FINAL: Riverhounds 1, Tampa Bay Rowdies 0
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
The Riverhounds SC reverted to a familiar formula for success, scoring early, then locking down the Tampa Bay Rowdies with a masterful defensive performance in a 1-0 win before another sellout crowd of 5,490 fans at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night.
With the win, Pittsburgh (12-4-8 | W-L-D, 44 points) further solidified its grip on first place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings, moving six points clear of the third place Rowdies, and five points ahead of second place Charleston (39 points).
Forward Albert Dikwa scored his 11th goal of the season in the third minute of the match, putting him back into a tie for the league’s Golden Boot race. Hounds goalkeeper Jahmali Waite kept the Hounds at the top of the league with its 11th clean sheet of the season.
“It was important, against a dangerous, attacking team like Tampa, to get the early goal and shutout. The guys responded well,” Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said.
“It was a better overall performance than some of the recent ones. I would have liked to seen us go after it more after the first goal, but overall it’s a great result.”
On the flip side, Tampa Bay’s new coach, Nicky Law took his first loss as the club’s manager.
“Tonight’s performance was everything I asked from an effort and fight standpoint,” said Rowdies Head Coach Nicky Law.
“They fought for every ball. They won first contact, second contact I thought better than Pittsburgh tonight. The disappointing part for me and the frustrating part is just the lack of belief and real quality. We didn’t have any of that tonight.”
The Riverhounds, determined not to get off to a slow start after surrendering six first half goals in the past three matches, jumped out to the early lead in the third minute on a sequence that began with a clever interception from center back Arturo Ordonez.
Ordonez had the presence of mind to not only intercept a Tampa Bay pass toward the sideline, but also deliver a one-time redirected pass right to the foot of forward Tola Showumni. The lanky Londoner held up the ball with a defender on his back, then made a move to his right to draw a shift in the back line — then cut a pass through the middle — which opened up for Dikwa, who slotted his low shot attempt into the back of the net past goalkeeper Connor Sparrow.
Brilliant play all around leading up to Hounds goal.
Ordonez with presence of mind to play one-time ball on interception to Tola Showunmi's foot.
— Pittsburgh Soccer Now (@pghsoccernow) August 6, 2023
“It’s all about communication,” Dikwa said after the match, giving credit to the teamwork that led to the goal.
“We have been training together for a long time. I always tell Tola that we have to be moving inside the box. He made a good run. I waited for his movement and went to the opposite side. He gave me a good pass, and I just tried to hit the target. Luckily, I found the goal.”
As rest of first half played out, things got a bit intense with a lot of contact and complaints with the officials. Hounds winger Dani Rovira received a yellow card, and Jake LaCava also was booked for dissent in the 45th minute.
In the 44th minute, Tampa forward JJ Williams did well to turn at the top of the box and shake off a defender before firing a shot that Hounds keeper Jahmali Waite handled in the bread basket.
The second half, both teams took turns pushing for game changing goal, but only Tampa was able to put a shot on frame in a match where they held 60 percent of the possession battle, as Waite came up with the one save on Williams, but also had two punches, three high claims and 15 recoveries facing pressure that came mostly from the edge.
Pittsburgh ended the match with an 8-4 edge in total shots as both teams put one shot each on frame.
“The crowd helped, they brought a lot of energy,” Lilley added in reference to the 5,490 patrons that witnessed Pittsburgh improve its overall home record in league play to 9-3-1.
With last place Hartford coming to Highmark Stadium (next Saturday, 7 p.m. kickoff), Lilley warned that his team can’t drop their intensity as the Hounds hold a five point edge in the standings.
“You have to decide if you want to play with fire or not. All the talk will be we can’t have a let down. If you want to win the East, finish on top of standings, you can’t give points away,” Lilley explained.
“Sometimes I remind the guys how many points we gave away this year. You can’t get caught up in talk. Our guys worked hard. There’s a maturity in our group, and tonight they showed they didn’t want to back off.”
Look for a more detailed recap and reaction from Highmark Stadium to follow on this post, and on Pittsburgh Soccer Now following the match.
- Dikwa now ties his former teammate, Russell Cicerone, for the league lead in goals, with 11 on the season.
- Dikwa, who officially returned from a broken collarbone injury, also spoke about being back to full strength.
“Yeah, I am out of the sandbox,” Dikwa said. “It took me a while to get back to finding my rhythm. There are things you can’t control, but I can control my mentality. My energy. Today was a good day. The goals will come. And today it did. I am very happy about that.”
- If there’s a Miracle on the Mon tidbit to add — we have it for you — as Tampa’s 33 year-old midfielder, Yann Ekra, was on the field when the Hounds made a comeback for the ages, in a 6-5 win vs then rival Harrisburg City Islanders.
One player on the field tonight, in the starting lineup who was on this same field on May 30, 2015, for the #MiracleontheMon… @TampaBayRowdies's Yann Ekra was on the Harrisburg City Islanders squad blew multiple 2-goal leads to fall to @RiverhoundsSC, 6-5, on that night.
— John Krysinsky (@JohnKrysinsky) August 5, 2023
Defender Forrest Lasso is unavailable tonight due to suspension after receiving his 8th yellow card of the season last week. #PITvTBR
— Tampa Bay Rowdies (@TampaBayRowdies) August 5, 2023