Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3 – New York Red Bulls II 3
There was no lack of action from the start on Saturday in the opening game of the season for both the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and New York Red Bulls II before a decent crowd of 3,352 at Highmark Stadium.
While the Hounds started with a few quality shots and chances, the Red Bulls capitalized first, with a goal from Frenchman Florian Valot, in the seventh minute after he received a ball on the left side of the box and with plenty of room to shoot, easily beat goalkeeper Keasel Broome.
Moments later Corey Hertzog scored a goal on a spectacular individual effort, cleverly straddling a bouncing ball along the end line with perfectly timed touches — then beat NYRBII keeper Rafael Diaz.
In a genuinely cool moment, Hertzog’s post-goal celebration included picking up Hounds ball boy and one of the Hounds Academy players he knows in front of the Steel Army.
The Hounds back line though, suffered another relapse, as the other Red Bulls II French native, Vincent Bezecourt beat Broome with a shot from the right side of the box after a nice pass from Andrew Tinari in the 19th minute.
The Hounds remained on the attack generating more quality chances. In the 39th minute, they completed a fantastic build-up of possession that started along the right side, then Rich Balchan made nice effort to get ball to Marshall Hollingsworth near top of the box. Hollingsworth quickly played the ball to the Kevin Kerr on the left side who darted through to deliver a right-footed finish that would level the score at 2-2 before the half.
The second half, things started to get a bit more physical as each team tried to slow down possessions in the final third. Stephen Okai was issued a yellow card by game official Charles Murphy for a hard foul in the 48th minute, and this began an accumulation of five total bookings for the Hounds through the second half.
In the 72nd minute, Ryan Adeleye, who came on for Gale Agbossoumonde at center back a few minutes earlier, was called for taking down Red Bulls II forward Ben Mines.
Bezecourt didn’t have a problem putting away his penalty as he went low and left as Broome guessed wrong — diving in the opposite direction.
Hertzog was called for yellow card prior to that penalty for delay of game after approaching Bezecourt and the ball after some pushing between a few players outside the box prior to the kick.
The Hounds forward would get some retribution.
In the 79th minute, after getting pushed from behind, had a chance to level the score for the third time on a penalty. Thanks to a little second effort, as Diaz stopped Hertzog’s first shot, but couldn’t secure the ball, and the former NY Red Bull was able to get enough on his rebound attempt to trickle the ball over the goal line.
It was a spirited, lively match, and the Hounds found a way to keep coming back.
After the contest, Pittsburgh Head Coach Dave Brandt acknowledged that there’s still work to be done.
“We can’t give up three goals. It’s that simple,” said Brandt, who sounded every bit like a coach who just came away with a draw, and not a win.
“It was really important to us to get the point. I don’t think every thing tonight is a positive, but that’s a positive.”
On that note, here are some opening night take-aways…
WHAT WE LEARNED
KERR & HERTZOG PROVIDE A SAVVY PARTNERSHIP
Red Bulls II back line featured some pretty big, young players who were physical. Each may have been bigger than the Hounds forwards for the evening Kerr and Hertzog, but that didn’t seem to faze either.
“Yeah, they were pretty big basketball players,” chuckled Hertzog.
“They were big, sure, but it gave Kev and I a chance to get behind them a little bit. We have a good partnership.”
Now playing together for the second year, and with enough depth in the midfield, Brandt has unleashed a savvy forward tandem at the top of the attack at the start of the season.
Hertzog’s first goal, a great individual effort, was a thing of beauty. This is the kind of creative and instinctive play that the Hounds will need in the final third if they’re going to contend in the USL’s Eastern Conference this season.
“I didn’t have much of an angle,” said Hertzog. “I just wanted to try to get to it, and I got a little lucky.”
Hertzog will take goals anyway he can get them, especially after getting off to a slow start in 2016, when he came on strong to finish with a career-high 13 goals. After a productive preseason, and with a two goal start to the season, Hertzog’s confidence is now high. As he said in an interview earlier this month, if he can score a lot of goals, it will mean good things for the team and that’s all he really seems concerned about.
Throughout the match Hertzog and Kerr was on the same page, connecting passes at times and also working well with the rest of the team to string together possessions and quick counter opportunities that Brandt wants to see his team producing.
The second goal was possible and completed because they had a veteran, Kerr, at the end of a terrific string of one-touch passes to deliver a quality finish.
For now, Brandt will bring Key Banjo, as he did on Saturday, as a late sub if they need a goal or to give either the versatile Kerr or Hertzog an opportunity to slide back into an attacking or defensive midfield role.
BACK LINE – STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
On the other side of the coin, the Hounds back line looked pretty shaky, and the common theme after the game from the coach and a few players echoed that sentiment.
“I’m pretty upset,” said Rich Balchan, veteran defender who made his Hounds debut at right back.
“We’re at home, and we want to and expect to win.”
Coach Brandt didn’t sugarcoat things either.
“We’re not tight enough in the back. Period. And we fought for it in the second half. and we were better, but some of those were bad giveaways and we were under pressure,” said Brandt.
“But, we’re going to need to get way, way better in that area. There’s no question about it.”
At one point, late in the first half, Balchan let another newcomer, center back Jamal Jack, know he wasn’t pleased with how they were covering a few dangerous Red Bulls possessions in the box.
“Sometimes those situations are hard to defend sometimes,” said Balchan.
“We got caught in between a couple of attackers, and sometimes it’s important to be communicating, and on the same page.”
The first goal was definitely poor communication, the second goal, that was a nice pass to get it in there. We’ll have to take care of things better and cut down on mistakes, but it was first game, so we’ll keep getting better,” added Balchan.
DEFENDING CHAMPS ADJUSTING TOO
At the start of the season, it appears that the Red Bulls II are in a bit of a transition period too. There were some new faces, and their attack primarily relied on two players instrumental in their success to winning a USL title last year — as both Bezecourt (2 goals) and Valot accounted for the three goals.
Diaz was the back-up goalie a year ago, and he was tested early and often as the Hounds attack was persistent throughout the evening (a good sign for Pittsburgh!).
With USL Eastern Conference filled with many quality teams, the Red Bulls will find it no easy task to equal last year’s incredible run that included 61 goals, winning 24 games and they always seemed to be dangerous.
In the first half, NYRBII scored on its first two shots, but after that, Broome made a few nice saves to keep the Hounds within striking distance.
HOUNDS SHOW RESILIENCY
How many times a year ago after falling a goal behind would the Riverhounds lose fight and fail to come back?
Many times actually. Last season’s team only scored equalizing goals in a couple games.
Not so much tonight. They responded each time with a consistent attack through the entire game. They didn’t look like a team that was one of the poorest in producing goals and along with Hertzog’s aforementioned confidence, the entire unit showed positive body language and played hard for 90 plus minutes.
This has to be a very good sign.
Riverhounds Starting XI (and subs):
Keasel Broome, Taylor Washington, Gale Agbossoumende (Ryan Adeleye, 59′), Jamal Jack, Rich Balchan, Stephen Okai, Victor Souto, Marshall Hollingsworth (Ben Swanson, 55′), Jack Thompson (Key Banjo, 75′), Kevin Kerr and Corey Hertzog.
Okai, Hertzog, Souto, Hollingsworth and Adeleye.
The Hounds (0-0-1, 1 point) will take on FC Cincinnati on Saturday, April 1 at 5 p.m. at Highmark Stadium. FCC (0-1-0, o pts) lost tonight at Charleston.
Word has it that FCC fans have already bought a lot of tickets in the section next to the Steel Army on the East End of the stadium.