Bethlehem Steel FC 2, Riverhounds SC 2 (Steel FC win 8-7 on penalty kicks)
In the first-ever USL playoff game at Highmark Stadium played before a record crowd of 5,189 fans, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds couldn’t shake a resilient Bethlehem Steel FC, losing a match decided on penalty kicks, 2-2 (8-7).
Despite surging into the lead twice on goals from Ben Zemanski and Hugh Roberts, the Hounds couldn’t close the deal, as Bethlehem twice found the equalizer, once in the second half, then in second period of extra time.
After 120 minutes of play, the match would come down to a shootout that extended beyond the first five kicks for each side.
After eight rounds of penalty kicks, with every conversion made to that point, Hounds defender Ray Lee missed his chance, sending his shot attempt left of the post that clinched the first-ever USL playoff win for Bethlehem Steel FC. Moments before, the game-winning penalty came off the foot of Bethlehem’s Oliver Mbaizo.
— USL (@USL) October 21, 2018
“Both teams did a good job on penalties. Both teams deserve credit for holding their nerve there,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds head coach, said. “Someone was going to miss at some point. Unfortunately, it was us. It’s a tough game to lose when I felt we were the better team tonight and for much of the season, but that’s playoff soccer.”
Despite feeling the match out in the early going, the Hounds were in control in the first half, even as the weather worsened, and they were playing into a hard rain and strong wind at times.
In the 25th minute, Neco Brett sent a cross into the center of the penalty box targeted for Ben Zemanski. The midfielder took to the sky and headed the ball with force into the right side of the net to provide the Hounds with a 1-0 advantage.
Bethlehem had one shot on target in the first half, also being the first shot of the match. The take came off the foot of Moar from outside of the penalty area, and Pittsburgh goalkeeper Dan Lynd easily handled the chance.
When the teams returned to the field in the second half, the Hounds continued to stay in control, owning possession.
However, they failed to double its lead.
“At 1-0, we had chances to put the game away. Not just protect the lead. And actually put the game away,” Lilley explained. “I think energy up top, movement. I look at the starting three up top. Christiano (Francois), Romeo Parkes and Neco Brett, and they needed to keep attacking the game. It’s disappointing we didn’t get the second goal.”
After a Pittsburgh corner kick was cleared away in the 65th minute, Bethlehem’s substitute at forward, Chris Nanco started a chain of sequences in a 10-minute stretch causing havoc.
A solid counter coming from a long ball played to Nanco, forced the Hounds keeper Dan Lynd to make a sprawling save to preserve a 1-0 lead.
Moments later though, Bethlehem finally delivered a blow on another quick strike, counter opportunity.
As they sprinted into the Hounds’ defensive third, Nanco hit Santi Moar with a pass.
Moar then sent a ball in close to the Pittsburgh goalmouth and Michee Ngalina knocked it in with his left foot, tying the score at 1-1 in the 70th minute.
Lynd was forced to make a couple more big saves to keep the score level.
Despite having finding some more energy to create a few free kicks and corners in the final 10 minutes of regulation, Lilley’s club found themselves heading to extra time.
At that point, Lilley hadn’t used any substitutions.
In the early moments of the first extra time period, the Hounds created a solid corner chance when Thomas Vancaeyezeele‘s header just sailed over the crossbar.
Another set piece presented itself for Pittsburgh in the final minute of the first overtime, when a free kick was played to the far post area. Hounds defender Joe Greenspan‘s header back toward the 18, eventually found its way to Joe Holland’s foot. The Englishman’s strike hit the cross bar, and Roberts muscled his way into the goal box to head home the go-ahead goal for the Hounds, sending the crowd into a raucous celebration.
“It felt awesome to get a lead in overtime. You’re thinking maybe you can hold onto the victory and stuff,” Roberts said.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) October 21, 2018
A 2-1 lead wouldn’t be safe for Pittsburgh.
Between overtime periods, with a lead, Lilley made his next move, bringing in Lee to add another defender to the mix.
“We went to five in the back. Usually when we have a lead, we go to five in the back. We played five in the back all year, so we were feeling very confident.”
Four minutes later, Roberts found himself trying to shield away Steel FC’s Santi Moar on a very high ball played into the top of the box. Roberts was called for a foul, and picked up a yellow card for what appeared to be a hard foul.
“It was a long booting ball. It was a bouncing ball. I don’t think it was a foul. You’re allowed to box out there,” Lilley said. “The forward forced contact to try to draw a foul. It’s tough. They made it clear in first half, they were going to boot every ball forward.”
This set up a free kick from 18 yards and a few inches from goal. On a team filled with many young players from Philadephia Union system, Steel FC’s turned to veteran James Chambers to deliver the equalizer.
Chambers sent his shot right at the left post, banging in his shot into the back of the net on an effort that Lynd had little chance to save.
“Both goals we made some poor mistakes. We did well to take the lead, and controlled most of the play,” Lilley said. “Bethlehem hung in there, and carved out some good opportunities. Not a lot, but good ones when they had them, they had a clear game plan and they executed.”
Before time ran out, Pittsburgh had a prime chance to get the game winner in the second overtime when Joe Holland broke beyond the Steel FC back line with lots of space on the left side. As he broke into the box, he took too strong of a touch and Steel FC keeper Jake McGuire made a move to secure the loose ball. In an attempt to get to the ball before McGuire, Holland slid in studs up, and connected with the goalkeeper’s head, and jarred the ball loose. The game official blew the whistle, and sent Holland off with a straight red card for the dangerous attempt.
The Hounds would see its season come down to an extended penalty kick shootout.
In the end, Lee pushed his shot too far left, and was left there all alone for a moment before his teammate Greenspan was first to come over to console him, while the Bethlehem Steel FC celebrated the win, and a chance to move on to take on Louisville City FC next week.
The Hounds will be left to ponder what was a turnaround season, but one where they developed a bit of a trend of losing leads late in games.
“We’ll need to be a little bit more consistent closing out games in those moments next year. We all know this a team that was a strong third. We played all the top teams well,” Lilley said. “We had more ties because we couldn’t finish teams off. This is something we’ll have to look at and do a better job next year.”
Ed Thompson Photo Gallery
Stat of the Game
This is the first-ever playoff game that Pittsburgh had that went into penalties.
— X- Bethlehem Steel FC (@BSteelFC) October 21, 2018
Beyond the Box Score
- Striker Romeo Parkes led the team with five shots.
- Defender Jordan Dover led the team with six tackles and four interceptions.
- Pittsburgh bested Bethlehem in total shots, 19-10.
- Defensively, Joe Greenspan led the club with 14 clearances.
Riverhounds SC – Dan Lynd – Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Joe Greenspan, Hugh Roberts, Jordan Dover (Kevin Kerr 118’) – Mouhamed Dabo, Kenardo Forbes – Romeo Parkes (Joe Holland 96’), Ben Zemanski (Ray Lee 105’), Christiano François – Neco Brett (Kay Banjo 105’)
Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Tobi Adewole, Todd Pratzner
Bethlehem Steel FC – Jake McGuire – Matthew Real, Ben Ofeimu, Matthew Mahoney, Olivier Mbaizo – James Chambers, Anthony Fontana (Drew Skundrich 62’) – Santi Moar, Brenden Aaronson (Omar Holness 100’), Michee Ngalina – Faris Pemi Moumbagna (Chris Nanco 55’)
Subs not used: Tomas Romero, Aidan Apodaca, Brandon Aubrey, A.J. Paterson
Penalty Kicks Summary:
BST – James Chambers (goal)
PGH – Kevin Kerr (goal)
BST – Chris Nanco (goal)
PGH – Kenardo Forbes (goal)
BST – Omar Holness (goal)
PGH – Kay Banjo (goal)
BST – Santi Moar (goal)
PGH – Joe Greenspan (goal)
BST – Drew Skundrich (goal)
PGH – Christiano François (goal)
BST – Matthew Mahoney (goal)
PGH – Thomas Vancaeyezeele (goal)
BST – Matthew Real (goal)
PGH – Mouhamed Dabo (goal)
BST – Oliver Mbaizo (goal)
PGH – Ray Lee (miss – attempt off target)
PGH – Ben Zemanski 25’ (Neco Brett)
BST – Michee Ngalina 70’ (Santi Moar)
PGH – Hugh Roberts 105’
BST – James Chambers 109’
BST – Faris Pemi Moumbagna 45’ (caution)
PGH – Jordan Dover 86’ (caution)
PGH – Hugh Roberts 109’ (caution)
BST – Chris Nanco 111’ (caution)
PGH – Kenardo Forbes 113’ (caution)
PGH – Joe Holland 119’ (ejection)
Riverhounds SC Starting XI
GK – Dan Lynd
D – Mo Dabo, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Joe Greenspan, Hugh Roberts, Jordan Dover
MF – Kenardo Forbes (c), Ben Zemanski, Romeo Parkes, Christiano Francois
F – Neco Brett
Mike Kirk (G), Todd Pratzner, Tobi Adewole, Ray Lee, Kevin Kerr, Joe Holland, Kay Banjo
Bethlehem Steel FC
GK – Jake McGuire
D – Matt Real, Ben Ofeimu, Matt Maloney, Oliver Mbaizo
MF – James Chambers (c), Anthony Fontana, Brendon Aaronson, Michee Ngalina, Santi Moar
F – Faris Moumbagna
Tomas Romaro (G), Omar Holness, Chris Nanco, Drew Skundrich, Aidan Apodaca, Brandon Aubrey, A.J. Paterson