FINAL: Riverhounds SC 1, North Carolina FC 0
With three points on the line against a top four team in the USL Championship standings, the Riverhounds local hero, Robbie Mertz, came though with the game’s lone goal in its 1-0 victory against North Carolina FC at Highmark Stadium on a steamy hot Saturday night.
With the win, the Hounds improve to 7-3-8, 29 points.
Only moments before coming up big, Mertz had fallen hard to the ground, and had to be helped off the field.
The Upper St. Clair product shook off the injury.
“It was pretty painful but it also just kind of gave us a chance to regroup there in the middle of the half, which is nice,” Mertz said.
Then, moments after stepping back onto the pitch, Mertz created a golden chance with a terrific cross that almost set up a goal, connecting with Steevan Dos Santos in the center of the box.
“That sort of thing is something that gets you into the game, gets the juices flowing if they aren’t already,” Mertz added. “So, coming back in and just trying to continue to create off the ball and that’s what lead to the goal.”
Dos Santos’ header just missed, sailing over the bar.
A minute later, with the Hounds’ ‘juices flowing’ and pushing forward again, Neco Brett held up a ball played to him at the top of the box, with a defender hanging all over his back. Brett waited, and Mertz made a run into the open space on the left side of the box.
Brett slid the ball over to Mertz, and the Pittsburgh kid delivered with a clinical left-footed finish.
With the goal, Mertz pulled into a tie for the team lead in goals scored with five. Brett and Kevin Kerr also have five goals.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) July 20, 2019
“Neco did a great job of posting up, one-on-one,” Mertz said. “In that instance, I saw an opening in the back line, and he laid it off. From there, it was about putting it on target, and I did it with my left foot.”
Even though Head Coach Bob Lilley felt his team left a lot of chances out on the field in this match, with his team on the front foot for long stretches, he did take a moment to appreciate the work of Brett, and Mertz’ finish.
“It was a brilliant play,” Lilley described Brett’s ability to hold up his defender, then create an opening. “He’s so strong. If he’s in an area where there’s the ball, he’s going to get underneath defenders. He’s not going to win a lot of headers, but when he’s low to the ground, has leverage, he makes plays. In this instance, he’s spinning. He knew he (Mertz) was there. He didn’t over hit the pass. It was clean. As long as it gives him the right weight on that pass, and it did.”
The Riverhounds, utilizing a fluid formation that saw Neco Brett as the top man, with Steevan Dos Santos sandwiched between Mertz on his left and Kevin Kerr on the right of a three-man attacking midfield line. Team captain Kenardo Forbes anchored the central midfield, with both Ryan James (on left) and Jordan Dover on the right pushing up and down the wings. In the back, were the central defending trio, with Joe Greenspan in the middle, with Tobi Adewole on his left, and Thomas Vancaeyezeele to his right.
After Mertz’ goal, the Hounds continued to create numerous opportunities in the first half to build on its lead, with a owning the possession battle, pelting crosses into the box with a 15-3 advantage and a 7-4 edge in shots, with two on target. And they did so under the hot sun in a match played in 90 degree temperatures
“It was a lot of work on the part of Robbie and Kevin,” Lilley said. “I think they did a pretty good job of it and even Steevan was bumping up. We knew if they would just sit there, they would pass the ball. They are one of the highest passing percentage teams in the league and they stretch the field. We knew as hot as it is we may do more running sitting back. So the only way to get the ball away from them was to be brave and get in their face and it is not that easy when it is that hot.”
Pittsburgh defense was only stretched and tested a few times in the first half. One of those came in the 18th minutewhen North Carolina found an opening. Forward Robbie Kristo broke through a wide gap in the center of the Pittsburgh back line, took one touch after a solid through ball, but was tracked down by Hounds defender Tobi Adewole before getting a shot attempt.
The Hounds responded with fantastic chances of their own in the second but faced continual barriers from Tambakis.
Brett’s shot from the inside of the penalty box in the 55th minute was the first chance for the Hounds in the second half. A spectacular save from Tambakis in the 58th minute kept Pittsburgh’s Dos Santos off the scoreboard, keeping the score stagnant at 1-0. Mertz kept his offensive attack for Pittsburgh going into the 62nd minute, with a shot missing just wide over the net.
In the second half, particularly after the dangerous Donovan Ewolo entered the match for North Carolina, the Hounds were suddenly on the ropes a few times.
Things really opened up — with back and forth opportunities for both clubs from the 65th minute through the 80th minute. Overall, the side collected eight and nine total shots respectively in the half.
As things were getting dicey, the clouds darkened over Downtown Pittsburgh and the South Shore. After a couple strikes of lightning, the match was suspended in the 82nd minute.
Lilley thought the delay came at a good time for the Hounds.
“It served us well tonight, I don’t know if we get to the end line without a break. We weren’t organized, they were playing through us pretty easily for a good portion of the second half. They brought their subs on and they played us up top,” Lilley eplained. “I knew they would when I saw the starting lineup, but obviously, it helped to get into the locker room and communicate clear instructions.”
Shortly after play resumed about a half hour later, the Hounds created a few dangerous moments.
Finally, it appeared they’d get the elusive second goal following a 1-2 combination between Forbes and Dos Santos, where Forbes was smashed up between two North Carolina defenders en route to Dos Santos’ return pass intended for the Hounds captain in the box.
Forbes earned the penalty kick opportunity, but couldn’t covert — as he shot left — and North Carolina’s Alex Timbakis made his sixth save of the match to keep the score 1-0.
Again, the Hounds would have to hold on in a tight match.
Five minutes of stoppage time wasn’t enough for North Carolina, and Pittsburgh walked away with a one-goal victory on a night when they could have scored three or four more goals.
Against two of the front-running teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference, the Hounds have walked away with four of a possible six points.
“We needed to win it,” Lilley said. “We were generous and we’ve paid a lot when we have been that generous. I think the Bethlehem game we closed a little bit better, I think Tampa we closed that came out really well and just gave up that one chance. I think we managed the game much better against Tampa last week than we did tonight. It is just back to the drawing board.”
Hounds presser https://t.co/Ph3aNXFji6
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) July 21, 2019
Despite generating more chances (holding a 7-2 edge on shots on target), and on the verge o
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) July 21, 2019
Match Day Updates
9:37 – FINAL — RIVERHOUNDS WIN 1-0.
9:32 – Five minutes of stoppage time added.
9:29 – Forbes PK is denied by Tambakis! And another missed opportunity to double the lead. Pgh still up 1-0.
9:28 – PENALTY – Forbes is smashed by two NC FC defenders after playing a 1-2 with Dos Santos.
9:26: Dangerous cross to center of box — but Hounds GK Kyle Morton goes up and owns the box.
9:23: We’re back underway here after both teams had a few minutes to warm back up.
8:45 – WEATHER DELAY – a couple lightning strikes and we’re going to have to wait, at least a half hour!
8:36 – Dos Santos breaks down left side — and shot to inside near post is stopped. Had Volesky on far post.
8:35 – Things really opening up as rain comes down Highmark Stadium.
8:32 – Donovan Ewolo with dangerous chance on ball into box, but Kyle Morton is there for the stop.
8:29 – Volesky give one a go, but shot misses left.
8:27 – First subs for Hounds.
8:23 – Mertz with a chance — had time in the box. But hits it too hard and high. It sails over the bar. Another prime opportunity to double lead for Hounds. Still 1-0. 62′
8:20 – Dos Santos with fantastic first touch to bring ball down, then pokes ball forward, puts head down, and runs into 5’10” defender and goes down to the mat like a ton of bricks. Sets up free kick, which he gets on end of –and great save by Timbakis.
8:11 – first shot on target for NC FC, Benjamin Speasputs Kyle Morton to work.
8:08 – second half start
7:57 – HALFTIME 1-0 RIVERHOUNDS
It’s been all Hounds. 56% possession 7-4, 2-0 in favor of Pgh 15-3 crosses edge 2-1 corners
7:50 – Forbes advances — plays it to Brett — who unleashes shot that misses wide left, not by much though. 43′
7:47 – Nice build up leads to Brett in space on right side of box. He cuts it back to the middle for Dos Santos between two defenders, but any shot attempt is stuffed out. 41′
7:37 – HYDRATION BREAK (30′) — we could all use the breather!
7:34 – GOAL – RIVERHOUNDS – Robbie Mertz!
Buries it from left side of box. Nice hold up work by Neco Brett on edge of box — then finds Mertz for his fifth goal of the season. (27′)
7:32 – long kick for Morton, and NC FC defender Victor Igbekoyi leaps, completely loses it in the sun, while Robbie Mertz gets to ball, then sends a terrific cross from left side to Dos Santos who misses header! 26′
7:28 – Robbie Mertz goes down — and training staff coming out to attend to the Hounds rookie. He walked off with a little limp. Looks like he’ll be getting back on field after he gets his shoe retied. 22′
7:26 – NC FC finds a gap in the middle of the Hounds back line, much like when Tampa scored last week, but Tobi Adewole does a nice job to run down Robbie Kristo to deny a chance just outside box. 18′
7:24 – Hounds keeping Neco Brett at the top of the attack. Underneath, the attacking midfield consists of Dos Santo sandwiched between Mertz on his left, and Kerr on his right. There’s lots of fluidity and movement going on, but they’ve struggled to keep any kind of rhythm going in possession.
7:20 – North Carolina haven’t created any opportunities in the box, but have forced Hounds GK Kyle Morton off his line with a few hard lining balls in from right side. 14′
7:14 – Vancaeyezeele takes it by himself all the way up the left side, then breaks into box. Ball played to center of box, finds its way to Dos Santos who can only unleash a weak shot on frame, easy for GK Tambakis to handle. 8′
7:10 – Kenardo Forbes getting forward on the right side, sets up match’s first corner kick
7:07 – Steevan Dos Santos called for the first foul of match.
7:06 pm – the match has kicked off
Starting XI for Pittsburgh:
GK – Kyle Morton
D – Joe Greenspan, Tobi Adewole, Thomas Vancaeyezeele,
MF – Kevin Kerr, Kenardo Forbes, Ryan James, Jordan Dover
F – Steevan Dos Santos, Neco Brett, Robbie Mertz
Austin Pack (G), Uchenna Uzo, Noah Franke, Sammy Kahsai, Anthony Velarde, Mohammad Dabo, Christian Volesky
North Carolina FC starting XI
G – Alex Tambakis
D – Sam Brotherton, Victor Igbekoyi, D.J. Taylor, Aaron Guillen
MF – Dre Fortune, Ben Speas, Graham Smith, Naz Albadawi, Steven Miller (c)
F – Robbie Kristo
available subs: Darrin Macleod (G), Tim Mehl, Austin Panchot, Chester, Yamakani, Donovan Ewolo, Duval Wapiwo
6:05 p.m. – It’s very steamy here at Highmark — clocking in somewhere around 91 degrees.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) July 20, 2019
Anticipated Hounds starting XI:
GK – Kyle Morton
D – Joe Greenspan, Tobi Adewole, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Ryan James, Jordan Dover
MF – Kevin Kerr, Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz
F – Steevan Dos Santos, Neco Brett
Hounds injury report:
- Caleb Smith – Out (groin)
- Prosper Figbe – Out (knee)
Mark Goodman’s Preview / Scouting Report on North Carolina FC
More on #PITvNC
It’s been an eventful week for the Riverhounds organization, but now they have to focus on remaining unbeaten at home, and find a way to beat a top-four club in the standings.
This will mark the first meeting of the season between the clubs.
The Hounds carry an unbeaten home record (4-0-5) into this weekend’s showdown. Last season on the Fourth of July, the Black and Gold defeated North Carolina, 2-0, at Highmark Stadium.
On the other hand, this will be North Carolina’s second match of the week. The squad defeated Loudoun United FC, 3-0, at its home venue this past Wednesday.