Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s five-match win streak ended with a whimper Saturday night in Cary, N.C., as North Carolina FC romped 5-0 at WakeMed Soccer Park.
The final line was shocking, both because the Hounds (11-4-8, 41 points) had been on a 9-1-1 run and because they’d never allowed more than two goals in a league match under Bob Lilley. This was the first time since 2015 that Pittsburgh had surrendered five goals, and the first time since 2014 they’d lost by five.
Playing on two days’ rest after vanquishing first-place New York Red Bulls II on the road, Pittsburgh meandered to a 0-0 score line until first-half stoppage time, when Thomas Vancaeyezeele was sent off for pulling down Dre Fortune in the box.
Fortune converted the ensuing penalty kick, starting a two-goal, five-point night for the North Carolina FC attacker and putting the road-weary Hounds in a difficult spot. They created three shots and three corner kicks in the opening 25 minutes, but couldn’t jump on top.
“It’s disappointing we gave up the red right before halftime,” Lilley said. “We knew we couldn’t chase the game. We had some dangerous moments. We had a lot of corners and were willing to go forward.”
In addition to Fortune’s big night, Donovan Ewolo also picked up a brace for NCFC (12-5-7, 43 points), which moved past the short-handed Hounds for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. With 11 matches to go before the postseason, Pittsburgh still has some climbing to do to clinch a home playoff game for the second straight year.
It’s worth nothing that, since finding a groove in mid-June, Pittsburgh has suffered both of its losses away from home on short rest. Last month, the Hounds were silenced 1-0 by Charlotte just three days after beating Bethlehem at home. This time around, a 2-1 win at the Baby Bulls on Wednesday preceded another fruitless trip to the Tarheel State.
After their most brutal loss of the season, the Hounds will have to settle on a 1-1 week against two of the top sides in the USL Championship.
“It was a game we hoped to get something out of,” Lilley said. “On the night, I think North Carolina played well.”
Kyle Morton made three saves for the Hounds, who will return home Friday to face Loudoun United FC for the first time.
8:52: 89′ – Not much to report in the final minutes. Both sides looking to get to the locker rooms soon.
8:44: 81′ – NCFC’s Kristo just misses on a run down the right side. Sammy Kahsai checks into the game, replacing a drenched Franke.
8:41: 78′ – D.J. Taylor puts one into the mix for NCFC. It caroms into Morton off a Hound. That’s three saves for Morton, who is hoping to get out of here without any more damage to the stat line.
8:38: 75′ – GOAL. All sorts of room in the Hounds’ end. Albadawi guides the ball into Kristo’s path. Morton beaten high to the short side. 5-0, North Carolina FC.
8:34: 71′ – Sloppy stuff at the top of the box for the Hounds, which leads to Kristo clipping the left post with a skipping drive. The guys in white look like they’re ready for the bus.
8:32: 69′ – Pérez is proving difficult to handle on the right attacking flank for NCFC. Ryan James‘ sliding tackle is deemed illegal. Sharp-angle free kick from near the end line coming up, but not before Robbie Kristo replaces Justin Rennicks at the top of the NCFC formation.
8:26: 63′ – First subs of the game henceforth. For NCFC: Smith out, Austin da Luz in; Miller out, Manny Pérez in. For the Hounds: Mertz in, Forbes out.
8:22: 59′ – GOAL. Turning into the ugliest night of the Hounds’ season. Fortune has Miller’s cross fall to him in the right side of the box. He pounds it low and through Morton’s grasp. Maybe the first one you could pin on the keeper, at least somewhat. 4-0, North Carolina FC.
8:20: 57′ – GOAL. Morton makes a diving save on Ewolo’s PK. The only problem? The rebound spilled right back to Ewolo for him to calmly deposit it into the right corner. That’ll probably do it. 3-0, North Carolina FC.
8:19: 56′ – Ewolo drives a ball into the Pittsburgh box, and Forbes stuck his elbow out in a reflex move. Assistant referee detects it. Penalty kick, NCFC.
8:16: 53′ – Smith booked for NCFC, killing a Velarde-led counterattack. Two yellows for the home team now; Hounds have the only red.
8:15: 52′ – Volesky wins a free kick outside the NCFC box. Forbes tries to find Adewole behind the defense on the restart, but Tobi is unable to corral the ball and make a play.
8:13: 50′ – GOAL. Donovan Ewolo rises high to nod Fortune’s looping cross past Morton. Two Hounds were in the vicinity, although Ewolo was a head above the rest, literally. 2-0, North Carolina FC.
8:12: 48′ – Tobi Adewole gets kneed in the head after failing to prevent a corner kick. Looks like he’s OK to continue, but another chance for NCFC.
8:08: Second half is a go from Tobacco Road! Can the Hounds pull off a draw (or better) down a man and a goal?
7:53: Halftime in Cary, N.C. Possession is 65-35 in favor of NCFC, with each side shooting four times. Hounds haven’t gotten a ball on target yet, so an easy 45 minutes for Alex Tambakis in the NCFC goal.
7:52: 45+1′ – GOAL. Fortune approaches and blasts the PK up the middle, eluding a diving Morton. 1-0, North Carolina FC.
7:49: 44′ – Uh oh. Double whammy for the Hounds. Fortune deftly touches the ball past Thomas Vancaeyezeele, who pulls down the NCFC attacker in the box. Easy penalty kick call. And it’s a red card from referee Jon Freemon, too. Tough to argue that much. Didn’t look like much of an embellishment and that’s a clear scoring opportunity.
7:48: 42′ – Although NCFC is pushing several bodies up into the attacking third, the boys in blue can’t unlock the Hounds as of yet. Maybe a little too stagnant for the home team.
7:42: 37′ – Graham Smith, the former Pitt Panther, rips a low shot from 30 yards that skips wide of the left post. Morton got a late break on it, but it doesn’t matter.
7:39: 34′ – Volesky makes a run, but Comsia’s sliding tackle fends off Dos Santos’ ball to the near post.
7:37: 32′ – Nazmi Albadawi guides a ball into the box for Dre Fortune, but Morton closes down the angle and denies the point-blank shot!
7:32: 27′ – NCFC’s Alex Comsia is booked for pulling down Volesky on a throw-in.
7:31: 26′ – The Hounds have three shots to NCFC’s one, but the home side has had the closer calls. Here, Miller jumps to a loose ball on the end line and whips a left-footed cross that skips past everyone at the six-yard line.
7:26: 21′ – Beauty of a lead ball from Kenardo Forbes to Dos Santos, who grounds a cross toward Volesky. It’s cleared for a corner kick, which ends with Dos Santos heading it wide from the near post. Remember: Pittsburgh has scored a corner kick goal in three straight matches coming into this one.
7:24: 19′ – To be expected in the Hounds’ second match in four nights, but NCFC has nearly 70 percent of the ball so far.
7:22: 16′ – Velarde leads a promising counter, squares it for Franke, but Noah can’t find room on a cutback. Pittsburgh warming to the task now.
7:17: 12′ – Franke lets rip from outside the area … it zips high and to the right. First shot for the Hounds.
7:14: 9′ – After spending most of the first segment of the match in the Hounds end, NCFC gets a glorious chance. A deflected through-ball hops to Steven Miller in the box, but his shot around Morton dings the right post and caroms across the face of goal.
7:05: Hounds are in white; NCFC in blue. Here we go! Also, apparently the game isn’t on Pittsburgh’s CW, for some reason. Disappointing.
6:20: The Hounds’ leading goal-scorer Neco Brett gets a rest after Wednesday’s game-winner, with Christian Volesky and Steevan Dos Santos spearheading the Starting XI, while Anthony Velarde and Noah Franke replace Mertz and Kevin Kerr in the midfield.
Jordan Dover gets a break, too, as the Hounds stick with the four-man back line and a five-man midfield. Second start in four days for Kyle Morton.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) August 17, 2019
6:15 p.m.: Here’s how NCFC will line up for tonight’s tilt …
— North Carolina FC (@NorthCarolinaFC) August 17, 2019
Riverhounds SC (11-3-8, 41 points / 4th in East) travels south to the Research Triangle for its second road match in four days, trying to extend its five-game win streak, the franchise’s longest run since 2004.
Meanwhile, North Carolina FC (11-5-7, 40 points / T-5th in East) has won three of five as it tries to stay in contention for a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference after missing the postseason in its first USL Championship season.
These two sides met July 20 at Highmark Stadium, where Hounds rookie and Pittsburgh native Robbie Mertz scored the lone goal of the match off an assist from Neco Brett. The Hounds haven’t lost since, stretching their midseason surge to 9-1-1 since June 15.
Date | Time: Saturday, Aug. 17 | 7 p.m.
Location: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C.
TV: Pittsburgh’s CW
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Social Updates: Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #NCvPIT
PSN’s Hounds coverage this week
John Krysinsky had his post-match recap and player grades after the Hounds downed first-place Red Bulls II on Wednesday in New Jersey.
Also, PSN contributor Matt Harkins took a look at the Hounds’ role in the growth of local soccer in his first piece of a series.