Every point is critical as the season comes down the wire and postseason positioning is at stake for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
In its fourth and final meeting with The Miami FC, a nemesis all season long for the Hounds, the match on Saturday night took a different shape than the previous, more-wide open, end-to-end contests between the two sides.
The second contest played between the two playoff-bound teams at Ricardo Silva Stadium in Miami in the last two weeks, ended in a nil-nil draw, with both teams settling for a single point.
If not for a controversial ruling by the officials, the Hounds would have likely walked away with three points.
This leaves the Hounds (52 points) and Miami (49 points) behind the Charlotte Independence in the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division standings. Charlotte jumped up to 52 points after beating Charleston and puts them ahead of Pittsburgh on tie-breaker scenario.
The Hounds created more chances in the match, with 13 shots (five on frame), but it was an impressive defensive effort. The hosts could only muster five total shots, with one on frame as the Riverhounds SC used a four-man backline, reinforced by a strong defensive midfield allignment that included support and solid work from Danny Griffin, Todd Wharton and Alex Dixon.
“I think we played a pretty good game. We made chances, and I think we should have had four or five more,” Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley said. “I think we could have pressed more, been more assertive getting forward, but that said, we defended well, we recovered well and played well in our own half keeping them in front of us.”
In fact, this may be hard to believe for so many Pittsburgh soccer fans who have become accustomed this team’s defensive prowess under the direction of veteran Head Coach Bob Lilley in the past four seasons, but this was the first time this season (after 30 games!) that they posted back-to-back shutouts.
“It was a different type of game than the last one. They slowed it down more than us and tried to play through our lines more than over the top. Look, I don’t know what the stats are, but I’m pretty sure we created more dangerous chances. The was maybe the best defensive game we’ve played. There were moments when they were running at our back line, and we stayed with them, we covered well, we picked up the runners and did the right things.”
This tense battle also wasn’t without controversy, a very bizzare sequence unfolded in the 66th minute that could have turned the tide of the match, and with that, the Atlantic Division playoff race.
The match’s controversy came when after a quick restart, former Robert Morris standout, Miami’s holding midfielder Devon ‘Speedy’ Williams played the ball wide to defender Janos Löbe, who then played it back to goalkeeper Connor Sparrow, who misplayed the ball, allowing an apparent own goal.
What happened next proved to be a bit of a fiasco.
The head official went over to the right side linesman for clarification. After a conference that lasted about three minutes, however, match referee Jonathan Bilinski awarded a corner kick to the Hounds as though the ball was played directly into the Miami goal from the free kick instead of awarding the goal because the ball already had been put into play.
Here’s another look at the replay.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) October 17, 2021
“(The officials) said it was the first pass, but it wasn’t, clearly,” Lilley said. “We’ve seen it, (Miami coach) Paul Dalglish has seen it, and even he said it was a goal. It was a perfectly good goal.”
The call sparked outrage from Riverhounds SC fans and even Team Owner Tuffy Shallenberger on social media.
Beyond a JOKE!!!!
— Tuffy Shallenberger (@Tuffy_Shall) October 17, 2021
Some shambolic refereeing in the Riverhounds match. Completely inexplicable. How does a Miami own goal turn into a Riverhounds corner kick???? #UNLEASH
— Dr. Matthew Brown (@brownamatthew) October 17, 2021
Commentators suggesting either 1) the whistle on the field was to play a corner, but MIA mistakenly played a corner or
2) the free kick was played left to another MIA player, then back, but the ref missed that first pass and ruled the play cannot be a goal.
— Soccer Rabbi (@soccer_rabbi) October 17, 2021
The bottom line here is that the both officials (somehow!) missed the first pass.
There’s been a fair share of criticism around the use of the Video Assistant Referee in numerous leagues and federations. This may have been an instance where it could have helped. Clearly the officials couldn’t pinpoint the moment when the restart occured.
However, when reviewing the replay, it’s clear that the middle official (Bilinski) in this scenario started jogging toward the middle of the field to get back into position, but in doing so, he was also facing the ball and could see Williams begin the restart sequence. In that moment, if he was to object to the restart being too quick — he would have (and should have) blown the whistle to stop play for a proper restart.
Bilinski didn’t do this.
Now, granted, if this goal would have counted, it would have been a very strange way for the game to be decided, but the mistake would have been squarely on Miami — with Sparrow and Löbe being the scapegoats.
This play was also very emblematic with how the match played out.
Miami has been a team that will play quick restarts looking to get forward quickly.
The Hounds were so well-organized in this match that they forced Miami to do something they don’t do often — play it back after a quick restart.
The positive for the Hounds is that as the playoffs approach, they are starting to show signs that they can tighten things up and still play opportunistic soccer. As Lilley pointed out, I am sure they would like to have created more opportunities, but they were the better team and created a lot more chances than Miami on this night.
It would have been a well-earned three road points for the Hounds as they posted an impressive second consecutive shutout, even if it would have included an unconventional goal.
Pittsburgh came out with a four-man back line, including seeing the Jordan Dover back in the outside right back spot, but they were also supported by Danny Griffin and Todd Wharton, who each played deeper in central midfield. Dixon moved around from providing the attacking midfield as the right side option but was also supporting with solid defensive and recovery work throughout the night on the right width.
Not sure if Lilley was still being cautious with Dover (who was out for a few months with an injury), but he brought Dani Rovira, an excellent man-marking defender, at the start of the second half.
Albert Dikwa and Louis Pérez provided fresh legs and more attacking options in the 78th minute, however, that didn’t go so well when Dikwa was injured in stoppage time and hobbled around in the final moments of the match — still remarkably getting one shot attempt on frame.
Danny Vitiello – 7 – only one save recorded but consecutive shutouts for first time this season as he was solid on balls into the box and in command back there.
Jelani Peters – found himself in the left back spot — and handled himself well with the likes of Francios and Martinez. Had team-high five clearances. Won 2 of 5 duels.
Mekeil Williams – 7 – solid performance in the middle for MK. Team high 87% passing accuracy. Won 3 of 4 duels. Two clearances and one interception.
Preston Kilwien 88’ – NR
Shane Wiedt – 6 – Steady in the back — as he has much of the season. Three tackles, one clearance, three interceptions. Won 5 of 10 duels.
Jordan Dover – 6 – thought he was active and efficient in his time on field and was up the right side of the width a few times to provide what Hounds have been missing this season — an outside back that can get forward to create chances. Had three unsuccessful crosses. Three interceptions. Won 1 of 5 duels. 84% passing accuracy (25 passes). Had nice clever ball played behind defense that nearly connected with Cicerone.
Dani Rovira 45’ – 5 – 11 passes (including two unsuccessful crosses), 2 of 6 duels won, 80% passing accuracy.
Danny Griffin – 7 – 60 passes (82% accuracy), five tackles, interception. Won 7 of 9 duels. Solid night for Hounds’ workhorse in the middle.
Todd Wharton – 6.5 – Hounds built possession out of back, using Griffin and Wharton effectively. Wharton won 7 of 8 duels with 82 percent passing.
Louis Pérez 78’ – NR – 7 passes (1 of 2 duels won)
Kenardo Forbes – 7 – league leader in crosses had four successful crosses in seven attempts. Three key passes, Part of a 38-for-49 (77.6 percent) passing day. Also, two blocked shots, won 4 of 9 duels.
Russell Cicerone – 5.5 – would love to have that one chance back when he broke behind the line. Had two (of three) shots on target. Won 6 of 12 duels.
Anthony Velarde 88’ – NR –
Alex Dixon – 6 – made 43 passes. 3 of 5 crosses successful — created two chances. Won just 2 of 10 duels.
Tommy Williamson – 5 – another workmanlike effort from the first-year pro.
Albert Dikwa 78’ – NR – concerns about his groin injury surfaced when he went down and was hobbling on the field for much of stoppage time.