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View From The Booth: At long last, the tables turned

For all the Hounds have accomplished in this revival season, they haven’t necessarily delivered many heart-stopping triumphs.

There was reason to smile after a long night at Highmark. - RIVERHOUNDS SC

Editor’s note: Riverhounds SC play-by-play broadcaster Matt Gajtka brings his perspective on the team throughout the season in his ‘View From The Booth’ column.

What is it about a late comeback that’s so thrilling? If it’s the team that you’re pulling for, that is.

There has been plenty of second-half drama in Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC matches recently, with six leads surrendered in the past five games. Until last Saturday’s reversal, though, most of the equalizing had been done by the Hounds’ opponents.

Especially hurtful to the Hounds was a stretch of three matches in which they led in the 70th minute or later and managed just a 0-1-2 record. Prior to that, Pittsburgh hadn’t allowed a game-tying goal in four months, so it was quite the jarring sight to see leads vaporize over and over.

Well, the Hounds redeemed themselves for one of those heartbreaks with a two-goal surge against Louisville City FC. Not only was that their first multi-goal rally under Bob Lilley, the 2-2 draw with the defending USL Cup holders also marked the lone time this season that Pittsburgh has come from behind to earn a point at Highmark Stadium.

That’s right, for all the Hounds have accomplished in this revival season, they haven’t necessarily delivered many heart-stopping triumphs.

Not that the season hasn’t provided excitement. Tobi Adewole and Neco Brett have delivered home match-winners beyond the 80th minute; plus, just five of their 28 USL matches to date have been decided by more than one goal. And, oh yeah, Pittsburgh has essentially locked up a postseason spot with six matchdays to go, which isn’t exactly familiar territory for this franchise.

But as I was saying at the top, there’s something about a madcap rally that both exhilarates and galvanizes.

“I am delighted for the guys, because they’ve been working hard,” Lilley said in Saturday’s humid afterglow. “We haven’t gotten bounces or stolen anything. If you’re down 2-0, in 84th minute, and you get two goals back …

“I told the guys keep this in the back of your head, because this is something that could happen when we’re up 2-0, that the game’s not over, until it’s over.”

And that’s really the prime significance of forging the tie against Lou City. As important as it was to stay in second place in the Eastern Conference, this one was for bigger matches down the line.

Soccer can be the cruelest game, in that the team that plays on the front foot, that creates chances and controls the flow of play, is less likely to win than a novice might think. It’s the sport most friendly to cagey counterpunching, so a team has to be prepared for games like last Saturday’s, when there is no tangible reward for a high level of play.

The 2018 Hounds had indeed come back to swipe points at Tampa Bay (2-2 draw) and Richmond (2-1 win), but those results occurred back in June, and against non-playoff competition to boot. It had been a while since they turned the tables, in other words, and even the most self-assured athletes need a positive reminder every now and then.

They got it against Louisville. Check that, they earned it against Louisville, a team that had been mostly successful in shoring up its defending under new manager John Hackworth.

There’s no doubt the Hounds caught a break when Joe Holland‘s cross rattled home off two Louisville bodies. That sparked the rally, but moments of brilliance from Mouhamed Dabo (long-distance ball into the penalty area), Brett and Kenardo Forbes were still required to create the second Pittsburgh goal.

Let’s not forget Dan Lynd‘s full-extension save on Shaun Francis’ free kick, either.

It was the kind of nip-and-tuck battle that could’ve tilted either way by a single play. As they have all season against playoff-caliber foes, the Hounds didn’t look out of place, but it still took some serious work to earn something tangible from 90 minutes of work.

What’s that saying? If you do it once, you can do it again. Pittsburgh will likely have to do something like that again if it wants a championship. Of course the Hounds could play cleaner, especially on the back end, but this isn’t a game of perfect.

Those are the serious implications. This stuff is supposed to be fun, though. It’s healthy for all of us to be reminded of that every now and again, and there’s nothing like a comeback to do that job.

Matt Gajtka (pronounced GITE-kah) is a columnist, analyst and reporter for Pittsburgh Soccer Now. In addition to his four-year role as play-by-play broadcaster for Riverhounds SC, he has experience covering pro and amateur sports for over a decade. Matt got his start in soccer while calling games for the Marshall University men's and women's Division I teams. He fondly remembers attending Hounds matches at Bethel Park High School, although he lapsed during the Moon and Chartiers Valley years. Like many, the construction of Highmark Stadium in 2013 rekindled his passion for the club and local soccer in general.

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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