USL Eastern Conference Semifinal
FINAL: Louisville City FC 2, Riverhounds SC 1
A magical season came to crashing halt for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, losing to the two-time defending USL Champions, Louisville City FC, 2-1, in overtime.
Paolo DelPiccolo’s header in the 118th minute sent No. 4 seed Louisville City FC to its fifth consecutive Eastern Conference Final — and left the record crowd of 6,027 Pittsburgh soccer fans stunned.
“We had a great season, but we didn’t play well tonight. It was disappointing, we had all home games left, but it’s a tough way to end the season,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds Head Coach said. “Give Louisville credit. They were down 1-0, and they tied it. Then they found the winner. And they were the better team in the overtime.”
Much like the previous week’s 7-0 throbbing of Birmingham Legion FC in the quarterfinal, the Hounds rode the energy of a raucous Highmark Stadium crowd, and looked to get out on the front foot early.
Pittsburgh came out pressing high in a 5-3-2 formation, with a notable absence of Steevan Dos Santos, who was limited in training all week with a strained abdominal muscle, out of the starting eleven.
Kevin Kerr and Neco Brett, along with Mo Dabo playing in a high attacking midfield role, did what they could to cause havoc for Louisville City’s back line.
It worked in the early going.
They nearly got the game’s go-ahead goal in the 10th minute when Kevin Kerr provided Mouhamed Dabo with a nice feed on the edge of box, but the Hounds midfielder saw his right-footed shot spectacularly tipped over the crossbar by a diving Chris Hubbard.
The ensuring corner however, Kenardo Forbes’ whipped in a ball that found the head of Pittsburgh defender Thomas Vancaeyezeele — who timed his run perfectly to place a header into the back of the net.
— y-Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) November 2, 2019
After the Hounds scored — and as the first half proceeded, Louisville tightened things up in the back — and really started to get more comfortable possessing the ball out of the back and through the midfield.
The best Pittsburgh could do for the remainder of the half — was create an opening for Neco Brett when he took a fabulous touch on a long goal kick from keeper Kyle Morton, then advanced to the edge of the box to force Hubbard into a diving save in the 44th minute.
Despite being out-possessed by a 65-35 percent margin in the first half, the Hounds out-shot Louisville 4-2, with the only three shots of the match on target.
They began the second half just as ambitious — as Brett had a glorious chance to double the lead four minutes into the second half when LouCity midfielder Napo Matsoso gave away a ball — but Brett didn’t get enough power on his shot — as he took a soft shot attempt that got behind keeper Hubbard — but it allowed Louisville center back Paco Craig to get back in time to clear the ball off the line.
Then, just like that, the match turned.
Two minutes later, Luke Spencer took a pass from Oscar Jimenez off his chest with Hounds defender Ryan James on his back, and Tobi Adewole scrambling to get back in position. The hero from Louisville City’s last USL Cup win in 2018, turned and fired a low left-footed shot beyond the reach of Morton.
It was Louisville City’s first shot on target in the match — and just like that it was 1-1.
Things got pretty physical for much of the second half — with both sides battling hard.
Louisville’s Pat McMahon picked up a yellow card three minutes after the equalizing goal as he took down Kerr. Both Paco Craig and Luke Spencer were also added to official Michael Radchuk’s book.
The visitors continued to possess the ball expertly — and using multiple subs — started to wear down the Hounds.
And each of their subs were making significant contributions.
Pittsburgh did finally bring on Steevan Dos Santos — for Kerr — and the big fella created a few moments as he usually does in trying to draw fouls. Shortly after he came on — Jordan Dover played a ball into the box that sailed over him, but he was in a battle with Paco Craig, and went to the ground. Despite his best efforts pleading for a penalty, Dos Santos couldn’t get the call.
Louisville created the most dangerous opportunity in the remaining moments of the second half when Brian Ownby picked up a loose pass, and drove as shot just wide of the right post with seven minutes remaining.
In extra time, in the 94th minute substitute Paolo DelPiccolo played a ball that found Ownby in on the right side of the box with all kinds of room, but Morton made his best save of the night to deny Ownby.
Another Louisville substitute, this time it was Abdou Thiam, received a ball from George Davis IV and somehow squeezed by both Joe Greenspan and Vancaeyezeele at the center of the top of the box — and got behind both who found some space in the center of the Pittsburgh defense to receive a pass from George Davis IV and fired a right-footed shot from the top of the box that caromed back into play off Morton’s left-hand post.
Louisville’s pressure eventually paid off late in the second half of extra time, as Morton made a splendid initial save to deny Thiam from in close but DelPiccolo followed up on the rebound and planted a firm header into the empty net from six yards out to keep his side’s chances of a third straight title alive.
POST-MATCH INTERVIEWS WITH BOB LILLEY, THOMAS VANCAEYEZEELE & KENARDO FORBES
MATCH DAY UPDATES
64′ | Great diagonal cross into box from Ownby — that finds Spencer at back post. Spencer crashes into Hounds keeper Kyle Morton and is called for foul.
63′ | Brett finds Kerr making a run on left side. Kerr sends ball to far post — but a little far for Robbie Mertz. Hounds can’t create anything after that.
Here’s a look at the Lou City goal.
Luke Spencer's 51' equalizer is the Next Level Game-Changing Moment. pic.twitter.com/6wGUf3hGtE
— Louisville City FC 🌟🌟 (@loucityfc) November 3, 2019
HALF | Pittsburgh leads 1-0.
Lots of high pressure from the Hounds coming out of 5-3-2 formation, with Kevin Kerr joining Neco Brett up top, while Mo Dabo playing underneath as high, attacking nuisance to Lou City’s back line.
That approach worked really well the first 25 minutes or so. Eventually Louisville started to build possessions deeper into its attacking third, mostly creating corner kick chances. The Hounds held firm in the back despite a few decent Louisville City FC runs by Luke Spencer, Napo Matsoso and Niall McCabe.
Halftime stats of note:
- Shots: PIT 4-2 (on target 3-0)
- Possession: LOU 65% / PIT 35%
- Total passes: LOU 338 / PIT 181
- Corners: LOU 4-1
- Crosses: PIT 6-4
- Clearances PIT 8-1
- Tackles PIT 12-5
43′ | Morton’s goal kick played to Neco Brett — who easily gets a terrific first touch on it — while fighting off few defenders, then turns and heads to top of box and unleashes shot that Hubbard extends to save. Great individual effort there by Brett.
41′ | Hounds get free kick on far left side. Forbes ball in — that just falls over the crossbar.
39′ | Great ball by Spencer finds Matsoso on right side — and again Lou City pressure results in corner. This one is to middle of box, and redirected ball toward goal is grabbed by Hounds GK Kyle Morton.
37′ | Another give away at MF by Pittsburgh leads to Lou City counter — that ends up with corner chance after Niall McCabe gets to end line to have ball knocked away by Tobi Adewole.
34′ | Somehow Luke Spencer gets behind Joe Greenspan — breaks into box but ball poked away by Hounds for Lou corner. Ensuing corner to near post is headed away by Vancayezeele.
31′ | Half hour and some in now — really intense chess match going on now. Lou City’s showing patience in trying to break down Pittsburgh, but the Hounds are closing them down pretty quickly, limiting spaces.
21′ | Hounds get into box again — Dabo called for another foul as he attempts to beat Louisville defender to ball in box.
17′ | Another set piece chance for Hounds. Forbes plays it back to Mertz at top of 18 instead of into going deep in box. Mertz attempts short flick over to back post but nobody’s home. 17′
— y-Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) November 2, 2019
7:18 – 12′ | GOAL – RIVERHOUNDS – Thomas Vancaeyezeele
Heads in corner kick — delivered by Kenardo Forbes. Stands are shaking!!
7:17 – 11′ | What a save by Lou City’s Chris Hubbard! Robs Mo Dabo !!! Corner coming…. 10′
7:12 – Like they did in both matches vs Louisville this year, going with Dabo in high attacking MF spot. Kevin Kerr and Neco Brett are at the top of attack. Looks like a flexible 5-3-2 for Pittsburgh. Robbie Mertz and Kenardo Forbes are deeper than Dabo.
7:10 – Dabo picks up foul. Inavertently slides in and trips up Paco Craig out of the back while pressuring him.
7:07 – we’re underway!
7:00 – this place is really buzzing. Mayor Bill Peduto here to present the game ball.
6:20 – one interesting exception from Hounds starting XI tonight… Steevan Dos Santos won’t be starting, but available off the bench. He was working with Hounds training staff around 5 p.m. after the WPIAL Finals games ended.
Starting line-ups will be posted here at approximately 6;40 p.m.
John Krysinsky’s anticipated Hounds starting XI:
GK – Kyle Morton
D – Tobi Adewole, Joe Greenspan, Thomas Vancaeyezeele
MF – Ryan James, Jordan Dover, Robbie Mertz, Mo Dabo, Kenardo Forbes
F – Steevan Dos Santos, Neco Brett
Saturday, November 2 | 7 p.m. | Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
Television: WPNT 22 The Point | Streaming: ESPN+
Live Statistics: USL Championship Playoffs Center
Live Updates: Twitter at @pghsoccernow, @RiverhoundsSC and #PITvLOU
PSN Coverage team: John Krysinsky, Alan Saunders, Ed Thompson (photos)
PSN RIVERHOUNDS PLAYOFF COVERAGE THIS WEEK