LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The goal that gave Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC their first signature victory of the Bob Lilley era was anything but beautiful.
Kenardo Forbes‘ 79th-minute tally, his first as a Hound, rattled into the Louisville City FC goal off at least one defender, if not two. The ball from Romeo Parkes that set up the chance was actually intended for Neco Brett, in fact. Only a fortunate bounce gave Forbes the opportunity to trigger a 1-0 victory Wednesday night at a muggy Slugger Field.
But considering the build-up to the goal — highlighted by an incisive through-ball from Forbes to Parkes — and the general run of play for the majority of this matchup between two of the top teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference, some luck for the visitors seemed appropriate.
“In the second half, I thought we were better,” Lilley said after his squad improved to 7-1-7, just three points back of FC Cincinnati for the East’s top spot. “I thought we looked like we were more likely to score. … Good through-ball, good run by (Parkes) and we got in behind them.”
Lilley made sure to note that he wasn’t happy with the Hounds’ defending in the final 20-some minutes of this one, which ended with defending league champion Lou City (7-3-4) absorbing its first home loss this season in all competitions. For Pittsburgh, the win ended a 1-0-1 trip and kept their road record without a loss at 3-0-4.
As Lilley alluded, the Hounds conceded the majority of possession, but they had several moments in which they seemed on the verge of a breakthrough. Christiano François couldn’t finish a Brett through-ball in the first half, though, and with Lou City one of the stingiest teams in the league, there was a thought that might’ve been the best look for the Hounds, who tied Charleston 0-0 on Saturday.
The decision to replace François with Parkes in the 63rd minute proved impactful, however. With the three Jamaicans — Parkes, Brett and Forbes — working in tandem at the top of the formation, the Hounds eventually unlocked the home side.
“It’s frustrating to lose a game like that, where you feel like you have a good grip on the game,” fourth-year Louisville manager James O’Connor told reporters. “They were getting some balls in behind, on counterattacks, and they managed to nick a goal.”
The boys in purple came into this one on an eight-match unbeaten run, but looking a little vulnerable at the same time. They had blown second-half leads in each of their past two league matches, including a squandered two-goal lead against Penn FC at Slugger Field 11 days ago.
Lou City definitely pushed hard after Forbes’ icebreaker, with former Hound Brian Ownby failing to slide an open shot inside the far post, just after having another chance from inside the box blocked by a sliding Hugh Roberts. Dan Lynd punched away Ownby’s stoppage-time drive, too, giving the first-year Pittsburgh keeper his seventh clean sheet in 12 appearances.
The frantic nature of the dying moments didn’t impress Lilley, although he liked the five shots on target as opposed to the mere one his team generated Saturday down in sweltering South Carolina.
“We were better defending in Charleston, but better attacking today,” Lilley concluded.
Indeed, the Hounds allowed 15 shots to tie a season high, with five of those on frame. It might’ve been the hardest Lynd has had to work for a shutout, not to mention the numerous scrambles Lou City instigated with rapid-fire combinations and crosses.
No doubt, the visitors were fortunate to not allow one. In fact, Paulo DelPiccolo thought he had one midway through the second half off a loose-ball situation, but Lynd was fouled before the Louisville captain could polish it off. That near miss was symbolic of the night for O’Connor’s men.
“They get blocks and managed to keep it away from goal,” O’Connor said, pointing out that his side felt they earned a few more calls from referee Rubiel Vasquez. “You go away scratching your head, thinking. But it happens. Not our night.”
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, will tote home three more points in their bourbon barrel, with an open weekend ahead of what’s become a traditional Fourth of July match on the banks of the Monongahela. The Hounds were at ease by the Ohio River on Wednesday; it’s second win in four trips to Louisville all-time.
O’Connor’s team got the better of Lilley’s Rochester Rhinos in last year’s USL Cup playoffs, eking out a 1-0 result at Slugger Field. Different result on Wednesday, but same site, same score, same tactics from Lilley. The Pittsburgh center back trio of Joe Greenspan, Roberts and Todd Pratzner had to scramble more than usual, but they made the saving plays at the moment(s) of truth.
Joe Greenspan with the recovery speed. ???? pic.twitter.com/UrPHah4I21
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) June 27, 2018
“Very structured, very organized, good pace,” O’Connor assessed of the Hounds. “They came with a game plan to press in the first half and try to attack with some speed. And they did.”
But it took nearly 80 minutes for the surging visitors to get a leg up, with significant help from a fresh-legged Parkes. Pittsburgh came out in a 5-4-1 formation, but ended up getting both of its top strikers in the game anyway.
And Forbes, who had earlier misfired a Kevin Kerr setup from a wide-open position at the top of the penalty area, beat Lou City keeper Greg Ranjitsingh on a greasy carom shot.
“We brought our subs in, (and) they looked like they were going to impact the game,” Lilley said.
These Hounds have proven deep and resilient, perhaps more than any other squad in franchise history to this point of the summer, but they had gone just 1-1-3 against winning teams.
Now, they have a resounding result upon which to place a gold star. It’s not the kind of star Lou City earned last fall — the kind you place above your jersey crest — but a milestone nonetheless.
Editor’s note: You can listen to Matt’s Facebook Live ‘radio’ broadcast of the game below.