INDIANAPOLIS — Hanging on for 40 minutes wasn’t part of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s initial gameplan for handling Indy Eleven. But when the situation presented itself on Saturday night after Marc Ybarra’s second yellow card in the 54th minute, nobody in gold showed a sign of panic.
They’d been here before.
One year ago in this same stadium, the Riverhounds had to play the final 28 minutes down a man after Jelani Peters picked up a red card and emerged victorious, keeping the Eleven scoreless despite the advantage. This time, with a two-goal lead in its corner, Pittsburgh was even more efficient at the back line.
Despite Ybarra’s second yellow card, Eleven never came close to cracking the Riverhounds’ defense. Solomon Asante’s free kick to keeper Jahmali Waite on the final kick of the match was the only shot Indy put on target all night. Otherwise, the Hounds’ defense proved rock-solid, ensuring that Russell Cicerone’s brace would stand up for a 2-0 win over Indy Eleven, Pittsburgh’s second straight win at Indianapolis’ Michael A. Carroll Stadium.
“With the red card, we made it difficult on ourselves, but I do think we were pretty resilient tonight,” Pittsburgh coach Bob Lilley said. “We showed a lot of fight and showed a lot of character, and I think we did a good job defending in our box over the last 30 to 35 minutes of the game.
“I didn’t realize it was that (efficient), but I knew we defended pretty well. We’d gotten our noses in front and didn’t want to give those points away.”
A pair of well set up goals for Cicerone’s 10th and 11th goals of the season ensured that the Riverhounds (13-6-4, 43 points) would take all three points home to Pittsburgh. In the 13th minute, Hounds midfielder Daniel Rovira found himself all alone at the edge of the box, almost waiting for the Eleven (6-12-4, 22 points) to come after him and pull themselves out of position.
But Indy’s defenders never moved, as they focused more on keeping track of Robbie Mertz. That allowed Rovira to wade into the box at his own pace and pick out the perfect ball. By the time Eleven charged at the Colombian, it was too late. Cicerone and Albert Dikwa both used Eleven’s hesitation to make their run at the other side of the goal and Rovira’s cross found Cicerone’s head for an easy finish.
“I know Dikwa and Russ always want to be in the box and always try to be open,” Rovira said. “As I was running, Robbie helped me get space, and once I came to space and looked up, they’d made their runs and it was a very good goal.”
The same held for Cicerone’s second goal, which proved to be critical in giving the Hounds the cushion they needed to control of the match. This time, it was the Hounds’ passing and possession that opened up Indy’s defense and created a chance that Cicerone couldn’t miss.
“We had a good spell of possession, which we needed,” he said. “Toby found a really good ball into Marc, and he slipped a really good ball to Dikwa, and then a fantastic square ball for the tap-in. That’s one of my more easy goals I’m ever going to score in my career.”
Even when Ybarra took down Asante two minutes later to potentially open the door for Eleven, the Hounds’ teamwork quickly slammed it shut. Despite being down a man, it was Pittsburgh who had more of the serious threats over the final 40 minutes of the match. The closest Eleven came to putting anything on the board was a shot over the bar in the 18th minute from Manuel Artega and a shot from Asante in the 88th minute that rang the crossbar and dropped straight down, harmlessly bouncing away from the line.
Otherwise, the Riverhounds had a fairly simple time of things in picking up their second straight win in Indianapolis, a place where they hadn’t won before 2021, and maintaining their hold on third place in the Eastern Conference.
“They’re a good team as well, but last year we got a red card here and won,” Rovira said. “That’s something that’s never in the gameplan, but you always have to be prepared as a team. That’s when you have to stick together, play stronger and deliver for each other. I’m very happy that we were able to preserve the shutout.”