FINAL: Pittsburgh 2, New Mexico 1
With the race to finish in the top spot of the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference heating up, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC stayed on pace by converting on a pair of first half corner kicks, then hung on to pick up a valuable three points by defeating New Mexico United, 2-1, at Highmark Stadium on a wet Saturday night.
Center backs Arturo Ordonez and Joe Farrell converted Kenardo Forbes’ set pieces in the first half, while New Mexico’s Justin Portillo cut the lead in the 83rd minute with a penalty kick conversion that made things interesting.
With the victory, the Hounds (17-5-9, 60 points) secured at least one home playoff match when the postseason begins, and keep their firm grip atop the Eastern Conference Standings, increasing its lead over both Charleston (56 points following 2-0 win) and Tampa Bay (54 points currently trailing Memphis, 3-2).
Pittsburgh also runs its unbeaten streak to six home matches against the West, going 5-0-1, with the lone blemish being a scoreless draw against Sacramento
How It Happened
Following a familiar formula, the Hounds let New Mexico try to play out of the back, but both sides looked to punish each other trying to get behind the other’s back lines in a physical first 20-plus minutes, with each side conceding a half dozen fouls and set pieces.
The home side made the most of the first two corner kicks they were awarded in short order.
First, in the 20th minute, veteran center back Joe Farrell, who has a knack for set piece goals in the box — placed a header from a well-directed, in swinging corner kick from Kenardo Forbes into the back of the net.
The Hounds continued to press forward, with attempts to hit USL Championship’s leading scorer Albert Dikwa and Edward Kizza in runs behind the back line.
However, it was another corner opportunity with doubled the lead.
This time with Forbes lining up a ball on the opposite side, the USLC’s all-time assist leader connected with Ordonez, who banged home his header chance for the 2-0 lead.
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) September 23, 2023
Hounds goalkeeper Jahmali Waite had his biggest moment in the 51st minute, when he charged off his line to block away a shot by Sergio Rivas, who had slipped behind the defense. Nate Dossantos hustled to clear away the rebound, ending New Mexico’s opportunity.
Pittsburgh’s clean sheet effort was marred by a handball in the box, coming in the 82nd minute, when defender Pat Hogan clearly lifted his right arm to impede a New Mexico cross attempt. Portillo’s conversion cut the lead to 2-1, making things a bit dicey for the Hounds in the late stages of the match.
Despite a few more New Mexico free kicks and another corner, Pittsburgh was able to stave off a potential equalizer, sending the home crowd away with another win, it’s 12th league win of the season at Highmark Stadium (12-1-3).
PITvNM Instant Takeaways
A Familiar Formula Doesn’t Favor the Faint-Hearted
The Hounds won again, and in a race this tight, they will take every win.
However, they have been playing with fire late in matches, as New Mexico’s goal, once again came from a defensive lapse that could’ve been avoided with a little bit more discipline. This time the gaff came from Pat Hogan compromising himself by defending with his hands out too wide when defending against a wide attacking player.
Four times in the past five matches, Pittsburgh has allowed at least one goal in the second half and three times they’ve come later than the 80th minute, as Miami found the equalizer late last week, and Hartford scored three goals in a short span late to tie Pittsburgh in late August. In addition, Head Coach Bob Lilley was also frustrated with his team allowing a second half goal against Loudoun United two weeks ago that also made things interesting in the second half.
If there’s one thing that this team may be lacking, is the ability to put away an opponent for good, as they continue to make things interesting in the late going.
Fantastic Corner Kick Execution from the foot of Kenardo Forbes — Who Now Jumps Back into Tie for League Lead in Assists
Through 60 minutes, the Hounds took four corner kicks, with the first two ending up in the back of the net, and the next two either on frame or hitting the woodwork, as Farrell’s second chance hit the crossbar, while an Albert Dikwa header was cleared off the line by a New Mexico defender.
The craziest thing about this, is the Hounds didn’t set up another corner kick for the entire night.
That’s it. They only had four corner kicks despite near perfect execution on every one.
With two more assists, suddenly Kenardo Forbes has rung up his total this season to nine assists, putting him in a dead heat with San Antonio’s Jorge Hernández.
In his mid 30s, Forbes continues to show his remarkable value to the club and place in the annuls as one of the greatest players in the history of USL Championship.
The Hounds Are in the Drivers Seat
With three matches remaining, the Riverhounds are in the drivers seat as far as the Eastern Conference race is concerned.
As Pittsburgh took care of its business, Charleston jumped ahead of Tampa Bay and into second place, with a 2-1 win vs Tulsa. But the Rowdies stumbled, losing at home vs Memphis, 4-2.
With three weeks to go, the Rowdies have a match at hand, this coming Wednesday, as they will have to travel to Hartford for a midweek clash.
Then all three clubs will play once each of the next three weekends.
With a six-point edge on Tampa Bay, and four points ahead of Charleston, if the Hounds have a cushion, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that Tampa can catch them with that extra match at hand and a match looming large in St. Petersburg on October 7.
However, if the Rowdies slip up in the their next two matches (vs Hartford and then at home vs Loudoun), then the Hounds will be in very good position. Of course, Charleston is still lingering there too, with a favorable schedule if the Hounds’ and Tampa slip up.
Here’s everyone’s schedules the rest of the way:
- Pittsburgh (9/30 – vs Tulsa; 10/7 – at Tampa; 10/14 – at Detroit)
- Charleston (9/30 – at El Paso; 10/7 – vs Miami; 10/14 – vs Birmingham
- Tampa (9/27 – at Hartford; 9/30 – vs Loudoun; 10/7 – vs Hounds; 10/14 – at Louisville
The way things have gone for the Hounds in late stages of games this season, and making things interesting, means nothing will be assured, even a four point lead with three weeks to go.
Lilley said a few weeks ago that he has been proud of how his team has been able to keep producing results since ascending into the Conference lead in June.
Now, they have to finish the deal.
Hounds Starters vs New Mexico