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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

FINAL: Riverhounds SC 3, Hartford Athletic 1

FINAL: Riverhounds SC 3, Hartford Athletic 1

USL Championship Atlantic Division

FINAL: Riverhounds SC: 3, Hartford Athletic 1

By Alex Lehmbeck for Pittsburgh Soccer Now 

The only thing that matters at the end of a match is the total on the scoreboard.

That may seem obvious, but it appeared like the undesirable reality for most of the Riverhounds’ game on Saturday. Time and time again, Pittsburgh dominated possession to produce many offensive opportunities. But time and time again, those chances were just that: chances.

Eventually, the Hounds would overcome an early deficit and surge past Hartford with a trio of second half goals to net a 3-1 victory on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium.

Alex Dixon scored twice, while Louis Perez scored his second of the season as the Hounds pulled away with two goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation.

With the win, Pittsburgh (9-4-3, 30 points) jumps into sole possession of first place in the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division at the halfway mark of the season.

How It Happened

Despite outshooting the Athletic 9-4 in the first half, the Riverhounds went into the locker room trailing 1-0. Midfielder Kenardo Forbes’ tenacity got Pittsburgh many of those scoring windows, but Hartford goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell dispatched each Riverhounds that didn’t sail over the crossbar or outside the post.

The ball spent nearly 70% of the first half in the Riverhounds’ attacking end, but the Athletic only needed one chance to capitalize. Derek Dodson ripped a left-footed bullet from outside of the box that squeaked past Riverhounds goalkeeper Danny Vitiello’s outstretched hands. The 26th minute score put Hartford up 1-0 in front of a season-high Riverhounds crowd.

The Athletic nearly took a two-goal lead into the half, as Vitiello stopped a Hartford attack from point-blank range. Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley said his team was extremely lucky to escape the stretch trailing by one.

“We dodged a bullet there,” Lilley said. “I can only imagine trying to come back by two and how unproductive the locker room would’ve been if we had been down 2-0 at half. I don’t know if there would’ve been much instruction going on.”

With the Hartford defense holding strong, it took a boost from a former Athletic player to turn the game around. Riverhounds forward Alex Dixon, who earned Hartford’s “Offensive Player of The Year” award last season, found the net against his previous squad in the 49th minute. The goal tied the match at 1, but Dixon’s stellar night hadn’t finished yet.

As the clock wound down and Pittsburgh continued to apply pressure, it looked like the Riverhounds may only procure a draw from their complete performance. But Dixon forced a counterattack in the 83rd minute, sniping one into the top left corner of the net to give his squad its first lead of the night. His teammates mobbed him in celebration, but after the match Dixon downplayed the significance of his performance against a previous club.

“I treat every game as the same,” he said. “I was just thankful that I was able to get two goals and help the team get three points. That’s the most important thing at the end of the day.”

Dixon later conceded that scoring on his former team “felt good.”

Riverhounds midfielder Louis Perez added one more goal just a few minutes later, putting away a loose ball rolling inside the penalty box to ice the match. It resembled the aggressive mentality that Lilley wanted his team to employ the entire night.

“What a great goal for Louis, not to smash it over the bar,” he said. “He just kind of hit the misdirection, off-speed. He was composed. It was great to see him get that clinching goal at the end.”

Pittsburgh now has a shortened week of rest before traveling to Charleston for its first matchup of the season with the Battery on Friday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ at 7:30pm, with the Riverhounds riding a three-match win streak.

Gameday Updates 

FINAL: Pittsburgh 3, Hartford 1 Riverhounds improve to 9-4-3 on the season, with a trip to Charleston up next

88′ – Another one! Louis Perez puts the icing on the cake by finishing the loose ball from close range l. 3-1 Pittsburgh

83′ – Dixon strikes again! He stings one into the top left of the net and the Riverhounds take a late 2-1 lead!

77′ – Tommy Williamson takes it, but his low bullet misses just right of the goal

76′ – Free kick coming up just outside of the box for Pittsburgh

72′ – Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Riverhounds chance flies over the crossbar. This time from the head of Anthony Velarde

57′ – Dikwa nearly puts Pittsburgh in front. Over the crossbar with that one

 

49′- Riverhounds tie it up! Alex Dixon puts away the Mekeil Williams’ cross. 1-1

HALFTIME – Pittsburgh 0, Hartford 1

42′ – Albert Dikwa’s shot from close range thwarted again by Caldwell. Score remains 1-0.

33′ – What a chance for the Riverhounds! Caldwell’s diving save fends off the corner kick header, followed by another stop on the rebound.

27′ – Hartford finds the net first! Derek Dodson’s left-footed strike puts the Athletic up 1-0

24′ – Forbes lofts one in for a high-arcing Russell Cicerone header. Athletic GK Jeff Caldwell catches the attempt near the crossbar.

22′ – Riverhounds corner kick sails through the box. No shots on goal from either team yet, but Pittsburgh has dominated possession so far

14′ – A Forbes cross is safely dealt with by Hartford defender

9′ – Riverhounds find the first real scoring opportunity. A crafty pass to Kenardo Forbes in the box is just out of reach.

Lineup for the Riverhounds:

Lineup for the Athletic:

Preview 

The first time the two teams met was just the second match of the year for the Hounds (8-4-3), who nearly took all three points but had to settle for a 1-1 draw. Russell Cicerone gave the Hounds the lead in the earlier road game at Dillon Stadium, but Luka Prpa headed in a free kick for Hartford (7-3-2) in stoppage time after the Hounds were reduced to 10 men by the sending off of Kenardo Forbes.

Historically, the series has leaned Pittsburgh’s way at 4-1-1, with the Hounds winning the first four meetings after Hartford joined the league in 2019. But Hartford was able to poach its first triumph in the series with a 1-0 win at Highmark Stadium in the penultimate match of 2020, which eventually gave Hartford the division crown over the Hounds.

The Hounds are riding a three match home win streak and have a mostly clean bill of health, with only defender Jordan Dover (questionable – lower body) and forward Josh Gatt (out – knee) on the injury report.

Cicerone, who has scored in the past two matches, has moved into the top five goal scorers in the USL Championship with his team-leading seven.

Hartford has the Championship assists leader in Danny Barrera, who has set up seven goals and also shares the team lead by scoring four of his own.

While the match shapes up to be important for playoff positioning, nothing will be settled this early in the season. The two teams meet twice more: August 28 in Hartford and in the season finale, Oct. 30 in Pittsburgh.

PSN’s Riverhounds SC Coverage 

Hounds Notebook: Week 15

 

Analysis & Player Grades: Sloppy second half leads to disappointing draw at Hartford

Preview: Hounds get Hartford Athletic for season’s second match

Pittsburgh Division I College Soccer Schedule (Spring 2021)

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