Harrison, NJ – The Pittsburgh Riverhounds battled the New York Red Bulls II into extra time, but came up short, losing 4-2 in USL Quarterfinal playoff game on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena.
In turn of events, the Riverhounds conceded three goals in the extra period after taking a one-goal lead in the 95th minute.
“Very disappointing. We thought we were right there. We had two leads. But they’re a good team. They held a lot of possession on us and gave themselves a lot of opportunities,” said Mark Steffens, Riverhounds Head Coach.
The Red Bulls II brought waves of pressure at the Riverhounds for most of the game, with 25 total shots, eight on goal.
Still, after 90 minutes, the Riverhounds ended regulation tied 1-1, and put themselves in a great position to come away with their first playoff win since 2004.
Early in the extra period, the Hounds would take the lead, as defender Willie Hunt scored his second goal of the game in the 97th minute, with a low header from a corner kick just inside the near post.
“I’m a defender, so if it’s anywhere near the box, I am going to get a head on it,” said Hunt, who only had one goal this season prior to scoring two on Saturday.
“He gets his head on a lot. One of those guys you have to watch out for. He is under six foot, but he knows how to get in there. He shows up every game,” said Steffens.
The Red Bulls, utilizing some late substitutions, responded by increasing their attack in the moments that followed.
“Defending and protecting a lead from the 97th minute is very tough to do. We knew they would keep coming at us,” said Steffens.
In the 102nd minute, Karl Ouimette took a touch on a low cross to the near post, and then sent a shot while falling backwards that sailed past Brown to bring the match level at 2-2.
Ouimette wasn’t done. The Red Bulls defender scored his second goal of the match, also on a corner kick, to give the home team their first lead of the game in the 115th minute. Ouimette found his way to head a redirected ball by jumping over Riverhounds midfielder Lebo Moloto, as he tried to clear the ball away.
For good measure, the Red Bulls added another goal in the final minutes, as Dan Bedoya got past the exhausted Hounds backline, to bury a low shot inside the left post for two-goal lead.
“They gave us fits the entire game. For them, it was a matter of time,” said Steffens.
“It’s all about defending as a unit. I give them a lot credit. I thought we had a couple of lapses. I just go back to the way they (Red Bulls II) played tonight, they deserved to win the game,” said Steffens.
In the 15th minute, the Riverhounds struck first, in a match that was played at a very fast pace from the beginning. Kevin Kerr was fouled by Red Bulls defender Colin Heffron setting up a free kick taken by Hounds captain and midfielder Danny Earls about 40 yards from goal.
Earls delivered an in-swinging, left-footed ball to the middle of the box, and Hunt timed his run perfectly to deliver the game’s opening tally.
“I started out deep, and made a run toward the center of the box, and was able to get a head on it and it went in before the keeper came out,” said Hunt.
The Red Bulls II utilized their speed and skill on the flanks, testing the Riverhounds defense and goalkeeper Calle Brown in the first half.
Brown was up to the task, making a pair of diving saves, including a lunging attempt that denied point blank shot from Stefano Bonomo in the 20th minute.
The Red Bulls finally beat Brown in the 61st minute, as Manolo Sanchez scored the equalizer, after receiving a ball in the box, delivered a strike that Brown got a hand on, but could not keep from going into the goal.
The Riverhounds would hold off the threatening New York assault for the remainder of the second half, before faltering in extra time.
The Red Bulls II will now face the USL’s league leaders, Rochester Rhinos in the USL Eastern Conference Semifinal next Saturday.
With the loss, the Riverhounds (11-10-8) closed what was a resurgent season, returning to the playoffs as one of the highest scoring teams in the league under the direction of Steffens, USL Hall of Fame coach, who has previously guided the Charlotte Eagles to seven USL finals and two championships.
Hunt believes that the best is yet to come.
“We’re heading in the right direction. I think we’ve done well for our first season (under Mark Steffens), and we’ll be looking to go further each year,” said Hunt.