Through an early weather delay, then at the end of the match with the rockets red glare, with bombs bursting in the air, the Riverhounds SC rode a commanding defensive performance along with a Kenardo Forbes free kick blast to cap its fourth consecutive win in its annual Fourth of July match at Highmark Stadium.
With a free kick attempt from the right edge of the box in the 57th minute, Hounds’ captain Forbes took matters into his own. The Jamaican veteran midfielder went for it from 19 yards — and found the room to drill it into the upper right corner of goal, blowing the shot past an extended Bethlehem Steel FC keeper, Tomas Romero.
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) July 5, 2019
When asked if he was going for it it on the free kick, Forbes didn’t hold back in his response.
“Yeah,” Forbes said, then explained, “Because in the first half I crossed the first one and tricked the goalkeeper. He was looking for the cross, and I just surprised him.”
As soon as the ball left his feet, Forbes knew he hit it good.
“That is a celebration. That was a celebration. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in,” Forbes said.
‘WE’RE GOING TO HAVE TO WIN THESE TYPES OF GAMES’
After the Forbes goal, Pittsburgh clamped down on the young Steel FC side, as the match turned downright feisty — with both teams picking up numerous yellow cards in the final thirty minutes.
Even in the midst of a winning streak when scoring goals in bunches, the Hounds needed a win like this, when the young Steel FC and its venerable, veteran captain, who came away from Highmark Stadium with a playoff win a year ago, would once again test the Hounds’ resolve.
“As we climb the table, we’re going to have to win these types of games. I think with people below you in the standings, you’re always going to be a massive target. People are trying to drag us back and we’re trying to keep climbing,” Bob Lilley, Hounds Head Coach said. ” It was a more significant game than most would typically think.”
Pittsburgh’s defensive shape was solid throughout the match, as goalkeeper Kyle Morton only needed to make one real significant stop, from a Faris shot from distance after a turnover in the 85th minute. With Morton grabbing that shot attempt 12 yards off his line, the shot wasn’t considered on target in the stat sheet. Still, Morton picked up his third clean sheet in the past four matches as the back line in front of him continued to frustrate its opponents, surrendering just one goal in the past four matches.
“They’re a very tough out,” Lilley said. “Even their young players, are strong, athletic, technical. We did a good job in containing them tonight. The defenders did a good job of covering for each other because they’re explosive. We did a good job to close the game out. We were still making it difficult for them.”
Neither side could create a quality scoring chance in the first half.
SOME NEW WRINKLES – SAME APPROACH
Pittsburgh came out in the same 5-3-2 formation it has used with success during this winning streak, but using a few different players in the line-up in an effort to keep a solid squad rotation going with an impending road game to follow in three days in Charlotte.
Making starts included Dani Rovira in Ryan James‘ usual spot on the left outside back spot, while Sammy Kahsai played in central midfield between Forbes and veteran Kevin Kerr.
The Hounds, carried longer possessions in the first half, and came close a few times to creating damage in the final third, but kept coming up short.
On its second corner chance of the first half in the 23rd minute provided the most dangerous chance for Pittsburgh in the first half.
After playing long balls back and forth after the corner, eventually Kerr found an opening, playing a lining ball from left side to far right post for Tobi Adewole. The Hounds defender lunged forward but just missed connecting in front of an open area in the back side of the play.
There were a few sequences in the first half when Hounds forward Christian Volesky was on the end of crosses from Jordan Dover, who returned to the line-up after playing with Guyana in the Gold Cup. One missed high, while another pair connected with Volesky, who’s header attempts missed wide of goal.
While Steel FC would hold the possession edge (55/45 and 82% accuracy), the Hounds were efficient enough in keeping it (74%), while winning 55 of 98 duels, and sending in more crosses (12-4) and total shots (14-5).
For the second consecutive year, the Riverhounds SC’s annual Fourth of July home match was delayed by bad weather. The original 7 p.m. start time was pushed back after lightning strikes in the area forced players off the field and fans out of the stands during warm-ups shortly before the match. The match would eventually be played, eventually kicking off at 7:50 p.m.
With the win, the Hounds keep climbing in the standings, improving its record to 6-2-7 overall, while Steel FC drop to 5-9-4.
This was the first time the Hounds have won four matches in a row in league play since 2013, the only other time in the Highmark Stadium era (since 2013), they’ve won that many games consecutively. It will be a quick turnaround for the Black and Gold, as they head south to take on Charlotte Independence at 7 p.m. this Sunday at Sportsplex at Matthews.
Lilley’s fairly confident with his full roster right now — and after Thursday’s performance — why not?
Look for some of the guys (Neco Brett, Ryan James, Robbie Mertz, Noah Franke, Uchenna Uzo) who didn’t play or were used sparingly, to be inserted into the starting eleven on Sunday.
Kyle Morton – 6.5 – wasn’t really tested for much of the night, but continues to work well with the back line for third clean sheet in four games.
Joe Greenspan – 7.5 – solid night for big man in the middle, posting yet another shut out as the defense is playing its best soccer now in closing out games.
Tobi Adewole – 7 – reliable as usual on Greenspan’s left, won a team high five fouls as he was deft as usual in navigating balls out of trouble with accurate passes.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6 – workmanlike evening for Tommy V playing to the right of Greenspan as part of back three. This is a good spot for him.
Dani Rovira – 6.5 – almost as active on the left side as Dover was on the right side (46 touches, 32 passes), shows the Hounds had balance in getting forward on both sides.
Jordan Dover – 7 – nice to see Dover back from his stint in Gold Cup action. Looked sharp, and was busy on both ends throughout the night, with 62 touches, 42 passes and three tackles — and crosses created a few chances.
Ryan James (63′) – 6 – helped secure victory as part of solid back line work – but fairly quiet final thirty minutes in the attack.
Sammy Kahsai – 6 – created one chance, accurate passing (85%), showed that can effectively fill the central midfield spot when called upon as the Hounds go with squad rotation in weeks when there are two matches.
Kevin Kerr – 6.5 – was involved in creating a few chances, but was praised by his coach after the match for his work in defending, including team high three fouls conceded.
Kenardo Forbes – 8 – Like a boss, he delivered and led his team when they needed him most in executing free kick to give team the lead. Seemed as if he sat back with Kahsai deeper for stretches, but got forward a few times too.
Robbie Mertz (74′) – 7- in just 16 minutes, provided spark to keep the Hounds pushing forward and pressuring Steel FC instead of bunkering with lead.
Steevan Dos Santos – 6.5 – Lilley said after match Dos Santos is a unique player, a unique person. The Cape Verde native continues to play to his strengths with this team, and he’s helping with keeping numerous advances that end up in the final third going.
Christian Volesky – 5.5 – clearly works very hard at trying to get behind defenders. Lilley said that he’s best on the team in doing that, but couldn’t get on the end of much throughout match despite solid work rate.
Mark Forrest (85′)- N/R – came in late. Eastern PA native provided decent energy in keeping pressure on against team he trained with previously.
Subs not used: Austin Pack (G), Neco Brett, Noah Franke, Uchenna Uzo, Anthony Velarde