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FINAL: Riverhounds SC 7, Birmingham Legion FC 0

Photo by Ed Thompson

FINAL: Riverhounds SC 7, Birmingham Legion FC 0

USL Championship Eastern Conference Quarterfinal

FINAL: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 7, Birmingham Legion FC 0

Game Summary

Box Score 

Looking razor sharp from the start, the Riverhounds SC won its first playoff match since 2004 in dominating fashion, in a 7-0 romp over Birmingham Legion before a packed house at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night.  

Neco Brett picked up four goals, breaking the club record for most postseason goals in one night’s work, while Jordan Dover and Robbie Mertz each picked up one goal and the Hounds also benefited on an own goal as part of a five-goal onslaught in the first half. 

“We knew how athletic they are, we talked about how dangerous they are, but we just wanted to keep the ball moving. Stay aggressive, get at them, get after them and make sure we’re not reacting to the game,” Bob Lilley, Hounds Head Coach said. “Making sure we’re taking charge and dictating. It’s one game, but it was a really good performance.”

After the first five minutes of feeling out the match, the Hounds, in a 3-5-2 formation, came out flying, and getting forward with efficient one-two touch passing.

Brett knew there was something special about the look of his teammates in the locker room after warm-ups, and before the game started, and the Hounds certainly brought that focus onto the field from the start.

“When I got in the locker room, I realized that everyone was locked in. Whenever I get in the locker room and the guys are like that, normally we bring our ‘A’ game,” Brett said “I was looking forward to a game like this. Not this many goals, but a good game.”

In the 13th minute, they pounced on their first real opportunity in a wild sequence which they stayed focused, and finished off efficiently.

First, Steevan Dos Santos brought a ball down played to his chest the top of the arc, then laid the ball off for Robbie Mertz, who drilled a shot that banged off the left post, hit the back of Birmingham’s keeper Matt Van Oekel, then bounced to right post area. Dos Santos retrieved it — somehow found a way to get it to Mo Dabo at the top of the box. Dabo quickly found Brett on the left side. The Hounds leading scorer didn’t waste any time putting his shot attempt in the back of the net.

This began a night of goal celebrations for the record crowd 5,627 fans who braved the rainy elements at Highmark Stadium.

Brett and the Hounds were just getting started.

Just four minutes later, Mertz delivered a terrific diagonal ball from the left side as Brett made a run into the box with a pair of Birmingham defenders on either said. Legion FC’s Kyle Fisher actually out jumped Brett to the ball, but it skimmed off his head — and past Van Oekel into the goal to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 edge.

In the 27th minute, Dos Santos moved into the right side of the box, with Brett making his way in the center. Dos Santos attempted a quick and hard, side of foot pass that bounced off a Birmingham defender, and back to him. Dos Santos then sent an even harder, and deadly accurate ball steaming through the box right on target to Brett, who simply passed the ball into the goal to give Pittsburgh a commanding 3-0 lead.  

The Hounds kept coming.

Another dangerous ball was played into the right side of the goal box for Brett in the 34th minute — and the Hounds’ forward was dragged down by Van Oekel as he was getting a foot on the ball, drawing a penalty.

Brett, who’s scored team leading three penalty kicks in the regular season, stepped up to deliver another goal to give him a hat trick in a mere half-hour’s time.

By the end of the half, Pittsburgh didn’t stop coming.

Out on the flank, Ryan James got all the way to the corner, then delivered a bending ball in to the back post, where his fellow winger on the other side, Jordan Dover was there to head down the ball into goal to give the Hounds a 5-0 in the 45th minute — and at the half.

“We did a really good job of keeping the hammer down. At 2-0 or 3-0 that game is not done. We played a really, really strong first half where we’re up 5-0 at half time,” Lilley said. “Then we kind of know ‘Ok, as long as we don’t do anything stupid and we show up the first 15 minutes of the second, we should be able to run this thing out.'”

Pittsburgh continued to push for more in the second half — and not only ran the game out — but added more salt to the Legion’s wounds.

Brett drew a foul in the box (again!) in the 61st minute when he was pulled down by Zach Herivaux. To add insult to injury for Legion FC, Herivaux was sent off with a straight red card.

Brett could have added his fourth goal at that moment, but the former Robert Morris University standout, who’s made a name for himself as the Hounds leading scorer the past two years, deferred the PK to the local kid, Robbie Mertz,

Mertz drilled his low shot just under a diving Van Oekel to give Pittsburgh a 6-0 advantage — and another thing for the Pittsburgh crowd to celebrate — seeing one of its own score a goal in a playoff match.

“I think we’re enjoying ourselves on the field, and when you’re enjoying your performances it makes a big difference. Obviously like tonight when you’re getting a lot of goals and a shutout, you’re enjoying it at both sides of the ball,” Mertz said.”Just keep working hard, keep going about our business, and trying to do our jobs early in the game so that we can enjoy wins like tonight.”

Brett would have another chance in the run of play to add on goal number four, as Kenardo Forbes got into the act with a terrific individual effort at the top of the arc to keep possession, then poke the ball over to his fellow Jamaican teammate.

Brett made it look easy — swinging his hips ever so slightly — and banging home his fourth goal of the evening, a new playoff record for a Riverhounds player.  Brett passed David Flavius for the most career postseason goals in Hounds history. His fourth tally tied a club record for most goals in a single game.

“He had a great night finishing. I would never discredit any of our players, because we have a lot of good players, but I think it’s the collective. It’s the tireless runs from Ryan James and Dover, it’s Steevan Dos Santos competing on every ball. Midfield doing their jobs and keeping us in possession,” Lilley said in response to being asked about Brett’s big night. “I was real happy with Neco’s application tonight, and the ball fell his way tonight, but it could be someone else next week, and hopefully that is what is going to help us do really well in the playoffs. We have a lot of ways we can hurt you and we’re also tough to break down.”

With the win, top-seeded Pittsburgh advances to the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference semifinal round, as they’ll now host two-time defending USL Cup winners, Louisville City FC, who defeated Tampa Bay Rowdies, 2-1 on Saturday.  

POST MATCH INTERVIEWS

with Head Coach Bob Lilley, Robbie Mertz and Neco Brett.

PGH POSTGAME

John Krysinsky joined Matt Gajtka for a pop-up podcast after the fact:

Lineups:

Riverhounds SC – Kyle Morton; Ryan James (Uchenna Uzo 76’), Tobi Adewole (Dani Rovira 83’), Joe Greenspan, Jordan Dover, Thomas Vancaeyezeele; Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz, Mouhamed Dabo; Steevan Dos Santos (Kevin Kerr 65’), Neco Brett

Subs not used: Austin Pack, Noah Franke, Mark Forrest,  Anthony Velarde

Birmingham Legion FC – Matt Van Oekel; Mikey Lopez, Anderson Asiedue, Femi Hollinger-Janzen (Eric Avila 55’), Kyle Fisher, Zach Herivaux, Kyle Culbertson; JJ Williams, Prosper Kasim (Daigo Kobayashi 58’) , Daniel Johnson (Benjamin Kucera 64′); Brian Wright

Subs not used: Trevor Spangenberg, Gael Mabiala, Marcos Ugarte, Akeem Ward

Scoring Summary:

PIT – Neco Brett 13’ (Mouhamed Dabo)

PIT – Kyle Fisher (own goal) 17’

PIT – Neco Brett 27’ (Steevan Dos Santos)

PIT – Neco Brett 34’ (penalty)

PIT – Jordan Dover 45’ (Ryan James)

PIT – Robbie Mertz 62’ (penalty)

PIT – Neco Brett 71’ (Kenardo Forbes)

Misconduct Summary:

BHM – Kyle Culbertson 31’ (caution)

BHM – Mikey Lopez 41’ (caution)

BHM – Zachary Herivaux 61’ (ejection)

PIT – Tobi Adewole 77’ (caution)

 

Matchday Updates / Commentary 

8:48 – 82′ | Last sub for Hounds:

IN: Dani Rovira
OUT: Tobi Adewole

8:41 – 75’| SUB

Uchenna Uzo IN

Ryan James OUT

8:38 – 71′ | GOAL – RIVERHOUNDS – Neco Brett

As train roars through — Kenardo Forbes keeps ball alive at top of box, works to get it over to his fellow Jamaican teammate, who scores his 4th goal of the match. With that he’s tops in club in playoff goals!

8:32 – 66′ | SUB:

Kevin Kerr, the venerable Hound, is IN
Steevan Dos Santos, OUT

8:27 – 62′ | GOAL – Robbie Mertz buries the PK!! It’s 6-0 Hounds.

8:26 – 61′ | PENALTY! Neco Brett is dragged down by Zach Herivaux in box — and it’s a straight RED! 61′

8:20 – 54′ | Hounds keep pressing high and looking for more. Neco Brett with three or four step overs — and shot from right endline is saved by Van Oekel.

7:53 – 45’| GOAL – RIVERHOUNDS -Jordan Dover

It came from a cross in from left side from Ryan James. Dover buried it with a heder. It’s now 5-0 Hounds.

7:46 – Last Hounds player to get a first half hat trick was Jose Angulo in 2014 — against Real Salt Lake’s reserves. Neco Brett also now is tied for all-time playoff goals lead with David Flavious.

7:41 – 35′ | GOAL – RIVERHOUNDS – Neco Brett with the hat trick

PK gives Neco the 1st half Hat Trick!!! Hounds now lead 4-0! @SteelArmy may be running out of smoke bombs.

7:40 – 34′ | PENALTY!!

Brett dragged down by Birmingham’s keeper Matt Van Oekel!! Hat trick on tap?????

7:37 – 30′ | Dover goes down — right on edge of box. Yellow card issued to Brian Wright of Birmingham. Free kick coming for Hounds.

7:34 – 28′ | GOAL – RIVERHOUNDS – Neco Brett  It’s now 4-0!!

Neco Brett with a clinical finish.
Dos Santos with one side of foot attempt to sneak it through from right — it comes back and he lasers and I mean LASERS a ball back to Neco in box for redirect!
Hounds now lead 3-0!!

7:30 – 25′ | Birmingham gets forward, and ball to top of box for Zachary Herivaux results in collision with Hounds’ Ryan James. Herivaux was down for a bit, but he’s back up, and back in game.

7:24 – 17′ | GOAL RIVERHOUNDS – Own goal!!

Mertz sends nice bending diagonal cross into box — for Neco Brett but it deflects off head of Birmingham defender! 2-0 Riverhounds SC lead

7:19 – 13′ | GOAL RIVERHOUNDS – Neco Brett

What a sequence. Hounds were pinging it around the box — and Mo Dabo found Neco Brett, who’s shot was deflected high and sailed into goal.

7:13 – 6′ | Good work by Mertz and Dover to set up first corner. Mertz took the corner, to far post area — Greenspan’s header attempt is contested — and it’s cleared.

7:11 – Hounds carrying most of possession early. Looks like a straight 3-5-2 formation.

7:06 – KICKOFF | Moment of silence to remember Tree of Life  — and national anthem — and now we’re ready to get going..

Here’s Birmingham’s starting line-up.

And we’re happy to have Alan here too!

Pittsburgh Starting XI

GK – Kyle Morton

D – Joe Greenspan, Tobi Adewole, Thomas Vancaeyeeele

MF – Ryan James, Jordan Dover, Mo Dabo, Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz

F – Steevan Dos Santos, Neco Brett

 

Look for pre-game coverage, starting line-ups and all in-game updates to be posted here.

Line-ups will be posted at approximately 6:30 p.m.

John Krysinsky‘s anticipated Riverhounds starting XI:

GK – Kyle Morton

D – Joe Greenspan, Tobi Adewole, Thomas Vancaeyeeele

MF – Ryan James, Jordan Dover, Mo Dabo, Kenardo Forbes, Kevin Kerr

F – Steevan Dos Santos, Neco Brett

PREVIEW

Saturday, Oct. 26 | 7 p.m. | Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA

Streaming: ESPN+  | Television: Pittsburgh’s CW

Live Stats: USL Championship Playoffs Center

PSN Game Coverage: Reporting – John Krysinsky & Mark Goodman | Photography Ed Thompson

Post-game Coverage:  Interviews on PSN’s Facebook Live | Pittsburgh Post-Game with Matt Gajtka

The Basics

Pittsburgh is 2-0-0 against Birmingham this season, earning victories in each of their prior meetings.  The Black and Gold recorded a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh back on June 29 as well as a 1-0 win in Birmingham last week in the regular season finale. Steevan Dos Santos (13’), Robbie Mertz (25’ and 39’) and Christian Volesky (75’) each scored for the Hounds in game one, while Mark Forrest scored his first professional goal of his career last week to clinch the 1-0 win in Birmingham.

The Hounds look to stay unbeaten at home, coming into Saturday. Pittsburgh is 10-0-7 at Highmark Stadium this season and has outscored its opponents 30-10 during that stretch.

Birmingham rolls into town fresh off of a 3-2 opening-round win over North Carolina FC on Wednesday.  The Legion finished the regular season having gone 1-3-1 over the last five games, including a 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh in the regular season finale last week.

Pittsburgh Soccer Now Playoff Week Coverage:

Going to Riverhounds playoff game? Here’s what you need to know.

Riverhounds SC Notebook: Hounds ready to turn the screws on Legion

Hounds to host Birmingham Legion FC in Saturday’s playoff

View From The Booth: Playoffs to come, but let’s toast the champs

Can these ‘top of the table’ Hounds exorcise past post-season demons?

 

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the United States. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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