The Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2016 season came to a halt on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium with a 1-0 loss to playoff-bound FC Cincinnati in a game that seemed in many ways to be a microcosm of year.
The Hounds (6-17-7, 25 points) conceded a goal in the 31st minute after a high bouncing, spinning ball in the box hit defender Willie Hunt’s hand, resulting in a penalty kick being awarded to the visitors. FCC’s Sean Okoli buried the kick past Hounds goalkeeper Zach Steffen for his USL leading 16th goal of the season.
The one-goal advantage would hold up, sending FC Cincinnati (16-6-8, 56 points) into the playoffs in its inaugural season with confidence and a team on the rise that will likely be hosting a postseason game before another USL record setting crowd, while the Hounds go back to the drawing board.
“There’s been some progression this season, but yeah, was this game a microcosm of the season, yeah, it felt that way,” said Dave Brandt, Riverhounds Head Coach. “To give away a bad, weird, funny penalty like that makes it feel like a microcosm of the season.”
Making matters worse, moments after the goal, Riverhounds forward Corey Hertzog found himself with lots of room with the ball entering the final third, and appeared to make a sharp move to the left of the last FCC defender Austin Berry.
As Hertzog went left, Berry reached out with his right leg, and appeared to trip the Hounds leading scorer. Referee Georgios Zervos immediately booked Hertzog for embellishment, and despite the Hounds best arguments, the call stood.
“What happened is Corey went left, and the kid stuck his right leg out. When that happens. The key is – when defender sticks leg out he’s in a bad defensive position,” explained Brandt. “Corey did what a good player does, and tried to go over the leg, and avoid contact. But there was contact and there was a foul. That’s what I saw.”
“Sometimes what you see, is actually what happened.”
Outside of that breakaway opportunity, despite much possession in the first half, and some spirited play late in the second half, the Hounds really couldn’t string together enough quality chances in the final third.
Another microcosm of the season.
In a game that had a lot of hard tackles, pushing and shoving for 50/50 balls, neither team really were able to get into any kind of rhythm.
“I thought it was similar to last Cincinnati game (a scoreless tie on September 14 at Highmark Stadium). I was disappointed with lack of rhythm and our inability to pass the ball,” said Brandt. “We’re capable of playing better.”
For the Riverhounds, it was the end of a season which they could not beat a team with a winning record (0-13-3), but finished its final nine games with only three losses. Brandt said that it will be a busy week following Saturday’s finale as he indicated that the coaching staff will be meeting with players right away — as early as Monday morning.
“We do need an offseason. A chance to regroup. And that starts right away,” said Brandt.
“Actually, it starts now.”
Riverhounds – Zack Steffen – Marshall Hollingsworth (Jordan Murrell 82′), Willie Hunt, Sergio Campbell, Mike Green – Lebo Moloto (Zak Boggs 80′), Stephen Okai (Nick Thompson 46′) Kevin Kerr, Drew Russell (Jack Thompson 61′) – Corey Hertzog, Chevaughn Walsh (Cristian Martinez 46′)
Subs not used: Hunter Gilstrap, Alejandro Aguilar
FC Cincinnati – Mitch Hildebrandt – Austin Berry (Paul Nicholson 87′), Derek Luke, Harrison Delbridge, Tyler Polak – Kenney Walker, Corben Bone, Andrew Wiedeman – Eric Stevenson (Casey Townsend 71′), Sean Okoli (Ross Tomaselli 78′), Jimmy McLaughlin (Omar Mohamed 71′)
Subs not used: Jaye Dallas, Evan Lee, Alvaro Ripoll
PGH – Corey Hertzog 36′ (caution)
CIN – Tyler Polak 73′ (caution)
CIN – Sean Okoli 31′ (penalty)
HOUNDS HONOR RETIRING GILSTRAP
A few hours prior to the game, the Riverhounds announced that long-time goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap would be retiring at the end of the season. Here’s the article I posted earlier today with the full announcement.
Gilstrap played in Pittsburgh from 2008 through 2014, then returned this season, seeing action in nine games, but giving way to younger goalkeepers Maurico Vargas and then Zach Steffen.
It could be said that Gilstrap, and Sterling Flunder were mainstays, and faces of the franchise’s era after they took a season off in 2007.
My favorite Hunter Gilstrap moment may have been after he put up a strong performance to shut out the Harrisburg City Islanders at City Island in a scoreless draw in on a hot June night in another disappointing season, he deflected the praise and spoke about his teammates, and especially paid tribute to the Steel Army, which made their first-ever official bus trip to support the Hounds.
“They’re an absolutely incredible group of supporters, we don’t deserve to have them following us around after some of the performances that we’ve put together as a team, but they’ve been there every step of the way,” Gilstrap told me on that night.
“Tonight, they made us feel like we were at home,”
Gilstrap played over 100 games for the Hounds, during a period which the franchise has had its share of ups and downs, and he’s been a mainstay.
Ironically, his impact in the region and on soccer in Pittsburgh may be in his role as a goalkeeping instructor and as the founder of the Riverhounds Goalkeeping Academy. I can’t tell you how many young goalkeepers I seem to always run into from our area have had some instruction from Gilstrap at some point — and the responses are always the same.
He is often praised for his work with young people — both from players and parents alike.
Gilstrap returned to Pittsburgh as he was hired late last year to be the Director of Goalkeeping for the Riverhounds Development Academy, and will now focus solely on this role now.
So, while his work on the field may be done, it appears that he will be transitioning into his calling as a coach and mentor to young people.
Congrats to Hunter on a solid career, and it will be nice to see that one of Pittsburgh’s soccer mainstays will remain right here making a difference and pursuing his life’s work.
While the season may be over, Pittsburgh Soccer Report will continue to cover the latest happenings and developments as the Hounds enter an offseason with much uncertainty.
I will have more on the season that was in the coming days, and will begin to start to take a look at what may be coming.
Later this week, I will also be participating in MON GOALS RIVERHOUNDS season wrap podcast. More details will follow.