The Pittsburgh Riverhounds showed signs what their season could have been — taking a 1-0 lead in the game’s opening 45 minutes against a strong Louisville City FC club that is fighting for the top spot in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately for the Hounds, Louisville City FC would come roaring back in the second half to seize the game, and jump back into the first place with a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Highmark Stadium on Friday night.
The Hounds took the lead when Corey Hertzog converted a terrific Mike Green cut back pass from the right end line to give the Hounds a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute.
But a persistent and speedy George Davis IV scored twice on opportunistic goals in the second half to give LouCity a league leading 13th win of the season.
Between Davis’ goals in the 56th and 81st minute – the Hounds dodged a big bullet in the 69th minute but lost a player.
Green was called for a foul in the box as a ball was played toward the far post toward Louisville City’s leading scorer Chandler Hoffman.
Referee Henrik Karisson called Green for the foul in the box — and then after going over the play with his linesmen sent Green off with a red card.
Hoffman, sitting on 14 goals for the season, good for second in USL, went low with a PK shot toward the inside left post, but Hounds goalkeeper Mauricio Vargas made a diving save to keep the game level.
Down a man, the Hounds finally gave up a second Davis IV goal in the 81st minute, as he chipped it over Vargas for his fifth tally of the season.
Louisville City (13-4-6) pushed their points total to a league leading 45 points to over take NY Red Bulls II in the standings, while the Riverhounds (3-13-4) remain at 13 points after a promising start in what could have been a signature season win.
TALE OF TWO HALVES
In the first half the Riverhounds were the team that we thought we’d see at the beginning of the season.
They were possessing the ball well, playing with good chemistry in the attack with creative passes, keeping the ball on the ground and getting the ball into the final third.
Stephen Okai, Lebo Moloto and Kevin Kerr did an excellent job of holding the ball up when they needed to — and finding feet of their teammates.
“I’m proud of the guys’ effort. We were unfortunate in a couple of ways. We battled well. We started the game really well,” said Dave Brandt, Riverhounds Head Coach.
Giving away some room on the outside, they conceded eight corner kicks in the first half.
Goalkeeper Mauricio Vargas came up with a few big saves to deny 6-foot-1 Sean Reynolds who connected with two of those corners with headers on target.
Still, the Hounds were holding on and very much had things going their way.
That was until the start of the second half.
George Davis IV then kept coming, creating a few chances that were turned away.
The former Richmond Kickers midfielder’s persistence paid off finally as he pulled through with a 56th-minute equalizer, firing into the far right side when Danny Earls could not quite get a good touch to break up the attack.
In the 82nd minute, when the 10-man Hounds were fighting off more pressure — Aodhan Quinn set up Davis who fired toward the left of the frame as the ball took a bit of a deflection off of Pittsburgh’s defense, preventing Hounds goalkeeper Vargas from any chance at making a stop.
While the body language for the Riverhounds after the second goal seemed to be that of frustration — they didn’t stop battling.
Late sub Duwayne Ewart’s chance in the 89th minute showed that the Hounds came close to pulling level against one of the top teams in the USL, even down a man.
“I think it is a group that has put feeling sorry for themselves, and any differences among them, behind them. They decided to bond together, and make a real run at making this season mean something,” added Brandt after the game.
“It would be a huge building block for next year. I’m really proud of them.”
And with that — a solid first half and a 1-0 lead evaporated into the warm Pittsburgh night — and the Hounds were left on the losing end against a top-flight team despite an effort that coach Brandt feels that they can build upon.
GREEN AT CENTER OF THINGS
Mike Green has played more minutes and more games than any other Riverhounds player this year.
Yet often he seems like the quiet warrior — the guy who goes about his business and does a workmanlike job, will play any position he’s asked and puts forth a professional effort every minute he’s on the field..
On Friday — he had anything but a quiet night.
For Green, it was a night filled with some strong play on the flank, a nice shot on goal in the 18th minute that barely sailed over the bar, a very nice assist on the Hertzog goal, and then in the second half as the Hounds were holding on to a 1-1 tie for dear life — he was stuck in the middle of some controversy.
As the ball was played over the top toward the back post, Green was step-for-step with Hoffman. As the ball came to them, he and Hoffman made contact, and the foul was called.
After the referee and linesmen took extra time to sort everything out — Green was sent off for the red card.
Vargas’ save on Hoffman’s PK kept the Hounds in it — but Green’s absence left the Hounds down a man — and down a player who was at the center of attention for much of the night.
“All over the world now – it seems like that call — a foul in the box is a red card when it doesn’t have to be,” said Brandt.
Now, Green will miss his first game of the season, as he’s going to be suspended for the Hounds road game to Montreal on Wednesday barring an unlikely reversal if the Hounds were to appeal the red card for being the last defender in Hoffman’s path.
VARGAS SHINES IN DEFEAT
There’s no doubt now that Brandt is riding his young goalkeeper for the rest of the season.
Vargas, who has experienced his share of tough games, but bounced back nicely in the team’s 4-1 win on Saturday in Wilmington, also played well in defeat against Louisville City.
Vargas kept a blank sheet in the first half highlighted by nice reaction saves to deny Reynolds.
Then with poise of a veteran, he stared down Hoffman, a guy with 14 goals this reason, and denied the penalty kick that was headed to the inside left post.
“It gives you a massive lift,” said team captain Kevin Kerr.
“As soon as a [penalty kick] goes in, heads are dropping. He saves that, and everyone is re-energized, and ready to go again.”
This has been the fifth straight game that Vargas has starte. With the opportunity to play consistently (instead of starting every other game as he had been doing from May through early July) he’s now gaining more and more confidence, working better with this teammates — and has shown his talent for making big, instinctive saves.
It would be a good thing if the Hounds can hold on to him –as he can only keep getting better and provide some stability in goal for the next few years.
Riverhounds – Mauricio Vargas – Marshall Hollingsworth (Duwayne Ewart 88′), Ryan Adeleye, Willie Hunt, Michael Green – Danny Earls, Stephen Okai (Zak Boggs72′), Kevin Kerr, Lebo Moloto (Jack Thompson 81′) – Corey Hertzog, Alejandro Aguilar (Nick Thompson 61′)
Subs not used: Hunter Gilstrap, Alex Harlley, Nick Kolarac
Louisville City FC – Greg Ranjitsingh – Kyle Smith, Conor Shanosky (Paco Craig 80′), Sean Reynolds , Ben Newman – Aodhan Quinn, Paolo DelPiccolo, Mark Anthony Kaye (Kadeem Dacres 73′), Niall McCabe (Cameron Lancaster 74′), George Davis IV (Andrew Lubahn 85′) – Chandler Hoffman
Subs not used: Tim Dobrowolski, Tarek Morad, Ilija Illic
PGH – Corey Hertzog 27′ – (Mike Green)
LOU – George Davis IV 56′
LOU – George Davis IV 82′ (Aodhan Quinn)
LOU – Aodhan Quinn 21′ (Caution)
PGH – Michael Green 68′ (Red Card)
LOU – Sean Reynolds 75′ (Caution)
PGH – Lebo Moloto 80′ (Caution)
LOU – George Davis 84′ (Caution)