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Takeaways: Late Mertz Magic in Miami boosts Riverhounds to 2-1 victory

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

FINAL:  Riverhounds SC 2, The Miami FC 1

Match Stats

The Riverhounds SC found another way to pull out a wild road match against a team near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, with a 2-1 victory over The Miami FC, at Ricardo Silva Stadium on Saturday night.

Pittsburgh took the lead in the 62nd minute, as Albert Dikwa converted a penalty kick opportunity to push his league leading goal total to 17, thanks to some solid work on the right side of  the box by JC Obregon to get inside Miami defender Paco Craig, who was called for the foul in the box.

In the 76th minute, things further tilted in the Hounds’ advantage when Miami defensive midfielder Bolu Akinyode was sent off with a red card, forcing the hosts to play with 10 men.  Miami kept pushing forward, finding the equalizer in the 88th minute, as Ryan Telfer made his way to the back post unmarked for an uncontested goal.

The Hounds responded almost immediately, as stoppage time began, with a sharp build-up of passes which culminated with midfielder Danny Griffin keeping a ball in on the right side endline, cutting back a pass for the edge of the goal box, where substitute Robbie Mertz, who entered the match in the 61st minute for captain Kenardo Forbes, came through with the game-winner.

Pittsburgh held on for the victory, pushing up their total points to 57, good to remain in first place, four points ahead of Charleston (53 pts — following draw vs Loudoun United) and  and three points clear of Tampa Bay (54 pts — played San Antonio to a 3-3 draw late Saturday). With four matches left (two at home vs New Mexico 9/23 and Tulsa FC, 9/30, and two on the the road, at Tampa, 10/7 and Detroit, 10/14), the Hounds control their own destiny in their push to finish in the regular season top spot in the Eastern Conference.


Three Takeaways 

Giving Up Late Goal — Again — on the Road Leads To More Late Drama 

The Riverhounds continue to make things very interesting on the road against teams fighting to salvage seasons.  In late August, Pittsburgh held a 3-0 lead, late at Hartford, and surrendered three goals — but also found late magic when JC Obregon found an 87th minute strike to let Pittsburgh leave New England with the full three points.

Once again, the Hounds were pushed to the brink of a disastrous draw,  even after playing up a man for nearly the final 30 minutes.

Defensive lapse left too much room on the back end — giving Head Coach Bob Lilley another reason to be concerned with his club’s ability to close out contests and defend well for a complete 90-plus minutes.

The Hounds entered the previous off season having to think a lot about losing a 2-0 lead late at Louisville City in the Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff match last season.  Now, in two of their last three matches on the road, the Hounds have let teams they should be able to put away — back into matches.

Still, we can knock the defending with leads late in matches, but the Hounds are now sitting in first place thanks to a four point swing upward coming from two matches in the last four where they allowed an equalizer on the road in the last 10 minutes, then found a game winner shortly after.

This is a sign of a resilient group, when facing a sense of urgency are finding late goals.

Meanwhile, the two teams trying to catch the Hounds couldn’t pull out three points in their own, wild matches.  Things can get crazy late in the season, so the Hounds deserve credit for continuing to find ways to bag points.

Don’t Count Out the Pittsburgh Kid

Robbie Mertz has been utilized as a substitute off the bench for much of the second half of the season, earning just five starts in his last 12 matches, while his overall production and shots totals have been down.   Before Saturday night in Miami, Mertz had accounted for just one goal in league play, in the opening match of the season at Birmingham, and has been without an assist this entire season.

Despite his limited role this season,  the former Upper St. Clair standout has come through with some big moments, including getting the assist in the U.S. Open Cup victory vs Columbus at Highmark Stadium.

Coming off the bench, there should be little doubt that Mertz is going to be ready to contribute.

With 17 touches, Mertz was nearly perfect in his passing accuracy (10/11 — 91%), had one key pass into the final third, had three tackles (and two fouls), and made the most of his one shot chance.

Head Coach Bob Lilley said when asked about matches down the stretch of the season, there should not be much change regarding line-up selections. It appears that Mertz is going to utilized a key player off the bench, and that is a good sign that the Hounds have quality depth, being that they can potentially count on the veteran midfielder to thrive in this role as a key contributor late in matches given his propensity for making big plays.

Danny Griffin’s quality stands out in another physical Pittsburgh-Miami affair 

The previous time these two squads came together, it was a hard-fought, physical contest ending in a 1-1 draw back in March for the Hounds home opener. Once again, things got testy from the start.  By the end of this match, six total yellow cards and one red card were issued, while each side committed 14 fouls.

It might be fair to make the observation that not all those fouls were equal, as Miami’s physical play cost them a bit more, while the Hounds’ aggression tends to be a bit more tactical and in less dangerous predicaments.  Right in line with a disciplined Bob Lilley coached team, the Hounds will commit their share of fouls (2nd to San Antonio with 439), but have the fourth lowest yellow card accumulation total in the league.  Ironically, Miami has the least number of fouls conceded in the league (338), but they sure didn’t play like that on Saturday.

Miami paid dearly for their rough play — as long time Hounds’ nemesis Paco Craig was called for a foul in the box on JC Obregon, which led to the first goal, coming from Dikwa on the penalty.

Then, Akinyode was sent off for his second yellow card, for a bad foul.

The hosts were better in possession at a 59/41 percent rate , but were also quick to grab an arm or delay things when they could, while the Hounds defended well for much of the match, excluding the lapse in the late stages.

Despite the hectic nature and intense battle often between two solid midfields in this match, it was Danny Griffin sitting deep, who stood out the most.  The Hounds midfielder was solid from box-to-box all night, connecting on 91% of his passes (64/70), and doing all the little things needed to keep things together.  Griffin also had 12 recoveries, two interceptions, won five of nine duels and when the Hounds had to push forward to try to regain the lead, he came up with the key assist on the game-winning goal.

Next Up

The Riverhounds return home for their last two home matches of the season, beginning Saturday, September 23, when they host New Mexico United, at 7 p.m. at Highmark Stadium.

Match Details 

Riverhounds SC lineup (5-3-2) — Jahmali Waite; Junior Etou (Illal Osumanu 72’), Nate Dossantos, Joe Farrell, Arturo Ordóñez, Dani Rovira (Tola Showunmi 84’); Kenardo Forbes (Robbie Mertz 61’), Danny Griffin, Marc Ybarra; Edward Kizza (JC Obregón 46’), Albert Dikwa (Luke Biasi 72’)

Miami FC lineup (4-2-3-1) — Adrian Zendejas; Aedan Stanley, Paco Craig, Ben Ofeimu, Mark Segbers; Bolu Akinyode (sent off 76’), Gabriel Cabral; Florian Valot, Claudio Repetto (Ryan Telfer 61’), Joaquin Rivas (Christian Sorto 72’); Michael Salazar (Kyle Murphy 72’)

Scoring summary

PIT — Albert Dikwa 63’ (penalty)
MIA — Ryan Telfer 88’ (Gabriel Cabral)
PIT — Robbie Mertz 90’ (Danny Griffin)

Discipline summary

MIA — Joaquin Rivas 9’ (caution – reckless foul)
MIA — Bolu Akinyode 17’ (caution – reckless foul)
PIT — Junior Etou 28’ (caution – reckless foul)
MIA — Paco Craig 62’ (caution – tactical foul)
MIA — Mark Segbers 68’ (caution – dissent)
PIT — Dani Rovira 74’ (caution – tactical foul)
MIA — Bolu Akinyode 76’ (sent off – second caution; reckless foul)
PIT — Danny Griffin 84’ (caution – tactical foul)

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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