show clearing – and the game would be played even if they had to wait all night.
And so they did — finishing up just before Midnight and with only a few hundred people left in the stands.
Speaking of the Worldwide leader…
When USL introduced ESPN3 as a broadcast partner, it was another sign of progress for the third division of U.S. Soccer that’s really trying to make its case for being the second division.
Before the first USL game was aired from Highmark Stadium last Friday, I arrived in the press box looking around to find to see where the ESPN3 broadcast team would be located. Hounds Gameday Operations Manager Chris Devivo informed me that they would be broadcasting remotely.
For those who don’t know, ESPN3 broadcasts often feature a crew that is doing the game from a remote location, and are not actually at the game. If you’re an older soccer fan, you may remember that this was kind of like the days when World Cup coverage consisted of Bob Ley and Giorgio Chinaglia announcing the games from a studio in Connecticut. .
So, when the weather apparently wrecked havoc on the broadcast signal, the ESPN3 announcers were basically out of things to talk about after two minutes of staring at a blank screen.
This happened twice. Fortunately, both times, the game went to an extended delay pretty shortly after the broadcast lost its video feed.
The Riverhounds travel to Charleston, SC, to take on another strong team and long-time USL old-school rivals, Charleston Battery.