NASHVILLE – Playing before 18,922 frenzied fans, the Riverhounds began a season filled with high expectations in a hard fought scoreless draw in its season opener against Nashville SC on Saturday at Nissan Stadium.
It was a tough, physical match with each team having some big chances.
Hounds coach Bob Lilley came away with a lot to build on — but also a lot to work on going forward into a long, 34-game campaign.
“I am proud of the guys, it’s not easy on the road, with a mostly new group,” Lilley said. “Throw in the crowd support that got behind them. It was a physical game, and we had to respond, and I thought we made a great account of ourselves in the first thirty minutes of the second half, and even in the final 15, we didn’t have the same energy, but we still looked dangerous, and I was okay with that.
For the Hounds, after a somewhat lackluster first half, they came out with a strong start to the second half, in a 3-4-3 formation that was intent on creating chances — but also bottling up the Nashville attack when falling back into what looked more like a 5-4-1.
The only shot on target in the first half came from former Riverhound Lebo Moloto, who had room to shoot from the top of the box in the 40th minute — but Hounds keeper Dan Lynd was there to make one of his two saves.
For the Hounds, Kevin Kerr’s close-range header from a ball in from Ray Lee went wide of the left post in the 33rd minute, and Joe Holland‘s shot deflected off the back of teammate Romeo Parkes, then sailed just wide six minutes later the top of the penalty area.
After a first half where they created more scoring chances (5-1 in shots — none on target), but were out-possessed (56/44), the Hounds took things up a notch at the beginning of the second frame.
The first quality chance after halftime for the Hounds came when midfielder Thomas Vancaeyezeele won a ball in the center of the field, creating a nice build up as Romeo Parkes and Christiano François connected on a few passes, springing Parkes into the right side of the box. Parkes then played it back to François in the center of the box — but the Haitian pinged a shot off the right post.
Moments later, François found himself with lots of room to shoot from the top left corner of the box after a nice ball from Holland, and forced Nashville keeper Matt Pickens to make a diving save.
— USL (@USL) March 24, 2018
Pickens came up big again — in the 60th minute, when Kevin Kerr was on the receiving end of a fantastic, but low ball in the box which he lunged forward to put a header right on target that would be denied.
“We withstood a lot of pressure there, they were really coming at us,” Pickens said.
At night’s end, the Hounds finished with a 12-5 edge in shots — but by the 75th minute, the tables started to turn, and with each corner kick the Hounds would concede to the hosts, the fans turned up the volume.
“They were really feeding off the energy of the crowd,” Tobi Adewole, Hounds defender said. “You don’t realize it when the play is going on, but when there was a stop in play, you kind of couldn’t help but to take in the moment, and see the fans.”
Pickens felt his team fed off that energy.
“That’s what you want if you are a professional athlete, to have that kind of support,” Pickens said. “Even though they (Riverhounds) were having their way, we were able to get back and create some chances of our own. We just felt bad we couldn’t get those fans three points.”
With the crowd sensing the opportunity to see the first goal in Nashville SC history in the 80th minute from one of four second half corners, they began waving yellow towels in unison around the filled lower bowl of the 69,000 plus seat stadium.
“That last 15 minutes, they began with those towels. I don’t know if they were trying to kick the towels or what ,” Lynd said, making a reference from when Tennessee fans stomped on Pittsburgh Steelers’ terrible towels in 2008.
The former Hound and one of the heroes of the Miracle on the Mon, Moloto had a highlight reel moment, but was denied a stunning scoring effort.
The incoming corner kick swerved perfectly into the far post area for Moloto — who delivered a half scissor volley into an open area of goal.
The only thing standing in the way was Adewole.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) March 24, 2018
“My mindset was the protect the goal,” Adewole said. “As a defender, I wanted to make sure I was where I needed to be, and I did what I had to do to make that play.”
The Hounds would hold off a couple more corners, and came away with a point, on the road, in a hostile environment.
“We’ll try to clean some things up for next week. I think there were two good teams that could both potentially be playoff-type teams this year,” Lilley said. “Let’s hope that’s the case for us.”
Look for more tomorrow here on Pittsburgh Soccer Now including player ratings and analysis on what was the first regular season look at this year’s edition of the Hounds.
Riverhounds SC – Dan Lynd – Todd Pratzner, Joe Greenspan, Tobi Adewole – Ray Lee, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Joe Holland (Kenardo Forbes 66’), Jordan Dover – Kevin Kerr, Romeo Parkes (Neco Brett 72’), Christiano François (Andrew Lubahn 88’)
Subs not used: Kyle Morton, Kay Banjo, Mouhamed Dabo, Ben Zemanski
Nashville SC – Matt Pickens – Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, Bradley Bourgeois, Kosuke Kimura (Taylor Washington 63’) – Ryan James, Michael Reed, Lebo Moloto, Matt LaGrassa (Bolu Akinyode 77’) – Tucker Hume, Robin Shroot (Ropapa Mensah 57’)
Subs not used: C.J. Cochran, Michael Cox, Josh Hughes, Alan Winn
PIT – Thomas Vancaeyezeele (caution) 18’
NSH – Lebo Moloto (caution) 52’
NSH – Ropapa Mensah (caution) 68’