Final: Riverhounds 0, FC Cincinnati 0
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In a match of two playoff-bound teams near the top of the league standings meeting for the fourth time this season, Riverhounds SC battled USL’s regular season champions FC Cincinnati to a scoreless draw at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night.
With the result, the Hounds remain in third place in USL’s Eastern Conference with 58 points, behind Louisville City FC (60 points) as both teams have two games remaining in the final week of the season in the battle for second place.
“That’s the top team in the league, and we didn’t take advantage of pressure we put them under. When you draw at home, that’s a loss in my book,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds head coach said.
Counting a meeting in the US Open Cup, plus two previous league matches at Nippert Stadium, the fourth match between the two sides this season, with Cincy holding a 2-0-2 edge, proved to be another tactical chess match between the coaches. In this match, Cincinnati were stronger in possession and winning midfield battles, while the Hounds put more dangerous pressure from quick strike counter chances, from the width and a few times in the final third. In all, the Hounds were on the front foot — with a 18-4 advantage throughout the game on shots, but a closer edge in shots on target (4-3).
With Saturday’s draw Cincy extended its unbeaten streak to tie a USL record of 22 games, but the Hounds did put an end to FCC’s impressive winning streak, halted at 10 games.
After the match, FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch was asked if he likes matching wits and tactics against Lilley for the fourth time this season.
“I do, actually,” Koch said. “I’m satisfied tonight. I’m not happy or ecstatic with the result, but I’m satisfied with the performance, how we all managed the game, and how the players managed to get through it. Obviously, tonight, we tied a historic record, so that’s a nice accomplishment for the entire group.”
After a fast-paced first half when the Hounds held an advantage in shots (11-2), each team struggled to find much in the way of quality opportunities in the second half, combining for two shots on goal in the final-45 minutes as suddenly for the first time in the season, it was a fairly subdued second half.
“I think we’ve done well. Tonight’s a microcosm of the season as a whole,” Joe Greenspan, Hounds center back said after the match. “We’ve competed with the best teams and we’re one of the best teams. We’ve shown that, but we’ve let ourselves down a little bit in key moments.”
In the late stages of the match, the Hounds posted a shot on goal off the foot of Christiano François in the 87th minute. Although, his right-footed try from long range was blocked by FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Spencer Richey.
FC Cincinnati’s lone second-half take on target came via defender Forrest Lasso in the 73rd minute. From the right side of the penalty box, the center back drilled a header toward the goalmouth, but Pittsburgh goalkeeper Dan Lynd saved the opportunity.
In the 68th minute, François sprinted into the attacking third toward the end line. After he released a shot at the goalmouth, FC Cincinnati blocked his try out of bounds for a Hounds corner kick. Pittsburgh could not convert off the corner opportunity.
The first half was filled with opportunities for both sides, not lacking for excitement despite the scoreless result.
What was missing, particularly in the eyes of Lilley, was his team’s inability to take advantage in the moments when they had pinned down the league’s best team for stretches of the match.
“This is where we have to be better,” Lilley said. “We passed the ball poorly tonight. We gave away too many possessions. I think if we play our best, we win by three goals. We could have destroyed them tonight, but I don’t think we took responsibility. Our standard has to be higher. I am not sure we believe yet. I don’t know how many times we have to dominate a team. We’ve played all the best teams, Louisville, Charleston. I think we settle. We have to have fire at the moment of truth.”
Lilley pointed to his midfield not closing out space and his attack not seizing on having numerous moments in the final third. The Hounds also had a 7-3 edge on corner kicks, but couldn’t connect on any of them.
“That’s just lack of focus,” Lilley said. “They won more of the loose balls. I think we were a lot better at systematically breaking them down. When we were finally winning battles, we could have really pinned them in — and created more dangerous chances. I am disappointed that we lost every single corner kick. Every single one.”
Familiarity breeds contempt too.
Lilley also had a few words for the fourth (sideline) official numerous times — particularly near the end of the first half as he felt FCC were winning many 50/50 battles by initiating contact.
“Any time there was a mismatch, they were undercutting one of our players, and it was happening a lot,” Lilley explained. “I was doing my part to let the fourth official know. It didn’t seem like much change after half. I was doing my job as a coach to make sure our guys our protected. There has to be an intent to play the ball. It’s definitely a physical game. We’re not soft by any means. They’re experienced, savvy, and they definitely dictate moments to get an early bump in and give themselves an advantage. We have to be able to respond to it at times.”
FCC held the possession edge, but the Hounds were more dangerous in creating quick, countering chances, mostly utilizing the pace and skill of Romeo Parkes and Christiano Francois to create opportunities.
Parkes got forward on the right side early in the first half, then put together a few nifty moves to move up the end line, finding Jordan Dover wiggled free on the right side of the penalty box before placing a right-footed take through traffic and on target.
A few minutes earlier, Parkes’ put on a header chance emanating from a corner in the 12th minute, but it was a weakly struck header that floated over the bar.
Dan Lynd was tested when Manu Ledesma found room near top of the box — but the Hounds keeper was up to the task.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) October 6, 2018
“They’re very good. They’re dynamic. They make good runs. They play good balls into the box, so you got to be tight,” Greenspan added. “You can’t make many mistakes. You can’t give them any free looks.”
In the 31st minute, a well played diagonal ball to Francios in space on the left side created another shot opportunity when the Hounds winger turned on the jets to get into box — sending a shot inside near post — forcing goalkeeper Spencer Richey to make a save.
“They did some things that caused us some problems, especially out in wide areas. They were trying to overload us on sides, and we struggled a bit to manage that. They got in behind and they got some cutback opportunities.” Richey said. “But, you know, at this time of the season it’s about bending and not breaking and we did that tonight, so we’ll take the shutout.”
Richey stopped all four shots on target for his fifth shutout of the season, while Lynd stopped all three FCC shots on target for his 12th clean sheet of the season.
It was Pittsburgh’s 17th clean sheet overall — and after 32 games played they’ve only surrendered a total of 23 goals.
The draw continues FCC’s three-season, nine-game series of matches against Pittsburgh without a loss (4-0-5).
With Major League Soccer-bound FC Cincinnati and the Riverhounds both having historically successful seasons — it might be just fitting that they’ll meet one more time in the USL Playoffs.
“We’ve had some great battles against Pittsburgh this year. Every single game has been exciting, every game has been a chess match, every game has had ebbs and flows through the course of the game,” Koch said. “Hopefully, we both keep going, and hopefully we get to play against each other in the postseason.”
Riverhounds SC will wrap up its regular season with a two-game road swing, starting with a showdown against Atlanta United 2 (5-17-9) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Coolray Field. This match will be their second meeting this season, as the Hounds earlier defeated Atlanta, 1-0, on April 28 at Highmark Stadium.
“It’s not going to be an easy week for us,” Lilley said. “If we don’t go get results these last two games, we’re going to finish fourth. And then you go potentially on the road even if you win your second game.”
— USL (@USL) October 7, 2018
Riverhounds SC – Dan Lynd – Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Joe Greenspan, Hugh Roberts, Jordan Dover (Ray Lee 88’) – Ben Zemanski (Joe Holland 75’), Mouhamed Dabo – Romeo Parkes, Kenardo Forbes, Christiano François – Neco Brett (Kay Banjo 75’)
Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Tobi Adewole, Ben Fitzpatrick, Todd Pratzner
FC Cincinnati – Spencer Richey – Blake Smith, Forrest Lasso, Patrick Barrett, Justin Hoyte – Michael Lahoud (Tyler Gibson 72’), Corben Bone (Nazmi Albadawi 64’) – Emmanuel Ledesma, Jimmy McLaughlin, Fatai Alashe – Emery Welshman (Russell Cicerone 82’)
Subs not used: Evan Newton, Matt Bahner, Dekel Keinan, Kenney Walker
CIN – Forrest Lasso 35’ (caution)