The Pittsburgh Riverhounds found themselves dealing with some significant adversity on Saturday.
The Hounds had not won a game at Wilmington in USL play since the reformatted league began play in 2011.
That’s right — they had seen a list of failures in their visits to the Outer Banks: 5-1 loss in 2014, 4-1 in 2013, 1-0 in 2012 and a pair of 3-1 defeats in 2011.
As the first sixty minutes played out, it appeared that they were headed toward another disappointment. One that could have severely hampered their playoff hopes.
After giving up a first half goal, they still continued to have trouble getting any rhythm going in their attack on a field that width was 67 yards (instead of the FIFA standard 72 yards).
Kevin Kerr, getting a rare start at forward, was on the receiving end of a few Matt Dallman crosses, but that was the extent of the Hounds attack. There was also a potential goal that Rob Vincent almost poked in — but Wimlington’s goalkeeper Andre Rawls lunged to save. Dallman’s crosses to Kerr didn’t connect as precisely as his free kick the week before — as Kerr sent a few headers high over the bar.
At halftime, Riverhounds Head Coach Mark Steffens made few substitutions that helped provide some spark and with tactical adjustments for the second half, bringing on Vini Dantas to take the target forward spot, and Max Touloute moved to the left wing. This moved Rob Vincent into the middle and Kerr back to the right wing where he’s been most effective this year.
But before they could get on the board, things actually went from bad to worse at the start of the second half. Starting left back Sterling Flunder was sent off for an open field tackle that prevented a potential breakaway.
Suddenly the Hounds were facing 1-0 deficit, playing down a man on the road in a place they haven’t won in years, and they were running out of time to get a result that would keep them in the thick of the USL playoff race.
As they have been all year, the Riverhounds never stopped pushing forward. It wasn’t pretty at times, but they were resilient — and thanks mostly to the efforts of Calle Brown in goal, and Dallman, they equalized and kept Wilmington from putting the game away — and most likely burying the Riverhounds playoff chances.
DALLMAN SPARKS THE ATTACK
This was the Matt Dallman we saw in 2013, who led the USL in assists. He was sending balls on target from the right side all game long. It didn’t matter if he was playing on the wing as he did in the first half, or in the second half when he moved to outside back, he was sharp with his medium to long passes. While he’s not the biggest player on the pitch, Dallman still was relentless and his work-rate paid off on Saturday to help deliver the equalizing goal.
As Wilmington appeared to be clearing a ball from the box, Dallman came dashing in to block the clearance, and somehow able to still poke the ball over to Kerr. Kerr played the ball back to Dallman who took a touch and send a perfectly placed, lobbing short cross that found Dantas open at the near post for the clinical header.
It was the second straight game Dallman set up the Riverhounds lone goal.
After missing a large portion of the season, Dallman has become a player that Steffens can’t keep on the bench and has become a valuable piece to the equation if the Hounds are going to get into the playoffs.
The goal on Sunday, reminded in some ways of his biggest play in 2013, in an important game at Highmark Stadium against Hammerheads as well. He scored the game’s only goal by hustling into the box while falling backwards to sneak a left footed shot into the goal that helped push the Hounds into the playoffs that year. If you watch the very first play of the following YouTube video, you will see that spectacular “hustle” goal.
BROWN STANDS TALL
It really has been a terrific season for Brown, a rookie goalkeeper who last year at this time was still minding the net for the team that would go on to win the NCAA Division I National Championship.
At various points in the second half, Brown faced dangerous shots from a sneaky Wilmington counter attack — making a pair of diving saves and came off the line on a couple of Hammerheads breakaways. And of course — used every bit of his 6’6″ frame to take command of every ball in the air that came into the box.
While Ryan Thompson was clearly the number one goalie at the start of the season, and was the still the primary guy in Steffens’ eyes when he came back from Gold Cup play with Jamaica, as long as he was healthy, Brown’s shown that he can be an excellent pro keeper and has been terrific for the Hounds. I am sure that his stock will be rising and it will be interesting to see if he gets any interest in the offseason.
CONTROLLING THEIR OWN DESTINY
It’s simple really. If the Riverhounds win the next two matches — they will be entering the USL playoffs anywhere from a four to a six seed.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
And that’s when things get complicated. If they win one — or end up getting ties or lose either one of the final two. If they lose the next two, of course they will be done.
There are bunch of different scenarios that can still play out — but first things first. Wednesday night has a trio of games played by the three teams all separated by a few points. Richmond (38 pts) hosts Toronto. Harrisburg (36 pts) travels to Montreal and the Hounds (37 pts) are hosting Rochester.
Richmond is a clear favorite at home vs Montreal. It’s their final game of the season. They must be playing for a win. If they can secure a win, it would push them to 41 points, which would put all of the pressure on Pittsburgh and Harrisburg to get results on Wednesday. The Riverhounds can settle for a tie against Rochester, and still be able to get in with a win at Harrisburg. Without a win on Wednesday, Harrisburg won’t be able to push past Richmond in the standings.
Don’t forget Charlotte is also now sitting in 5th place at 40 points — waiting to play at Charleston and can be passed by both teams. The Riverhounds don’t want to end up in a tie with them as Charlotte holds the tiebreak edge.