LEESBURG, Va. — Albert Dikwa’s 81st-minute goal delivered the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s fifth consecutive victory, 1-0 over feisty Loudoun United FC on Saturday night at Segra Field.
The Hounds (10-3-1, 31 points) vaulted into first place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference with the win, which was also their fifth shutout in a row — the second-longest streak in team history. They lead Group F by nine points with two matches to play, although Hartford Athletic has three matches in hand, so Pittsburgh likely cannot clinch a first-round home playoff game until at least next Saturday.
“It was an important win for us, clearly,” said Hounds head coach Bob Lilley, whose team clinched its third straight playoff berth last week. “We had to battle. We had to dig deep.”
— x-Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) September 20, 2020
Dikwa’s second goal as a Hound, scored in his first start for the club, was the result of a quick build-up by Danny Griffin and substitute Steevan Dos Santos down the right channel. Dos Santos sent Dikwa in for a smooth fake-and-finish move at the right post, allowing Pittsburgh to sweep the three-game season series.
“It was a difficult game,” Lilley said. “Loudoun deserves a lot of credit. They caused problems for us in the first two (games), but we got the early goals.”
Hounds keeper Danny Vitiello stopped two shots for his sixth win in seven starts; all of the Long Island native’s victories have been clean sheets. The Hounds’ defense also blocked three shots, including a pair early in the first half when struggling Loudoun (1-9-3, 4 points) had the edge in play.
“This is a team, Loudoun, that has ability,” Lilley said. “They spaced the field early on in the game and we didn’t have enough urgency. They built confidence and started taking it to us. But once we saw the danger and the trouble, we knew we were in a dogfight. Our experience allowed us to fight through the tough moments.”
🗣️ “We were definitely more dangerous as the game went on. We had to dig deep. It was important to have a game like this.”@RiverhoundsSC coach Bob Lilley on how his team took control of what was a “dogfight” with @LoudounUnitedFC …@pghsoccernow @SteelArmy @mongoals pic.twitter.com/JTVT9UQy3k
— Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) (@MattGajtka) September 20, 2020
The final stats weren’t the prettiest, but Loudoun’s blend of speed and athleticism has given the Hounds trouble through all 270 minutes played between the clubs in 2020. (Despite this, Loudoun didn’t manage a goal against Pittsburgh and has buried just 10 in 13 matches.)
Coming off their first six-day break between matches in more than a month, Pittsburgh was out-possessed (51-49 percent) by DC United’s development squad and went offside seven times. On the other hand, the Hounds posted another above-average passing rate (79 percent) and outshot Loudoun 10-6 on the strength of a solid final hour or so.
“We still weren’t as good as we would’ve liked to have been offensively, to create the chances,” Lilley said. “But I thought a goal was coming. And I think we did a pretty good job closing the game out.”
Despite playing their past four matches without their captain Kenardo Forbes, the Hounds are arguably the USL Championship’s hottest team and establishing themselves again as one of the favorites to compete for a championship.
In a season shortened significantly by COVID-19, Pittsburgh is doing exactly what it did last year at this time: Grind out results to gradually leave all challengers behind on the East table.
And, as an added bonus, they willed their way to a win in their final road game of the regular season, following up a four-game stretch in which they won each time by at least three goals.
“In some ways,” Lilley said, “it was important to have a game like this and find a way to get it over the finish line.”
Here’s more from Matt on Pittsburgh Postgame, hosted by Pittsburgh Sports Live:
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (9-3-1, 28 points)
Loudoun United FC (1-8-3, 4 points)
8:31: Final whistle from Segra Field! Hounds win it 1-0, their fifth straight victory and their fifth straight via clean sheet. Two saves for Vitiello in his sixth shutout of the season. More to come from Leesburg!
8:30: Dos Santos does what he does best: Draw fouls. Saravia drilled him in the leg, and that’s the second yellow for him. He’ll get a (slightly) early shower.
8:27: Four minutes added on. Outcome still in doubt. Loudoun free kick near midfield.
8:25: Spoke too soon on the subs. Walls makes his Hounds debut in the 90th minute, with Mertz having a seat.
8:24: Nearly a second! Velarde takes another delicate through-ball from Dos Santos but he blasts it a few inches outside the left post.
8:23: Maybe the Hounds’ final subs. Dikwa out for wing Dani Rovira; Bunk-Anderson sits for Lindstrom. We’re into the 88th.
8:20: Header on target from Loudoun’s Timmy Mehls, but not enough on it to be threatening. Just a few minutes away from a fifth-straight win and a nine-point lead in Group F …
8:17: GOAL, HOUNDS! Dos Santos slips a nifty ball through the Loudoun defense and Dikwa buries from the right side! Dikwa rounded Lefebrve, who dived down to try to smother the chance, but one of the newest Hounds swiveled his hips and deposited his second goal in four matches! 1-0, Pittsburgh in the 82nd.
8:15: Past the 80th now. Doesn’t look like any subs coming shortly.
8:11: Hydration break. Wasn’t it last Saturday that Bob Lilley said that, at some point, the Hounds are going to have to deal with a scoreless game in the 75th minute? Well, that’s where we’re at. Pittsburgh hasn’t been shut out in six games, by the way. That was the 1-0 loss at Indy.
8:10: Lovely stop for Vitiello! He snags Sorto’s bending ball around the Hounds’ wall, from 25 yards out. Vitiello spied it and caught it in his stomach on the bounce.
8:06: Mercy. Dikwa guns one just high after settling a long ball from Griffin. Albert got all of it, but a little off. Best chance of the second half for either side. Scoreless into the 71st! Been a while for one of these.
8:01: An offensive posture with the Hounds’ first two subs. Anthony Velarde is in for Lee, while Steevan Dos Santos checks in for Mensah. We’re into the 65th minute. Deabo also out for Loudoun, replaced by Gabriel Gómez.
7:58: Dikwa is sprung for a right-flank chance, but Lefebrve slides to deny the sharp-angle blast.
7:56: Mertz intercepts an attempted switch, but Loudoun ends up defending the counter well. Mensah and Dikwa had touches in the box to no avail. We’re an hour in.
7:53: Injured player for Loudoun. It’s Amoustapha. He’s out in favor of Christian Sorto, and Fawole checks out for Alioune Ndour. Both subs are speedy and skilled so watch out.
7:51: Lee gets a clutch headed clear after a dangerous Loudoun restart, then helps assist Griffin’s cross to the back post. Out for a goal kick.
7:47: Thomas Vancaeyezeele shoves a Loudoun player to the ground near midfield. That’s the Hounds’ first yellow of the night. Book ’em in the 50th minute.
7:44: A couple of minutes into the second half, defender Mark Lindstrom starts warming up, soon joined by the rest of the bench. It’s become rather chilly in Leesburg after the sun set. Gonna need those calisthenics for sure.
7:25: Allexon Saravia gets a yellow for dissent. That’s two warnings for Loudoun as James lines up a 40-yard free kick. He sprays it to Dover, but his cross is struck too well. And there’s the halftime whistle.
Some argument from the home bench as the intermission begins, but the teams adjourn for the locker room trailers.
7:21: Four minutes of stoppage added on. Dikwa whistled on the offside as we cross 45 minutes. Another promising buildup, though. Hounds’ first corner upcoming.
7:17: Set piece just outside the Hounds’ box for Loudoun. James blocks a volley out over the end line. Loudoun wanted a hand ball but no call besides a corner kick. It sails over everyone.
7:14: Former Pitt Panther defender Shane Wiedt saves the day for Loudoun, with a sliding tackle in the nick of time against a charging Mertz. Nearly something from nothing for the Hounds. 40th minute.
7:12: Loudoun’s Josh Fawole crushes James in the midfield. Easy yellow from referee John Griggs in the 37th minute. A moment later, Dikwa skies a negative ball from Mertz into the bleachers.
7:11: Mensah nearly sprung by Danny Griffin’s through-ball, but Lefebrve is juuuust quick enough to get out there and nullify the chance.
7:07: Hydration break. Feels like the match is turning for the guys in black. Still 60 percent possession and a 3-2 shots advantage for the home team, though.
7:04: Now they’re cooking. INCREDIBLE 60-yard ball from Dover onto Robbie Mertz’s foot at the edge of the area, but Loudoun keeper Simon Lefebrve gets a paw on it! And now Mensah dribbles a Dover cross on frame. Should’ve done better, but that’s two great looks on 30 minutes.
6:58: First real chance for the Hounds, with Jordan Dover sending in Dikwa for a cross that sails just over Mensah’s cranium. Nearing midway point of the half.
6:56: Hounds are in trouble early! This time Skylar Thomas comes up with a huge block of Massimo Ferrin’s backside chance. Doesn’t look like a matchup of two teams 24 points apart in the standings, does it?
6:54: Boy, Loudoun is working the combinations in and around the Hounds’ box through 20 minutes. Former WVU standout Peabo Doue, the Loudoun captain, blasts away from 10 yards but Patrick Bunk-Anderson blocked it!
6:52: Amoustapha, the danger man for Loudoun, tracks down an aerial ball near the byline, but volleys it over the goal … and over my head.
6:49: Twelve minutes in and no score. Sorry, I had to stop by and see the group that made the trip. A little field tilt in favor of Loudoun, who look dangerous with the ball as usual. Trick will be to keep the ball and make the D.C. youngsters defend.
— Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) (@MattGajtka) September 19, 2020
6:35: We’re off and running. And a division of the Steel Army is here in full throat! Pictures to come.
6:15: Here’s the lineup for Loudoun … keep an eye on Kairou Amoustapha, who was a terror in the first meeting between these two teams a month ago.
— Loudoun United FC (@LoudounUnitedFC) September 19, 2020
5:59 p.m.: Hey everyone! I’m live from Loudoun County to bring you coverage before, during and after.
— Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) (@MattGajtka) September 19, 2020
Here’s the Hounds’ lineup, featuring Ropapa Mensah and Albert Dikwa together at the top for the first time. Ryan James reprises his role in the central defensive midfield, pushing veteran Ray Lee outside to the left.
— x-Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) September 19, 2020
Look for lineups to be posted here at approximately 6 p.m. and other pre-match updates from Matt Gajtka, who will be at the match.
After clinching playoff berth in their last match, the Hounds now look to secure the Group F title. They currently hold a six-point advantage over second-place Hartford Athletic and would be one step closer to winning the group with a win against Loudoun.
This will be the third and final match between the two clubs this season. In their first match on Aug. 19, the Hounds secured a 2-0 victory at Segra Field. Two early goals from Steevan Dos Santos (7’) and Lukas Fernandes (11’) gave the Hounds a lead they would not surrender. In addition, goalkeeper Danny Vitiello earned his first career clean sheet, saving three shots on the night.
In their second meeting on Sept. 1, Pittsburgh defeated Loudoun, 3-0. Mark Forrest converted a penalty kick in the 5th minute to start the scoring, and Anthony Velarde converted another penalty to give the Hounds a two-goal lead. Albert Dikwa scored Pittsburgh’s final goal in the 88th minute, which marked his first tally with the club. Vitiello acquired the clean sheet in the win.
Last time out, the Hounds clinched their third straight playoff berth with a 5-0 win against Hartford on Sept. 12 at Highmark Stadium. This marks the first time in club history the Hounds have made three consecutive playoff appearances. Ropapa Mensah and Ryan James netted two goals each in the win.
Meanwhile, Loudoun fell to Philadelphia Union II, 4-0, in its last match on Sept. 16 at Subaru Park.
PSN Coverage this week
Mark Goodman’s previews of Loudoun United FC before the team’s first meeting in August: