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An Oral History: Pittsburgh soccer teams navigate unprecedented year (Part 2)

In the first part of this series, we mostly chronicled how the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC navigated through the early months of the pandemic, then quickly re-assembled and scrambled to make the most out of an abbreviated season. At the same time, youth, scholastic and college soccer programs experienced a long stretch of uncertainty.

An Oral History: Pittsburgh soccer teams navigate unprecedented year (Part 1)

We pick-up with the narrative as August came to a close, six months into the pandemic, as much of the college soccer landscape was shutting down (NCAA postponed all Fall championships). Still, the ACC and SEC decided to forge ahead with its Fall seasons, meaning that Pitt’s men’s and women’s teams would play as well as West Virginia women’s soccer program.

This would pave the way for both Pitt’s teams to have the opportunity to continue to reach new successes in 2020.

While numerous states across the country postponed high school soccer seasons until the Spring, in Pennsylvania, the PIAA went through a tumultuous period in July and August biding its time and trying to get more clarity from government officials.  Eventually, despite going against PA’s Department of Education and Department of Health recommendations, the PIAA remained committed and pushed forward with Fall sports seasons, starting a bit later than usual.

Meanwhile, by late August, the Riverhounds SC had already played nearly half of its regular season matches to mixed results, but taking a firm grip on earning another playoff spot. In its first showdown with its main threat in its group, the Hounds earned a statement win on the road in Hartford.

Despite complete dominance over Hartford in its first two matches and riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, one late September loss proved costly for the Hounds in an unpredictable, shortened season.


An Oral History:

Pittsburgh’s Soccer Teams Navigate an Unprecedented Year (Part 2) 

August 21: PIAA moves ahead with Fall sports season 

“Everybody wants at least some sort of answer or guidance to move on,” WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said, “not just a continual push back. I know they’ve heard from a lot of people from both sides. Everything is being taken into consideration. It’s going to be an important decision that they make for all of us.”

PA officials ‘strongly recommend’ postponing HS Fall sports; ball is now in ‘disappointed’ PIAA’s court

August 23:  Catching up with Pitt men’s soccer Head Coach Jay Vidovich 

“A lot has happened, but nothing happened either, and you could probably write a book on it,” Pitt men’s head coach Jay Vidovich said about enduring pandemic with a college soccer team that includes players from all over the world.  Getting embassies involved, some boys couldn’t go back home. Luckily the University stepped up and helped out with that. Navigating everything else was a big challenge. What was going to happen — would there be a season? Orienting academically, doing things virtually. Zoom became our favorite situation.  It also became our new locker room and meeting space.”

“We have our hands full with soccer, our hands full with academics and our hands full with COVID.”

“We had everything from weight rooms in basements, treadmills, fields behind houses… We had guys who literally had to train in stairwells of their apartment buildings or in car parks at night when they couldn’t be arrested,” Vidovich quipped about training methods of his players to stay in shape both physically and technically.

“A couple guys got good at running from cops when they were getting chased off fields and stuff.”

“No one got incarcerated, so it was good news.”

“The fact is, they missed six months of soccer. That was the difficult part. It’s been a big challenge.”

August 29: Hounds dominate Hartford; Players take stand against racism  

“It just shows two teams coming together in solidarity and just showing that we support what’s going on across the country right now,” Hartford’s Alex Dixon told the Hartford Journal-Inquirer about the players’ decision to stop, and kneel at 7:00 mark of the match between Pittsburgh-Hartford as it was chosen to symbolize the seven times Blake was shot, and resuming at 8:46 represented the 8:46 an officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck when Floyd was killed on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn.

“There’s things that are bigger than soccer and all sports across the world, and we just wanted to shed a little light on that and do our part.”

“It’s a good group of guys that are always together,” Riverhounds SC defender/midfielder Dakota Barnathan said. “We’re always there for each other.”  

“We’re comfortable with that as an organization, that if players feel a certain way, and they want to stand or kneel, that’s up to them,” Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said after the Hounds first home match vs Indy Eleven, when asked about most players taking a knee during the anthem. “We have a close group. For me, I respect all of our guys to — and they’ve had the talks. We’ve let them have their talks and they’re comfortable.”

“Due to the suffering and injustices that we continue to see taking place in this country, we felt that this weekend would be best served as a time for reflection and education rather than for sport,” the players said. “With this being the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, we are reminded of those who came before us and forged a path towards racial equality. We strive to continue their work through our united voice,” Memphis 901 FC players statement after postponing its match that day, collectively deciding instead to visit the National Civil Rights Museum. 

“It was a really good performance. The guys responded well,” Lilley said of the Hounds impressive 3-0 on the road, even as Kenardo Forbes went down with a leg injury in the early moments. “I thought we did a good job with possession. We made them chase the game. We got better as the game went on. They’re a good team. Hartford had games at hand. It was a game we had to have. If we didn’t get a result, we’d be fighting for second place the rest of the year. By winning, we are now in good position to have an opportunity to win our division. To finish higher in the standings. We still have work to do. We’re still mathematically, we’re still behind Hartford.”

“This is the last of our multiple game weeks, when we play mid-week. We’ve had three of these stretches. This is a massive week for us to solidify where we are in our division. Hopefully set us up for a good finish for the season.”

“Lot of credit goes to the midfield three. Anthony (Velarde) had some injuries earlier in the year, but he had one of his better games.”

“Those are three young players, a rookie (Danny Griffin) and two second year players (Velarde and Robbie Mertz) and who did a good job for us. Everyone knew we had to be solid. It helped to get a goal shortly after that to calm us down. It was a big moment for us as a team..  I remember last year we went to St. Louis, and we had some concerns because Thomas Vancaeyezeele wouldn’t be able to play. We had a really solid performance there. It’s always good even when your key players you count on, you have a group of players, good teams, other players step forward. We have a lot of players with lot of ability. We have two massive performances coming up. Hopefully its a reminder that we play as a team. We can get the results we need as long as we stick together. It’s great to see the response as a team, to come up with a win like that on the road.”

August 31: Addressing Kenardo Forbes injury 

“It’s a quad injury,” Lilley stated. “They’re going to do an MRI.  We’re hopeful that it’s not too, too serious. We don’t expect him back for these two games with Loudoun and New York Red Bulls (II). We’ll see how the MRI turns out. Then see if it’s a two-week, three-week. But we’re hopeful for the best, but right now it’s too early to be sure.”

September 1: “This is the quintessential midweek game” 

“This is the quintessential midweek game. The mother of all midweek games. The most midweek-en-est  midweek game that ever midweeked a game,” Mark Goodman, in his game preview of Riverhounds SC vs Loudoun United.

“You get the picture. The Riverhounds sit atop the Group F table with 19 points, solidly in cruise control to the USL playoffs with a 10 point lead over third-place Red Bulls II. Sure, they want to stay ahead of second-place Hartford, because winning Group F will give them home-field advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. But the determinant for that to happen will predominantly come from the two games they have against Hartford later this month.

“How strange were things on this night,”  John Krysinsky questioned in his Takeaways/Player Grades from the Hounds 3-0 win against Loudoun. “A cat spotted in the Paul Child Stand?”

“When the early wackiness subsided, Pittsburgh showed its true mettle by taking command and, for the most part, controlled the tempo of the match on its way to a 3-0 victory, to improve to 7-3-1 and in the drivers seat in the USL Championship’s Group F standings,” Krysinsky added. “When weird things happen, the good teams generally rise above it — and find ways to win. The Hounds did that on Tuesday.”

“I knew I wanted to put him in for 45 minutes, to see if he could handle it,” Bob Lilley said of Albert Dikwa making his debut with the Hounds. “He got a goal, he had some other good chances, and I think he has an understanding of how to get behind the back line.”

“I personally do a lot of research to see where guys usually go on penalty kicks,” Hounds goalkeeper Danny Vitiello said of making a penalty kick save during a wild early 20 minute period when three penalty kicks were awarded. “I hadn’t done much on Fawole, but I read it well and was able to make the save.”

“After we saw the first few penalties, we wanted to play a little more conservative because we knew we could get called for a penalty if we weren’t careful,” Hounds defender Thomas Vancaeyezeele said as things eventually quieted down after the first 20 minutes, as they cruised to the 3-0 win.

September 3: Hounds captain Kenardo Forbes out 4 to 8 weeks 

“It’s basically a tear that extends up into his hip.” Bob Lilley, the Hounds’ third-year bench boss said that, after an MRI, the team’s medical staff estimates Forbes will be out 4-8 weeks, with the possibility that he returns to training by the end of September.

“We have a team and injuries happen all the time,” Lilley said. “It’s up to us to get the wins we need and he’ll do what he needs to do on his end to help us make a deep run at playoff time.”

“We’ve got to continue to grow,” Lilley said. “Some guys are going to have to step up, and they have. They’ve showed it in games and in training you see it. (Forbes) is a big piece, but we have a lot of good players.”

“It’s a big challenge, but I also think we have a good team,” Lilley said. “It’s a cliché, next man up. There are ways we can shift players around. … We have ideas and we have personnel that can help us in those areas.”

September 4: High School teams prepare for anything-but-ordinary Fall season 

“It’s been daunting task, but our kids have answered the bell. There’s been a lot of noise, but we’ve been focused on the day-to-day things and getting the boys ready. We’ve done what we always do, focusing on getting better, as players and as a team,” Rob Eldridge, Head Coach, South Fayette boys soccer coach said.

“It could be a survival of the fittest. (Positive tests) could wipe out the season for some teams.  We could potentially be bundling up games at the end of the season. There’s still a lot of factors in play with COVID-19. I don’t like to have to prepare for the worst, but we have it in the back of our minds.” Eldridge added.

“It’s always a concern when you’re losing officials, but I don’t think it’s to the point where it’s a big concern,” WPIAL Assistant Director Vince Sortino told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when addressing concerns about potential officials shortage. “The point is that everyone is working much closer communication-wise. Communication is the most important part of this process.”

“The number of officials has been down across the state the past couple years,” Sortino said. “Then this is the year for renewal of clearances for a lot of officials and some of them have chosen not to go through that again. They’re not going through the hassle. On top of that, the COVID hit. We were already lacking officials and now two more things became a reality.”

September 9: Following COVID-19 protocols, Pitt women’s soccer continue to aim higher under Randy Waldrum’s direction 

“I think, to be honest with you, we’ve seen our staff and players go through a lot of different emotions since this started in March,” Third-year Pitt women’s head coach Randy Waldrum said. “We have these moments where it’s a really big high, we think we’re going to get a season in and then you see teams dropping, and you start worrying. It’s been a big rollercoaster for all of us.”

“That took a lot of pressure off the player,” Waldrum added regarding the NCAA declaring an extra year of eligibility for athletes.

“As we were getting down to looking at all these conferences dropping out, and our schedule starting to shrink — instead of getting 20 games, then going down to 15, then down to 10 and eight, whatever the final number is — I think players were having a hard time to make individual decisions for themselves and saying, ‘Do I play and waste a year of eligibility for only eight or 10 games, or do I sit a year.'”

“It would be easy for a young team to get distracted with all of this,” said a confident Waldrum in his team “They’re so eager to play. They didn’t get a spring season in. They realize how much they miss it… I don’t think anyone else has been close to opting out of playing. I think they’re all just ready to go.”

“It’s important to improve in conference like we did,” Waldrum said. “Winning two last year and tying two more, and I think we had five overtime games, that was a big step for us in the ACC. I think it’s important that we build on our wins in the ACC, but also help our team’s confidence level to win outside of the ACC as well.”

September 10:
In weekly Zoom call, Lilley announces Danny Vitiello will be starting keeper in showdown vs Hartford 

“He’s been pretty solid all four starts. We had liked what he had done the first couple of games. In the Loudoun game I thought he was particularly sharp. He didn’t have a ton to do, but he made some big saves, stopped the penalty kick. He’s getting better dealing with crosses and his kicking’s been pretty good. I think he’s grown a lot since the beginning of the year. We thought, ‘He’s in form right now.’ To give him another opportunity in a big game helps his development. I thought he was good against Red Bull. We’re getting good goaltending. It’s always tricky when you have two guys that are capable. We have to make those decisions. We’re anticipating him starting against Hartford on Saturday.”

Pitt women open season with 4-2 in at Appalachian State 

September 12: Hounds completely outclass Hartford

“When asked about why the Riverhounds SC have played so well against it’s next closest competitors in USL Championship’s Eastern Conference Group F in two matches this season, the team’s current field captain, Ryan James gave a few reasons, but ultimately pointed to the fact that they were ready for moment,” John Krysinsky wrote in his post-game analysis.

“We want to be a top team, period,” Pittsburgh’s Head Coach Bob Lilley said after the match. “We’ve grown a lot. We’re 13 games in, and I am impressed with what we’ve done to get to this point. We’re in, no doubt in a good place as a team right now, but there’s no doubt on Monday (in training), there’ll be plenty of reminders that there’s plenty of work to do.”

“I am happy we’re forcing teams into making mistakes that led to goals. I actually thought we weren’t really dangerous with our runs into the box. We were sloppy a little bit in those final moments. But, we created goals in play, created goals off restarts and we created goals off of pressure. We’ve done well, and everyone’s chipping in,” Lilley added.

September 13: Pitt women open season with two-game sweep at Appalachian State 

“I’m extremely proud of today’s performance for our young team,” said Pitt head coach Randy Waldrum. “We challenged them to come in today with a very professional attitude after winning 4-0 Thursday. We let them know this is the way we have to grow and learn to win both at home and on the road. They did that very well today. Happy to see some players get their first career goals for Pitt during this road trip, and defensively we played well this weekend. So lots of positives and back to work on some of the areas that we need to improve on.”

September 14:  High School Soccer returns 

“It actually felt normal. There are a lot of protocols we have to follow, but it felt normal especially when they took the field” Jordan Wiegand, Pine-Richland’s boys soccer head coach said. “Even though the outside world, many things aren’t back to normal, it was an escape. That’s the one thing we can get from this season. It’s important for these kids to have that release.”

“Every single moment of every single game, you are looking to build character,” Wiegand added when addressing his team’s rallying from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 2-2 draw in the opener for both teams and the first of numerous featured Pittsburgh Soccer Now games.

“We’re going to blink, and the season will be over,” Wiegand added on the season’s later-than-usual start and anticipated mad dash through a six-week schedule.

“It seemed like an eternity to get to this point.

September 15:  Duquesne’s women’s coach Al Alvine opens up about COVID-19, what lies ahead

“You kind of realize that we get so wrapped up in the sports side of it, getting results and it really puts things into perspective as to what is really important. Obviously when that happens, your immediate thoughts go to doing whatever we can to support our players and their families. Obviously they were shifting to a completely different way of learning with remote classes. They did a great job and had the best GPA of any team in the school in the spring, so a lot of credit goes to our kids for being able to adapt to different challenges and scenarios,” Al Alvine, Duquesne women’s coach told PSN’s Zac Weiss in a one-on-one interview.

“It’s a challenge, we are training a different way than we’re used to. There’s no contact allowed. We are not in a different phase, but we got permission to alter the phase that we’re in. We’re still not allowed to have contact, so we can’t play soccer traditionally. It is a lot of technical work and the kids are in the gym a couple of days a week. We’ve had to change what we normally do on the training ground. The way that the pods have worked out is pretty evenly matched in terms of competitiveness and ability. Where we are at now is two pods instead of three. All of the rules still apply with what we can and cannot do but all of our off-campus kids are in one pod and all of our kids that live on campus are in another pod. It kind of works out and making sure the pods are separate and we make sure they keep their distance as much as possible. We are stretching and cooling down as well and are always wearing masks which is probably the hardest thing for everyone to get used to. Everybody in the athletic department has done a great job, especially with all of the protocols put into place and directives from the department, university and state as well.”

September 17:
WVU’s Izzo-Brown happy to focus on soccer after season begins 

“It was so incredibly awesome for me to just focus on soccer for the first 45 minutes and then the next 45 minutes,” Izzo-Brown said. “I can’t even believe how much I’ve missed that,” Nikki Izzo-Brown said has her Mountaineers traveled to Ames, Iowa for their season-opener against Iowa State. WVU won the match 2-0.

“There’s so many things that you’re worried about this year and the uncertainty of COVID and just trying to keep these kids safe,” Izzo-Brown explained. “I found my mind just worrying about the win and worrying about coaching and it was a wonderful worry.”

Pitt women win ACC opener vs Syracuse  

“I think we felt like at halftime if we kept pressing like we did, getting numbers in the box, that something would eventually break our way” said head coach Randy Waldrum. “It was great to see Emily Yaple get her first college goal, which was huge for us because I felt like if we got one on the board more would follow. Fortunately we got the second one later on and kind of finished the game out comfortably.”

September 19: Hounds survive dogfight with Loudoun, Dikwa scores lone goal 

“It was a difficult game,”  Bob Lilley said to PSN’s Matt Gajtka, who make the trip to Virginia to cover the match for PSN. “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.”

“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.”

September 20: Pitt women remain unbeaten, beat Navy in OT 

“Extremely proud of our team today,” said Pitt head coach Randy Waldrum. “To watch the growth of these players is a really a fun thing to see.  I thought defensively we were very good today. Athalie Palomo, Hailey Davidson, Kate McKay and Mackenzie Edwards were very solid. Katherine Robinson was very confident in the goal as well. I thought we were a bit timid early on, and it took a while for our attack to get going. However in the second half we were much better as well as the first part of overtime.  Navy is a very good team, NCAA tournament experienced and older than our young team, so I’m very proud of the performance. I thought Leah Pais was really good in her holdup play today and did a great job on drawing the penalty kick. Amanda West was huge in stepping up under pressure to win it for us!”

September 21: Franklin Regional outlast Plum in PSN’s Game of the Week

“We played with them. We just couldn’t finish,” Plum head coach Raf Kolankowski lamented to PSN’s John Krysinsky afterward.

“They had control of the game early, almost from the first kick, which we kind of flubbed. They went right at us, and that goal right after halftime gave them a lift, for sure,” Franklin Regional’s boys soccer coach Rand Hudson said. “That always gives you an energy boost, for those next 10-15 minutes. That next goal–the one we picked up from Anthony (DiFalco)–was going to be huge. It was a deflator for them, and one that really lifted us.”

(Editor’s Note: a week later, Plum would return the favor to defeat Franklin Regional to end its impressive regular season win streak at 45 games in three seasons) 

September 22: Pitt men begin season ranked 4th in United Soccer Coaches poll; women ranked for first time in history 

“I’m proud of the growth of the team,” Randy Waldrum said as his team remained unbeaten in the early portion of the season.

“It’s like the scenario where the dog ate three or four pieces of the puzzle,” men’s coach Jay Vidovich said in preseason interview with PSN’s John Krysinsky. “But the excitement is there that we’re back on the field. We’re really excited about our new players. Orienting them to the University and our style of play. It’s a very fluid environment. All we can do is handle the things we can control. ”

“We have a core of individuals coming back, who have done a great job of figuring out where we want to go with our culture,” Vidovich explained. “I am so proud of what we’ve done. The program hadn’t had a win in ACC play. But they’ve not only win, but the quality of the game that they put on the pitch. The way they’ve competed in the best in the country. We’re embracing the challenge. We’re trying to put our stamp on the game. We’re trying to help soccer in Pittsburgh. Give Pittsburgh a program to be proud of.”

September 24: Steevan Dos Santos opens up with PSN’s Matt Gajtka 

“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t know what to expect,” Riverhounds SC forward Steevan Dos Santos said to PSN’s Matt Gajtka in a one-on-one interview. “Last year, we were playing most every game to sold out crowds. Now, it’s different, especially when you need that extra energy from the fans. With all of this going on, we know we’re not going to have the fans like we did before.”

“It’s good for your team when all of your strikers are scoring goals,” Dos Santos said. “When you play for Bob (Lilley), the expectations are high. We expect to make the playoffs. We expect to win the league, like we did (in Rochester) in 2015.”

September 26 
Pitt opens season with ‘non-conference’ win vs Notre Dame 

“Panthers took advantage of an own goal from Notre Dame and freshman Bertin Jacquesson extended No. 4 Pitt’s lead with a late second half goal as the Panthers defeated No. 5 Notre Dame, 3-1, Saturday night at Alumni Soccer Stadium,” PSN’s John Krysinsky reported.

Only loss of September to Hartford proves to be costly for Hounds

“Despite generally manhandling all opponents this year, it turns out that the Riverhounds are not, in fact, invincible,” Mark Goodman shared in his post-game report. “Pittsburgh had the majority of possession all match and outshot Hartford 13 to 3, and even played up a man for the final 29 minutes of the match, but it was Hartford Athletic who go home with all three points and a 1-0 victory.”

“Our speed of play was slow tonight. I don’t think we were sharp enough, and we were far too tentative when we had chances.” Hounds coach Bob Lilley said, citing concerns that the team’s set pieces that lacked creativity or effort. “Our guys were static in the box.”

“I don’t think its a matter of peaking at any given time. I think it’s just game by game.” Midfielder Robbie Mertz shared in his postgame comments and also expressed that the loss could help focus the team going forward. “Sometimes a loss can help a team, in terms of their mentality.”

“Suddenly, Hartford is in the driver’s seat in Group F standings,’ PSN’s Matt Gajtka reported in his postgame report on Pittsburgh Sports Live. “Even with a man advantage the Hounds didn’t have enough in the attacking third. Sometimes that’s how soccer goes, and it’s not fair. The Hounds are now in the interesting position of being the first USL Championship team to clinch a playoff spot, but now may have to start the playoffs on the road.”

“It’s tough to play so well in the back-end of the season, and give it all away with a sloppy performance,” LIlley added.

September 27:  Pitt women remain unbeaten after weekend sweep at The Citadel

“We had a much better performance today than on Thursday,” said Pitt head coach Randy Waldrum. “From the beginning, our intensity and pressure was much better. I was proud of how we handled the Citadel with only three shots and none on goal, and our midfield in particular was good today. Anna Bout, Chloe Minas, Emily Yaple and Dixon Veltri really helped us set play and win things back defensively. We didn’t do that on Thursday. In particular, Bout was really good today. West continues to create chances and score goals, but Leah Pais and Anna Rico were good today as well. Our staff is really pleased with the growth of this team, and we realize there is still much to do.”

September 30:  Bob Lilley Zoom press conference as Hounds prepare for final regular season match after loss to Hartford 

“I was not pleased right after the game, so I got on them pretty good right after the game. We got back together Monday in terms of training. I think they trained pretty well, which was nice to see. I think we all knew that we gave something back. We desperately didn’t want to open the door for them (Hartford),” Bob Lilley said. “There’s a recognition that we have important games coming up. There’s a desire to make things right. I thought they might’ve had a bit more of a hangover, but I think they’ve come through it a little bit pissed off, if you will, but we have more games to play. They’re a better team than they showed the other night. I’m happy to see them putting it behind them. It might mean a few more road games in the playoffs, but we have to do the job and win games. We have to know we’re good enough to beat anyone. We’re able to win anywhere we play.”

“I still can’t believe the playoffs are right around the corner. I think the guys deserve a lot of credit for pulling it together. Without two big wins against Hartford, we wouldn’t have even been in this position, but that’s why that game the other night was frustrating, because we had it in our hands. But I think the team’s grown. They responded to a lot of things early in the season. We told them they’d have to improve as much as they can, and every team has had struggles at some point this season. I look at (Hartford last week) as a one-off game. I don’t think it’s something that should set us back. It’s on how we respond. Know that that’s our focus this week. Let’s take care of Philly and then it’s about getting ready for that (first playoff) game.”

October 1
Pitt women lose first match of 2020, in OT to No. 14 Virginia 

“Tonight we see where we have to improve,” said Pitt head coach Randy Waldrum. “This Virginia team is a perennial top-eight team every year, and you can see why. They are skillful, athletic and very dynamic! I felt very proud of our defensive shape and organization tonight as our team battled very hard to take this game to overtime. I was disappointed offensively as I felt we were not confident in this area. Katherine Robinson was outstanding in goal tonight! Player of the game for us for sure. Chantelle Parker had her best game to date, so it’s good to get her going.  These are the games we learn from, and we’ll do so with this one. We’ve improved tremendously from the last time we were here losing 7-0 in 2018. I’m proud of the effort!”

“It’s been a wacky year” 

“Every game in our section’s been close,” Canon-McMillan boys head coach, Larry Fingers, said after his team’s wild 4-4- draw against WPIAL Class 4A Section 2 rivals Upper St. Clair “It’s been a wacky year. Lots of goals scored on set-pieces and not in the run of play. We’ve prepared our players to keep playing through the final week of the season, and hopefully they’ll be playing their best come playoff time.”

October 2: Everything going Hartford’s way

“To add salt to the Hounds’ wound, in Hartford’s ‘game at hand while trailing Pittsburgh by two points’ midweek clash at Phily Union on Wednesday, they were knotted up 2-2 going into the 90th minute,” wrote John Krysinsky in his Hounds Notebook.

“Then this happened.”

“Soccer can be strange, strange game sometimes. And in a strange year, weird things are bound to happen. Despite these sudden bad bounces, the Hounds still have to pick themselves up, and move on,” Krysinsky added.

“We’ve given up one goal, in eight games,” Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said in his weekly press conference on Wednesday.

“It was a disappointing loss (to Hartford on Saturday). I think we were the better team, but having said that I don’t think we were particularly great or as sharp as we would’ve liked to have been. We played at a mediocre level on the night, but still could’ve won that game if we had a little more urgency. It’s disappointing, but looking at the big picture, we’ve grown a lot. We’ve bounced back from some tough spots and we’ll have to do it again. We have to get back to scoring some goals and continue to defend well. Hopefully we’ll be able to build momentum going into the playoffs.”

October 4: 
Pitt women lose second straight on the road to Va. Tech 

“Really disappointed because we were the better team today,” said Pitt head coach Randy Waldrum. “Two mistakes and you lose in this league. If you don’t finish your chances, you lose in this league. We should have had a lead going into halftime. Unfortunately all of this is a part of the process.”

Hounds salvage 2-1 win vs Phily Union 2 

“Whew. Pittsburgh soccer fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Albert Dikwa is the Hounds’ hero,” PSN’s Jordan Smith shared in his postgame summary.

“A late header in stoppage time from a Kenardo Forbes corner kick helped the Riverhounds temporarily take the lead in Group F in the final weekend of the regular season.

“We played better than the score. We were only up 1-0 then” Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said of his team’s first half performance.

“It was scary. I knew only being up by one that they could get one and tie it. Much respect and credit to Philadelphia. They played hard. Good to have a game like that since a lot of playoff games are close towards the end. Just wish there was a crowd here to respond.”

October 5:
Hartford wins finale; Hounds begin 2020 playoffs on road in Louisville 

“The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC was separated from burgeoning rival Louisville City FC by the league’s one-year-only COVID-19 realignment, but the pandemic couldn’t keep them apart when it counts,” Matt Gajtka summarized, after Hartford Athletic wrapped a 5-0-1 closing kick to edge the Hounds for the top spot in Group F with a win vs NY Red Bulls II,

“It might mean a few more road games in the playoffs, but we have to do the job and win games,” Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said

“We have to know we’re good enough to beat anyone. We’re able to win anywhere we play.”

Waldrum to also lead Nigerian women’s national team 

Pitt Women’s Coach Randy Waldrum to Also Lead Nigerian National Team | Pittsburgh Soccer Now

“I’m very excited to be appointed to coach the Super Falcons,” Waldrum said in a statement provided by a Pitt spokesperson. “I can’t wait to help them qualify for the World Cup. Also, I’d like to thank Heather Lyke for allowing me to do this and understanding the benefit for the Pitt women’s soccer program.”

October 6:  Pitt men open ACC play with OT win on road vs Syracuse 

“It was a very good result on the road against a very difficult opponent in Syracuse,” said Pitt men’s soccer head coach Jay Vidovich.

“Happy we were able to come back once again and it was a good result. Big team effort there at the end as Luis [Lara] came in at the end to help us out as we were fatiguing late, but overall great team win.”

“I am very happy because we deserved this win,” Bertin Jacquesson, a freshman from France who scored the game-winning goal in OT, said. “Overall we played a great team game and am proud to score the final goal for us.”

“Arturo [Ordoñez] made a really good decision on the ball to give it back to Bertin and Bertin did a fantastic job of finishing,” Vidovich added. “Just a good heads up play from both of those guys.”

October 7: 
Danny Vitiello wins USL Golden Glove 

“He’s been good. I think he’s grown a lot. He’s been kind of emerging,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds Head Coach, said.

“He’s been able to be consistent the back end of the season. He’s earned his way into that top spot. Made a couple of big saves and a couple of penalty kicks. This is another opportunity for him to grow. I’ve made it clear all year that this group of players have pushed each other, and that’s allowed Danny to thrive in our system. Hopefully this isn’t the game where he has to stand on his head. Hopefully we’re doing the things that are necessary, but I’m expecting he’ll have to make a few big saves for us to win. Hopefully we’re making their keeper work harder than they make ours work.”

“We’ll have two heavyweights slugging it out”  

“We’ve grown a lot during the year. We’re a different team now than when we played Louisville in our first game, and they are as well. It’s just us getting the tactics right and executing. It’ll be a good game,” Lilley added.

“I think we’ll have two heavyweights slugging it out. I just think we need to be positive. We dug a little bit of a hole there the first time. They’ll be sharper and not gift us some of the chances we had earlier in the year. We’re better in a lot of the phases of the game right now. We just have to bring the right approach to the game.”

“Pittsburgh is the other team in the Eastern Conference that nobody wants to play,” LouCity Head Coach John Hackworth told the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jonathan Saxon. “You can say if teams were going to try and avoid a first-round matchup against Louisville or Pittsburgh, that would be their choice. Now we have the first-round game between potentially the two best teams here.”

“It’ll be an interesting game,” said Hackworth. “We’re going to catch one of the best teams in the first round. We know they’re going to come here and do something we’ve probably never seen before. It’ll be tight, extremely hard (and) it’s going to go down to the last whistle.”

October 10: Pitt men beat Va. Tech

“I thought Virginia Tech was great and they controlled too much of the game for my liking,” said Head Coach Jay Vidovich. “However, our actions to goal were class. The way we produced our goals was that of a big time team. Really excited we got the win, especially against a team like Virginia Tech. They asked a lot of questions of us tonight.”

October 11:  Hounds come up short at Louisville with season-ending first-round playoff loss 

“This will not be a soccer game. This will be a Greek battle poem; the climaxing scene in an epic film; an astounding work of heartbreak, or genius, or possibly both,” Mark Goodman composed in his game preview titled “Louisville-Pittsburgh will be the best game of the playoffs”.

“Despite being outplayed throughout the first half, Pittsburgh was only trailing by a goal and could still swing the momentum of the match with one special moment,” PSN’s John Krysinsky depicted at the start of his postgame analysis.

“The Hounds took a confident and somewhat daring approach tactically,” Krysinsky added. “Unfortunately for the Hounds and Pittsburgh soccer fans, initiative could only take them so far in this game and in this wacky season.”

“I’m impressed with the group and how they grew this year,” Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said over the phone from Lynn Family Stadium. “It was a group that deserved more, but that’s part of the game.

“We lost so there’s no consolation in it, but we played with composure and poise.”

“In terms of attitude to play and go at them, we managed the 90 minutes well,” Lilley said. “You can see their danger on the counter, but … we had some good moments to get the equalizer. If we did that, we were in a good spot to win the game.”

“I wanted us to play instead of banging long balls,” he said.

“We played through lines, got behind and created some moments. There were some good balls into the box that didn’t connect and maybe we forced some stuff down the middle, but I think we did enough to warrant at least a goal.”

“They played like a top-tier team,” he said. “I don’t think the guys were tentative. They’ve grown and that will help us into next year.”

In Part 3 of this three-part series, we’ll follow Pitt men’s soccer team’s rise to becoming the top-ranked team in the nation and journey to its first-ever ACC Championship appearance along with the ups and downs plus all of the excitement of the 2020 WPIAL and PIAA soccer playoffs and championship.  

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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