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Off the Rails: Riverhounds rout Atlanta for return to win column

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

FINAL: Riverhounds 4, Atlanta UTD2 0

Box Score: USL Championship Match Center

PITTSBURGH — On Saturday night the Riverhounds stepped back onto their home turf determined that what happened in Vegas would stay in Vegas.

A brace from free agent forward Dane Kelly, assisted twice by captain and fellow countryman Kenardo Forbes, helped the Hounds (5-1-1) bulldoze Atlanta United 2 (2-6-0) by a 4-0 margin at Highmark Stadium.

With his fifth and sixth goals of the year, Kelly moves into a tie for the USL Championship Golden Boot lead with last week’s villain du jour, Danny Trejo of Lights FC.

Forbes’ midfield mate, Luis Argudo, opened his Pittsburgh account in the first half, and Russell Cicerone came off the bench in the second half to bag his second goal of the season, much to the delight of an above-capacity crowd on the South Shore.

A gathering of 5,202 saw the Hounds spoil the homecoming of Upper St. Clair product and former teammate Robbie Mertz, whose mention in pregame introductions elicited an unusually rousing welcome from the Steel Army.

It was the largest professional soccer crowd in Pittsburgh since the USL Championship lifted COVID-19 restrictions, and a new regular-season best in the Highmark Stadium era.

The Jamaican duo had their undivided attention early and often. A hard-charging, but deliberate, Forbes was denied a shot on goal by trailing defender Grant Howard during the second of his two breakaways inside the game’s first eight minutes.

Alex Dixon, flying up and down the right wing all night, earned the first corner kick for the home side, which resulted in multiple shot blocks by United and an incidental injury to Kelly in the middle of the box.

Undaunted, Kelly accepted a gentle cross from Dixon in the 20th minute, and he roofed a 12-yard strike to give the Riverhounds a 1-0 lead they showed little interest in relinquishing after suffering their first loss in league competition a week ago.

“Scoring goals is what I do,” said Kelly. “Once you learn our system, it’s easy, and I have confidence now.”

Argudo fired a deep cross from Dixon off the near post in the 25th, but made no mistake on a similar one-timer four minutes later. Nathan Dossantos, making his third professional start on the back line, set up the former Columbus Crew member for a 2-0 advantage.

“It wasn’t the cleanest hit,” Argudo said of his first attempt, “but I was happy to open my tally, and I hope it’s the first of many. It’s a good feeling. The guys make it fun and exciting to be here.”

Dossantos was kept busy the remainder of the half, as Atlanta tilted the pitch against his goalkeeper, Jahmali Waite. Earning another cap after his valiant Open Cup performance in Cincinnati, Waite only had to deny Mikey Ambrose from 25 yards out to earn his first USL Championship win and clean sheet, the Hounds’ fourth shutout of 2022.

But Waite also needed a tip of the cap from Fate in the 35th minute, when his defense leaked a free kick to Ambrose, who pushed his uncontested shot wide of goal, and the diving keeper.

Going forward, the Hounds would generally solidify their shape, despite conceding an overall 45% to 55% edge in possession.

“I think, after that second goal, we played as if the floodgates were open. But there was still a lot of time,” said head coach Bob Lilley, who has now won seven straight outings against MLS reserve squads. “We’ve done a lot of travel, and had a lot of guys who played a lot of minutes with that travel, and we were sloppy the last 15 minutes of the first half.

“We all knew the third goal would be important, and I thought we defended better in the second half. When we’re defending properly, I feel like it’s just a matter of time before we catch them for that third.

“I just think we were more dialed in after halftime. We managed the game right. We did the little things right.”

The assertive Pittsburgh side put the match out of reach in the 56th minute. Forbes found Kelly with a smooth diagonal ball on his left, and Kelly, stopped by Vicente Reyes at point blank a short while earlier, calmly blasted it past the United keeper from the left side of the box.

Cicerone, getting much needed rest before relieving Argudo in the 62nd minute, finished from practically the same spot in the 76th, taking another Forbes pass in flight and finishing from the left flank.

The teams traded yellow cards in the first half, with the Riverhounds’ Danny Griffin going into the book for a bad challenge at the midfield stripe (25′), and Atlanta’s Aiden McFadden getting tied up with Dani Rovira after Ambrose’s miscue (37′).

The second-place Riverhounds travel to Eastern Conference front-runner Louisville City FC for a 7:30 p.m. match at Lynn Family Stadium next Saturday. A win would put the Hounds above their longtime tormentors in the Eastern table.

Match Day Updates

Look for starting lineups and key in-game updates to be posted here as Matt Popchock will be at Highmark Stadium covering the match for PSN.

For the Hounds: Waite in goal. Williams, Dossantos, Wiedt and Peters in the back. Rovira, Griffin, Forbes and Argudo in the middle. Dixon and Dane Kelly up front. Albert Dikwa, tied with Kelly in goals with four (T-3rd, USL) gets a maintenance day.

For ATL2: Reyes in goal. In front of him: Ambrose, Washington, Orji, Howard, McFadden, Lambe, Firmino, Matheus and Mejia, with former Upper St. Clair and Riverhounds product Robbie Mertz wearing the captain’s armband.

Mertz, predictably, is the lone visiting player to be thunderously applauded by the Steel Army. (Maybe ever?)

1′ Hounds get the first touch. Game on, in front of a magnificent crowd on the South Shore!

5′ Hounds dominating possession early. A long ball to a wide-open Forbes down the middle in the 2nd minute was met with a hip check on the Jamaican, but no whistle.

8′ Now Forbes gets a breakaway, but waited too long to pull the trigger. Howard chases him down and dispossesses him before a clean shot is taken, and Reyes covers.

20′ GOAL RIVERHOUNDS! After two failed corner kicks at either flag, the first of which saw two shot blocks and a minor injury to Kelly, Dixon wins the ball back, and crosses to Kelly, at the same spot where the latter was aggrieved, and Kelly easily finishes top shelf for his 5th of the year. 1-0 to the Hounds.

25′ Oh, so close to a second! After Griffin is shown yellow for a bad challenge beneath the scoreboard, Dixon is flying down the right wing and crosses for Argudo, who puts it off the near post and out of play. At the other end, Waite leaps to snag a deflected ball before it can become dangerous.

29′ GOAL RIVERHOUNDS! Argudo didn’t miss that time! Dossantos did the honors in this instance, finding him deep on the left, and the former Columbus Crew product smashed it behind Reyes. 2-0 to the Hounds, as Argudo gets his 1st in the “other” Black & Yellow.

32′ Waite called into action for the first time, dropping to his knees for an easy save of a distant Ambrose strike. Moments later, a cross from the left for McFadden is put just over the bar. Hounds lucky to keep their 2-goal edge.

35′ If you Google “better lucky than good,” there will be an image of this sequence. Matheus earns a dangerous free kick for Atlanta, which falls to a WIDE open Ambrose, who had been stopped from distance moments earlier. Somehow, some way, Ambrose pushes his shot wide right, and by the grace of the soccer gods, it’s still 2-0 Hounds.

45′ Halftime at Highmark, 2-0 Hounds. After two minutes of stoppage time, and two more minutes of the home team hunkering down to prevent any more good looks at Waite, both squads repair to the locker room with Pittsburgh in command.

46′ The second half begins with Atlanta getting the first touch, and the first corner, from the left flag. But the Hounds, en masse, continue to stand their ground and protect their 2-0 advantage without a shot on target.

56′ GOAL! DANE KELLY IS ALL ABOUT THE BRACE! After his nutmeg in the 52nd went for naught, Forbes finds him all alone ahead of the play. Kelly enters the box from the left, and effortlessly blasts it into the far corner past Reyes. 3-0 to the Hounds, 6th of the year for Kelly.

60′ Subs on the hour mark. For the Hounds: Kelly-Rosales in for Dixon, Borso on for Dane Kelly, Cicerone on for Argudo. For Atlanta: Brennan on for Mejia.

67′ One more sub for Atlanta, as Carleton comes on for Matheus.

70′ Reyes comes all the way out to the top of the defensive third to cut out a ball Forbes made a break on, and it works. Still 3-0 Hounds.

73′ One more sub for the Hounds, as Biasi enters for Dossantos.

76′ GOAL! RIVERHOUNDS! Russell Cicerone, unmarked, gets that pepperoni from virtually the same spot as Kelly. The Steel Army assesses blame. The crowd rejoices. 4-0 to the Hounds on Cicerone’s 2nd of the year, and Forbes’ 2nd assist of the half.

84′ Brennan takes a beating blocking an attempt from Borso head-on. Hounds continuing to play front-footed with the 4-0 bulge.

85′ Griffin, playing on a yellow, is subbed out–a most unusual occurrence. With Griffin not going the full 90, Ybarra comes on in his stead. Bob is out of subs, still holding a 4-0 lead.

90′ (+2′) HOUNDS 4, ATLANTA 0, FULL TIME. A resounding result for the hosts. More to come…

Preview / Key Storylines

The Riverhounds have to try and bounce back from a loss in USL Championship play (or a losing streak counting the extra time cup loss Tuesday to FC Cincinnati), and they will do so against Atlanta United 2 at 7 p.m. tonight at Highmark Stadium.

The good news for the Hounds is they are a perfect 3-0-0 in all competitions on their home turf this season. In fact, the team hasn’t lost at home since Aug. 11 of last season — a string of 11 matches with an 8-0-3 record — and has won 16 of its past 17 matches against MLS reserve sides.

Among each of those streaks is the last meeting between these two teams, a 4-1 Hounds win on Aug. 22, 2021. In that game, Russell Cicerone netted his first career hat trick on his way to a USL Championship Player of the Week honor, spoiling the return to Pittsburgh of Upper St. Clair grad Robbie Mertz and former Pitt defender Bryce Washington.

Washington now occupies a spot on Atlanta’s MLS roster, but Mertz has been the constant in the Atlanta 2 midfield, playing in every match this season the team’s captain. He is the veteran presence in a lineup that includes 20-year-old Jackson Conway, who leads the team with four goals and is already in his fifth season appearing in the USL after debuting with Atlanta as a 16-year-old Academy player.

For the Hounds, injuries are not a concern, but fatigue might be after road matches in Las Vegas and Cincinnati over the past seven days. Cicerone and Alex Dixon both played the full 120 minutes in the cup loss, and Danny Griffin and Arturo Ordóñez played all 210 minutes across the two matches.

On the other hand, the Hounds’ schedule is favorable with nothing but Saturday matches until the start of July, so head coach Bob Lilley will have to make a decision as to whether he rests players or rolls the dice with a potential 300-minute week for some before the players fall into a more comfortable week-to-week routine.

Also at stake — a win would ensure the Hounds remain in second place in the Eastern Conference, which would set up a juicy top-two matchup next weekend when the team goes back on the road to face first-place Louisville City FC, the last undefeated team remaining in the USL Championship.

The weather is expected to be the warmest all season for a Hounds match. Temperatures are forecast to be in the high 70s through the 7 p.m. kickoff, which should be welcome news for what is anticipated to be the largest crowd at Highmark Stadium thus far in 2022.

Recent PSN Riverhounds Coverage

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