Everything seemed to be going the Pittsburgh Riverhounds way on Sunday, until the final minutes.
With a win within their grasp, the Riverhounds had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Louisville City FC, after some wild final moments at Highmark Stadium.
Fejiro Okiomah’s first half goal, a redirected header that he skimmed in from well-placed a Rob Vincent free kick, and goalkeeper Ryan Thompson’s remarkable effort in turning away a penalty kick and rebound in the same sequence late in the second half, would not be enough, as Louisville’s Kadeem Dacres drilled an equalizer in stoppage time that stunned the home team.
“That’s the most disappointing thing right now, that it’s a tie…” said Josh Rife, Riverhounds Assistant Coach.
“And, seeing a couple points slip away.”
The late game drama began in the 85th minute, as the Riverhounds were holding on to a 1-0 lead, when midfielder Stephen Okai collided with Louisville’s Magnus Rasmussen, referee Tori Penso, didn’t hesitate to call the foul on Okai.
Louisville’s Matt Fondy stepped up looking for his first goal of the season. Fondy sent his penalty kick low and right, but was stopped by a diving Thompson. As the ball darted away from Thompson, Fondy took another solid shot, only to be turned away as the Jamaican National team keeper, while he was still on the ground, got his hand up to keep the rebound attempt from going in the net.
As the ball was cleared away, the Riverhounds players celebrated the amazing play by their goalkeeper.
The celebration was dampened a few minutes later, just as raindrops began to fall at Highmark Stadium.
As the teams continued to battle into stoppage time, Dacres dribbled from the right side toward the top of the box, and found space for a left-footed strike that found the inside of the right post — sailing past Thompson
“Yeah, it was a good strike,” said Thompson after the game on a shot that he wasn’t able to react to quick enough.
Thompson and the Riverhounds back line were able to keep Louisville’s attack in check most of the match, in what seemed like their best performance of the year.
“(We’ve) been working together for a while now, and we’re getting better. Each game is better with our communication,” said Thompson.
The Hounds took the lead in the first half, making the most of a free kick opportunity in the 38th minute as Okiomah was able to get just enough of the top of his head on Vincent’s free kick, directing it to sail past Louisville’s goalkeeper Scott Goodwin for the lead.
The Riverhounds continued to press high and play aggressively as the second half began.
Kevin Kerr was creating a lot of opportunities on the right flank — connecting continuously with forward Vini Dantas throughout the match, but unfortunately for the Riverhounds, they were unable to get that elusive second goal.
Thompson was tested early, in the 5th minute as he had to come way out to deflect a Naill McCabe shot. While Thompson was on the ground, away from the goal, the Louisville midfielder took another shot but Anthony Arena blocked his second attempt.
In the 51st minute, Fondy laid a ball off to an unmarked Juan Guzman on the left side, but Thompson was able to make a save and pounce on the rebound.
Okiomah was injured on the play, as he responded to cut off Guzman. He would have to come out for the second consecutive game. He was replaced by Tyler Pasher.
Riverhounds head coach Mark Steffens starting eleven consisted of Thompson (GK), Okiomah, Arena, Willie Hunt, Mike Green, Lebo Moloto, Vincent, Kerr, Okai, Danny Earls and Dantas. Depending on whether they were pressing high or not, they were switching between playing in 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2.
Amura Soumah made his Riverhounds debut on Sunday, coming in to the match for Moloto around the 67th minute. Anthony Virgara also entered in the late stages for Soumah.
With the tie, the Riverhounds (1-1-2, 5 points) stay a point behind Louisville, and pull into a three-way tie for fourth place in the USL Eastern Conference standings with NY Red Bull 2 and Wilmington.
Rife felt they played well, but not well enough.
“I don’t fault effort. But we bring guys on late in games to bring energy. We lacked that today,” said Rife.
“It’s difficult, sure. But it’s part of the game. There’s going to be moments that reveal the character of our guys. I think as whole, we’ve been doing a good job, for most part of games. But when we are facing pressure, how we respond collectively is something we have to work on.”
“For 90 minutes, it was not a complete game, but still one of our better performances from start to finish that we’ve had this season. At this time, it’s going to feel like a loss, but we have to take a lot of positives from this.”
— In what was a pretty evenly played game, both teams had 10 shots, Louisville forced more corner kicks (8-3), and Thompson had 5 saves while Goodwin had 3.
— It was the first game the Riverhounds escaped without getting any cautions, but Louisville’s Juan Guzman did pick up a yellow card in the late stages for a foul from behind.
— For the first time this season, the Riverhounds wore their blue-black striped alternate jerseys.
— Even though Pitt football’s Blue-Gold Game was played just about 24 hours prior, the Riverhounds field crew were able to wipe away the football lines. Hounds President Richard Nightingale said that it was quite a process and took the crew many hours to have the field ready with soccer lines only.
— We didn’t get the official word on attendance. Even though there was a home Pirates game going on at the same time, the Riverhounds seem to only have a little better turnout than the first two games of the year, but I would be surprised if they surpassed 3,000 people. Hopefully, as the weather warms up, they will get more fans through the turnstiles.
— The teams won’t play again, until late August when they will play at Louisville Slugger Field. Next up for the Riverhounds, they will host Toronto FC, for their fourth home match this season on Saturday, April 25 at 7 p.m.