CINCINNATI — For 94 minutes, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds played even with a higher-level team, taking MLS squad FC Cincinnati into extra time at TQL Stadium on Tuesday.
In the extra period, the home squad’s superior depth came through, as Cincinnati scored twice in the extra 30 minutes to take a 2-0 victory and advance to the round of 32 in the 2022 US Open Cup.
A penalty against Riverhounds goalkeeper Jahmali Waite in the 94th minute proved crucial.
Playing in his second start and appearance with the team after signing out of UConn this spring, Waite played a stellar match, turning aside several Cincinnati scoring chances throughout, but in the extra period a rare error by the young keeper was costly.
Alvaro Barreal got free to Waite’s right early in the extra period, but his touched pushed the ball far ahead of him. Waite dove, clipping Barreal and earning the foul.
Barreal took the penalty kick, and was true, scoring to the right of Waite in the upper corner to give Cincinnati the lead.
Minutes later, a diagonal ball came in front of Waite and both a Pittsburgh defender and Cincinnati attacker converged on it. The players collided, the referee allowed the play to proceed, and the ball fell right to a wide-open Barreal, who beat Waite low to the far side to give Cincinnati a two-score lead.
It was a tough way for Waite to suffer his first professional loss, after he made five saves in the second half to give the Riverhounds to extra time against an upper-level squad.
“I think I made the right call to go (on the penalty,)” Waite said. “I hesitated a bit. Should have a been a bit higher. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”
That alone shouldn’t take away from the strong defensive performance Waite and the Hounds back line put forth, especially in the second period, when Cincinnati ratcheted up the offensive pressure.
In the 50th minute, Allan Cruz Leal hit the post and Waite had to make a point-blank save on Nicholas Markanich. In the 57th minute, Waite dove to his left to stop a one-time chance after a crossed free kick. In the 83rd minute, Waite survived a rash of chances, the last of which was cleared off the line by a header from Arturo Ordonez.
“They were going through a good phase, they were on us a little bit,” Waite said. “We just had to fight, dig deep and hold off the pressure.”
The Riverhounds were able to do that, and taking an MLS squad into extra time, while putting up a strong possession fight and not just conceding and playing defense, is a good sign for where the team’s game is right now.
“I think we had pretty good moments with the ball and pretty good moments defending in the first half,” Ordonez said. “Obviously, in the second half, we blocked and were making saves. I think we have to take that into our league and keep going as a team. That’s the most important thing.”
But if the Riverhounds were going to pull off an upset on Tuesday, they probably needed to convert on some of their scoring chances early in the game. Russell Cicerone and Daniel Griffin had chances snuffed out by the Cincinnati keeper. Four first-half corners did not result in a shot on goal, with a handball foul and Daniel Rovira sending a shot high into the stands the results of the most dangerous crosses.
“We did a really good job in the first half possessing the ball and creating chances,” Ordonez said. “That’s the difference sometimes between winning a game or losing it. You have to put those in and we didn’t do it.”
As the scoreless tie dragged on, both teams went to their benches. The difference was that Cincinnati’s bench contained several MLS starters.
“They have some difference makers,” assistant coach Dan Visser said, specifically highlighting midfielder Lucaino Acosta.
The two plays where goals were scored contained at least mildly controversial officiating, between the penalty and no-call on the collision that wiped out Dixon.
But in the final tally, Cincinnati had all of the most dangerous scoring chances, and it’s hard to win under those circumstances.
“There were some of those moments where its messy in and around the box, but I think we handle some of those opportunities well and obviously Jahmali made a couple good saves,” Visser said. “But if you give a team enough chances, it’s difficult to be completely mistake free when they’re running at you and picking up the ball in some dangerous moments.”
The Hounds will now transition back into league play on Saturday at home against Atlanta. If nothing else, the team was able to wipe away an unpleasant performance last week at Las Vegas with a result they can be proud of, even if it falls in the loss column.
“We were disappointed with the performance in Las Vegas,” Visser said. “Tonight, I think we’re happy with the performance.”
The Open Cup run was also a key opportunity for head coach Bob Lilley to get some minutes for Waite, stuck on the depth chart behind starter Kevin Silva and Chase Vosvick. He responded, conceding just the two goals in 210 minutes of action.
“Personally, this is a big game,” Waite said. “For me, in my rookie year, getting a chance to showcase myself and help the team as much as I can. It’s definitely a big moment for me.”
As the team turns back into league play, all Waite can do is hope that he did enough his limited chances to prove he deserves a bigger opportunity.
“It’s tough, but you’ve got to keep working hard, keep staying patient and when the coach calls your name to go in, you’ve got to help the team the best you can.”