LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the past five years, Louisville City has been the gold standard in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference. On Saturday night, the Riverhounds got their chance to test themselves against the conference leaders — and learned the hard way that they’ve still got some distance to cover.
One week before the running of Louisville’s famous Kentucky Derby, Louisville City proved to be several furlongs ahead of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, taking control of the match in the opening 20 minutes and never letting the Riverhounds get comfortable. Wilson Harris finished off a cross from Enoch Mushagalusha in the 20th minute to put LouCity ahead, and Harris returned the favor in setting up Mushagalusha in the 38th, as the hosts retained first place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 win over the Riverhounds on Saturday night at Lynn Family Stadium.
“Louisville was really good right out of the gate and got on top of us,” Riverhounds coach Bob Lilley said. “We tried to make some adjustments at halftime, but I thought they were ready to play. We’ll try to learn from it quickly because we have some tough games coming up. They deserve a lot of credit, but I think we have another gear that we didn’t really show.”
“There were some moments where we got balls in transition and had even numbers or chances, but we never got the final pass or shot on frame. I think there was probably a moment to get a goal in there to change the complexion of the game, but unfortunately, we weren’t good enough on the ball (Saturday).”
The Riverhounds (5-2-1, 16 points) only managed one shot on target for the entire contest, a header from Albert Dikwa in the 43rd minute that went straight to LouCity keeper and ex-Riverhound Kyle Morton. Otherwise, Pittsburgh never troubled Louisville (6-0-3, 21 points), mainly because the Riverhounds never got a good shot at the net.
The best example came in the 35th minute, when Dikwa and Russell Cicerone found open space and charged the LouCity net with only Morton and defender Sean Totsch to beat. But that proved enough, as Totsch got a foot in Cicerone’s way, preventing him from ever getting a shot at goal.
“I think we made some poor decisions on the final ball, whether it was to cross or take the shot,” Cicerone said. “On the shots we did take, we needed to hit the target. You’ve got to make runs that are on top of him and you’ve got make him uncomfortable. We didn’t do that.
“We got ourselves in some decent situations, but the final ball just wasn’t there.”
While the Riverhounds struggled to generate anything in terms of a dangerous chance, the Boys in Purple continuously pressured the Pittsburgh net. Louisville finished with 10 shots, putting six on target, and constantly dictated the tempo. Goalkeeper Jahmali Waite made a mistake to allow Harris’ early marker, but he came up with two big saves in the second half on Harris, allowing the Riverhounds to keep the scoreline respectable.
That provided the one bit of small consolation for Lilley on a night when Pittsburgh was clearly second-best: the Riverhounds never lost their fight. Pittsburgh was reduced to 10 men in the 80th minute after a harsh decision against Dane Kelly, but still created a scoring chance and won a corner while playing a man down.
However, it wasn’t enough to even scratch the conference leaders on Saturday, leaving the Riverhounds aware of how far they have to go if they hope to contend for an Eastern Conference title this season.
“They’re clearly demonstrating that they have a good group together and are going to be dangerous moving forward,” Lilley said. “It’s up to us to try to close that gap when we play them back in Pittsburgh. If there’s a positive, it’s that this is a good alert for us to understand that we’ve got to improve in some areas if we’re going to be able to compete against a team like Louisville.”