Neco Brett had himself a pretty nice afternoon at Highmark Stadium.
The former Robert Morris University standout made the most of his first start in Pittsburgh, netting his first career hat trick along with an assist to lift Riverhounds SC to its first win of the season, 4-0, over Toronto FC II on Saturday afternoon.
After an underwhelming first half with plenty of possession, but few goal scoring chances, the Hounds broke through in the second half as Brett scored twice within a seven minute span, then converted a rebound for his final tally in the 83rd minute. Christiano François capped the scoring with a banger in the 88th minute, after receiving a pass from Brett.
“Second half was a lot more urgency,”said Bob Lilley, Riverhounds head coach. “From the beginning of the second half guys were trying to get in. And that’s important for us to stay aggressive. We need to have multiple players running at teams’ back lines.”
It wasn’t a pretty picture to paint in first half for the Hounds as they continued its frustrating run of play through two-and-a-half games without a goal. Coming out in 4-2-3-1 formation, with Brett at the top of the attack, execution in the final third continued to come up short.
Despite dominating possession carrying 65 percent of play, holding a 7-0 edge in shots (with five coming inside the 18), none on target.
Even three corner and one free kick chances were all ineffective. Nothing seemed to be going right for the Hounds yet again.
Still, the Hounds remained focused, and really stepped up its attack at the start of the second half.
“In the first half, only Neco was only trying to get behind,” Lilley said of Brett, who earned his first start after Romeo Parkes, who’s nursing a knee injury was ruled out of Saturday’s game. “I think in the second half, I thought we were a lot more active sending numbers. Goals are scored when getting behind defenses.”
“There was a lot of pressure building up, and I think they handled it well. Especially in the first half when we didn’t have a lot of chances. It tested our nerve. We have a good squad. (We’re) building every week. Today, I think we took a step forward.”
Brett was at the center of the surge in the final 45 minutes, as he was steadfast to follow through with his team’s attacking mindset even after starting the first 225 minutes of the season without a goal.
“Keep it simple. We wanted to keep playing it forward quickly. Get it out wide. Anticipate our runs,” Brett said. “We want to make sure that I’m keeping a high line –and I am there.”
The half started with Brett being taken down on the left side outside the box, resulting in a yellow card for Toronto FC II’s Aikim Andrews.
It was Brett’s continued persistence that finally paid off in the 52nd minute.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele initiated the Hounds attack after bringing ball down with chest, then lofted ball over the top that landed right on the top of the box, took a bounce, then Brett beat his man to the ball and poked it past Angelo Cavalluzzo for the first goal of the season.
GOALS. GOALS. GOALS.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) April 7, 2018
It was a sigh of relief for Brett and his teammates to finally get that first goal of the season.
“Definitely, definitely! Everyone was super excited,” Brett, , who delivered the Hounds first hat trick since Rob Vincent in August 2015, said. “We knew that it could finally open things up and we were ready for it.”
And that’s when they really got clicking.
In the 60th minute, Ben Zemanski made a nice run after intercepting a pass near midfield to get to the top of the box area, taking a few defenders with him as he was moving to his right. With space cleared on the top left edge of the box for Brett, Zemanski laid the ball back to the Jamaican who had plenty of room to sneak in a quick shot inside the left post to beat Cavalluzzo.
— USL (@USL) April 7, 2018
Brett kept the high line — but also made sure he stayed onside as Zemanski kept the ball to draw the defenders.
“Coach talks about that — I made the first run, and make sure I know where I’m at. I didn’t get the ball right away, but got myself back onside, and got the ball, and know exactly where the goal is.”
The Hounds kept the pressure on throughout the second half, registering 16 shots in the game and making the most of all four that were on target.
Brett would cap the scoring and pick up the hat trick after Andy Lubahn‘s shot from the top of the box pinged off the left post, and the Hounds’ number nine was the first to the ball to give the Hounds a commanding 3-0 lead.
The Hounds would cap the second half scoring surge with an absolute blast from François in the 88th minute.
The result also provided the Hounds, who remain unbeaten (1-0-2, 5 points) with its third straight shutout to start the season, this time with Kyle Morton making his first start in goal.
After the two previous weeks when the Hounds couldn’t come up with goals, but still had chances, they made the most of them in the second half, which was music to Lilley’s ears.
“Last week we panicked a little bit when the goal wasn’t coming,” Lilley said. “Goals are not always going to happen early in games, and you’ll just have to stay after it, wear teams down, and I think we did that and I’m happy with it today.”
We will have more tomorrow — including game analysis, player ratings and more!
52’ – PGH – Neco Brett (Thomas Vancaeyezeele)
59’ – PGH – Neco Brett (Ben Zemanski)
83’ – PGH – Neco Brett
88’ – PGH – Christiano Francois (Neco Brett)
Riverhounds SC – Kyle Morton – Ray Lee, Tobi Adewole, Todd Pratzner, Jordan Dover (Hugh Roberts 74’) – Ben Zemanski (Kay Banjo 74’), Mouhamed Dabo – Kevin Kerr (Andrew Lubahn 80’), Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Christiano François – Neco Brett
Subs not used: Dan Lynd, Kenardo Forbes, Bakie Goodman, Joe Holland
Toronto FC II – Angelo Cavalluzo – Aikim Andrews, Kyle Bjornethun, Lars Eckenrode, Robert Boskovic – Malik Johnson (Jordan Faria 75’), Matthew Srbely (Aidan Daniels 45’), Luca Uccello, Gideon Waja – Daniel Da Silva (Ayo Akinola 59’), Ryan Telfer
Subs not used: Gianluca Catalano, Tim Kübel, Noble Okello, Rocco Romeo