The Pittsburgh Riverhounds were handed their first loss of the season to the Rochester Rhinos, 2-1, on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium in a game that was decided by a controversial goal.
After a sluggish first half performance where they couldn’t muster any quality scoring chances, the Riverhounds tied the game early in the second half. Max Touloute, who just had entered the game, received a perfect through ball from Danny Earls in the 48th minute, and with one touch, chipped the ball over Rhinos goalkeeper Brandon Miller for his first goal as a Riverhound.
But moments later, the Rhinos took advantage of a wild turn of events.
After a hard collision on the far left sideline between two players both going hard for the ball, the Riverhounds’ Rob Vincent and Rochester’s Mike Garzi, the official lost track of the run of play, instead focused on the two players who collided.
As Garzi and Vincent began pushing and shoving each other, the official, Vito Testa Jr., went to separate the players.
Rochester continued to play on, and Onua Obasi made a run to the outside of the left side of the box. Obasi delivered a ball right toward Alex Dixon, who got behind the Riverhounds goalkeeper Ryan Thompson on the far post. Dixon delivered a one-time volley to the back of the net to give the Rhinos the lead.
Most of the Riverhounds players were in disbelief.
“It’s unfortunate that had to happen,” said Touloute, who was making his second appearance, but first significant minutes for the Hounds.
“You play the game and you want to play fair. When other things that cost us the game, it’s very unfortunate, but it happens. You have to keep playing.
“The ref wasn’t event watching the game. I don’t think that should ever happen in a professional game.”
Controversy aside, it was a tough night for the Riverhounds, who opened their season a week ago with a five-goal outing to defeat Harrisburg, but on this Saturday night, were stymied by a tough, physical and strong defensive Rochester side.
“We didn’t play well. We came out pressing, but couldn’t connect any passes,” said Riverhounds Head Coach, Mark Steffens.
“We played right into their hands for much of the night, especially in the first half.”
Rochester took the early lead in the 28th minute, as the Riverhounds tried to clear a ball out of danger near the box, Riverhounds midfielder Stephen Okai collided with Rhinos midfielder Tony Walls.
Okai was called for the foul, and Walls delivered a pinpoint free kick from just outside the penalty box past the Riverhounds wall and goalkeeper Thompson for the 1-0 Rochester lead.
Steffens made some changes at the half that seemed to provide a spark for the Hounds.
He brought in new signees Willie Hunt, Touloute and Vini Dantas, replacing Sterling Flunder, Miro Cabrilo and Stephen Okai.
“In second half we played way better,” said Steffens.
“Max is a very dangerous player. He’s just getting fit. Once he gets fitter, he’ll give us even more. He’s very fast and dangerous on the ball.”
Rochester’s midfield and back line though, proved to be a tough nut for the Hounds to crack — even as they brought added pressure and played with more energy and connecting more passes in the second half.
In their late push to get the equalizer in stoppage time, Vincent delivered a ball in the box that appeared to fly by a few Rhinos with hands up, and the Hounds pleaded for a handball call.
Apparently, Testa didn’t see that one either.
— Riverhounds starting eleven included: Ryan Thompson (GK), Sterling Flunder, Anthony Arena, Fejiro Okiomah, Mike Green, Danny Earls, Stephen Okai, Lebo Moloto, Kevin Kerr, Rob Vincent, Miro Cabrilo.
— Kene Eze made his Riverhounds debut, as he came in for Hunt in the late stages.
— Six years to the day when three Pittsburgh Police officers, Paul Scuillo, Stephen Mayhle and Eric Kelly were killed in the line of duty, the Riverhounds observed a moment of silence prior to the game. Pittsburgh Police Zone 4 Officer Liz Vitalbo sang the National Anthem after the moment of silence.
For Riverhounds and soccer news, you can follow John Krysinsky throughout the season on Twitter @johnkrysinsky or here on Pittsburgh Soccer Report. For more on the Riverhounds week 2 loss, including “What We Learned,” player ratings and more, check back in the following days.