LOUISVILLE, KY – The Pittsburgh Riverhounds moved back into the USL playoff spots Saturday night with a 1-0 win against highflying Louisville City at Slugger Field.
Rob Vincent’s penalty kick in first-half stoppage time was the difference in a game of few chances between the two highest scoring teams in the league. Vincent’s strike brought him level with Louisville forward Matt Fondy as the Eastern Conference’s leading scorers with 18 goals apiece.
Lebo Moloto appeared to have given the Hounds some breathing room on 59 minutes when he converted a cutback from Mike Green. The goal was erroneously flagged offside. That led to a nervy closing period for Pittsburgh that saw City substitute Ilija Ilic twice coming close to tying the score.
Charlotte Independence can dislodge the Hounds (10-9-5, 35 points) from sixth place again tomorrow afternoon with three points at Toronto F.C. II. The North Carolina side (8-8-6, 32 points) boasts a superior head-to-head record over Pittsburgh.
Hounds head coach Mark Steffens was forced into a couple of changes following last week’s 2-1 loss in Charlotte with captain Danny Earls suspended and Jamaican goalkeeper Ryan Thompson still struggling to shake off an injury picked up during the Concacaf Gold Cup. Calle Brown returned between the posts and Kevin Kerr slotted back into midfield following his recent one-game ban. Steffens made three other personnel changes with Sterling Flunder, Boris Zivanovic and Green earning starts in place of Fejiro Okiomah, Tyler Pasher and Max Touloute.
Brown enjoyed a comfortable first half as the Hounds defense largely dealt with Louisville’s attacks. A rare City opening arose on 29 minutes when a short corner allowed Enrique Montano to whip a dangerous ball toward the back post. Sean Reynolds was left unattended and should have buried his header. The defender instead directed his finish well wide of target.
Moloto prompted the Hounds’ best looks early in the game. An excellent pass by the South African playmaker forced the penalty kick that allowed the Hounds to jump ahead in first-half stoppage time. His perfectly weighted ball between Louisville’s back line found Zivanovic streaking into the 18-yard box as right-back Bryan Burke tried to recover his position. Burke bundled the Serbian midfielder to the ground and Vincent dispatched his kick inside Goodwin’s left post.
Moloto’s ability to carve open a defense shone through again on 59 minutes when he slotted a great pass behind Louisville’s defense to put Green through on Goodwin.
The Hounds frontman saw his initial shot blocked before turning to set up Moloto to seemingly double the Hounds’ lead. Green was clearly outside the penalty box when Moloto’s initial pass was released while three City defenders were stationed on the other side of the 18-yard line. Referee Marco Antonio Vega disallowed the goal on the advice of his assistant.
The hosts soon had their own claim for a spot kick when Aodhan Quinn’s shot struck Willie Hunt’s hand with the Hounds defender standing inches outside his penalty box.
Pressure was beginning to build as City head coach James O’Connor changed his lineup to spark a comeback win that would have sealed his side’s playoff berth. Ilic thumped a header off Brown’s crossbar on 68 minutes before Hunt took a boot to the head while bravely blocking the rebound.
Louisville resorted to firing long balls forward as the minutes ticked by. Brown responded with some dominant play to command his penalty area and lock down an impressive shutout against the league’s second-placed team.
The Hounds return to Highmark Stadium next Saturday night, Sept. 5, for another vital game against a playoff rival when the Charleston Battery makes its only trip to the Steel City of the regular season.
John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the United States. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).