It is a busy and energetic weekend throughout the city of Pittsburgh with all the festivals and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC helped contribute to that excitement Saturday night at Highmark Stadium.
Coming off of a 2-1 loss to Indy Eleven last Saturday in USL Championship league play, after defeating Indy Eleven in U.S Open Cup action earlier in the week, the Riverhounds were looking to rebound against Ottawa Fury FC Saturday night and get three points in the eastern conference standings of the USL Championship.
A GOOD START
It was a sloppy start to the game for Pittsburgh, but they were able to settle things down and late in the first half, Defenseman Ryan James put a beautiful cross into the box and Midfielder Kevin Kerr headed it in to give the Riverhounds a 1-0 lead heading into the half.
“The previous two times that Ryan (James) had the ball he hit the ball to a similar spot,” said Kerr. “I knew the next time he was going to get it I was going to make that run and you know it couldn’t have worked out any better.”
After a disappointing 2nd half last Saturday in Indianapolis, the Riverhounds came out of the locker room tonight and were looking to add that all important second goal and in the 62nd minute, Robbie Mertz slid a nice ball to Neco Brett in the box and he buried it behind the Ottawa keeper to give Pittsburgh the 2-0 lead.
“Honestly, I’ll have to watch the play back, I think Kenny gave me the ball I kind of turned and didn’t have a chance really to look much at what I had behind me,” said Mertz. “I just kind of instinctively knew that he (Brett) was there and saw him open up off the center back’s shoulder’s just shipping through and then great finish with him. I thought that was a pretty good team goal there, one of the better one’s we’ve scored.”
A WILD 10 MINUTES
After the Brett goal put Pittsburgh up 2-0, the following ten minutes were some of the most entertaining, bizarre, crazy, and for the fans, angering minutes of soccer you would ever see.
Midfielder Thomas Vancaeyezeele, who was playing on a yellow card, committed a foul inside the box and Ottawa was awarded a penalty kick in the 65th minute. Some may say that it was a little bit of an iffy call, but as a defender you can’t put yourself in a situation like that where the referee can, has to, make that call.
“We give a penalty because we don’t want to cover in the back, a straight ball should never beat us,” said Head Coach Bob Lilley. “I don’t think Thomas needs to go down, he’s on the side of the box, he’s running out of room, it’s a one man counter attack. We have Tobi and Ryan, it’s a mistake which we’ve made a lot of in the back this year diving in, not covering for each other, it’s a mistake.”
Four minutes after Ottawa cut their deficit to 2-1, they put a ball on to net and it looked like Goalie Austin Pack was going to easily make the save, but the ball slipped through his grasp and he could not recover in time to keep it out of the net.
“I think the 2nd goal, it’s 2-1, we need to get our shape and be tough the next 5, 10 minutes,” said Lilley. “Steven gets caught high with Neco chasing and instead of getting and clogging the middle of the park which we did a pretty good job in the 1st half, and most of the game, they have a guy dribbling, a midfielder dribbling, from the sideline in for 20 yards…Joe Greenspan was tight on him, forced him sideways and we should have midfielders there to double and there should be no room to dribble that long and create a shot from 25 yards. Having said that, it’s pretty clearly a goalkeeper error which you know every once in awhile it happens, it seems like all these rare occurrences are happening to us right now.”
Lilley liked the response of his team after Ottawa tied it and the Riverhounds had a few grade A scoring chances to take the lead back the rest of the game. But, they still need to play better, execute better and just be smarter with their play.
“At the end of the day, technically we haven’t executed all year,” said Lilley. “We’ve scored goals on effort in some cases, but we haven’t executed, our free kicks we seldom hit the target, the corners are getting cut more than they should, we’ve missed a few PK’s now.”
STUCK IN A RUN OF DRAWS
With the 2-2 draw, Pittsburgh is now 3-0-2 all time against Ottawa and 1-0-2 at home against the Fury. At 2-2-7 in league play this season, the Riverhounds have 13 points and are tied for 10th with Bethlehem Steel FC, but they have also played at least two fewer games than 7 of the teams in front of them in the standings.
The Riverhounds are stuck in this rut of draws and not being able to finish a game off to get the three points in league play.
“We’re craving it, we’re working hard through it, it feels like we’ve thrown a few away recently,” said Kerr. “We got to keep going, we’ve made a couple silly mistakes, the World’s not against each of us. We know there things we can take care of, we can fix, we just can’t wait forever to get our season going you know.”
NEXT UP: TRIP TO TAKE ON MLS’ COLUMBUS CREW IN OPEN CUP
Pittsburgh has a quick turnaround now as they travel to Columbus to take on the Crew in the 4th Round of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday June 11 at 7 pm. And the players know that have to be ready for that match and it could be a confidence building moment for this team to also get them jump started in USL Championship league play as well.
“It wasn’t that long ago I was in camp with one of those teams (MLS), the Rapids,” said Mertz. “For me personally, just trying to make sure that we’re prepared for the game, executing the gameplan, defending together, those are the big things against teams like that because they’ll expose you if you get disorganized and there’s gaps, so you need to make sure you’re keeping it tight. Other than that, the pressure’s not on us, it’s on them, just play free and try to make the most of it because it’s a cool opportunity.”
After the U.S Open Cup match on Tuesday, the Riverhounds will travel down to Atlanta to take on Atlanta United 2 on Saturday June 15 at 7:30 pm for their next USL Championship league game.