FINAL: Riverhounds SC 2, Tampa Bay Rowdies 0
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds saved its best performance for its top of the table showdown with the Tampa Bay Rowdies by rolling to a 2-0 victory at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL, on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh goals came from Albert Dikwa in the 1st minute of the match and Arturo Ordonez doubled the lead midway through the second half, while goalkeeper Jahmali Waite made five saves for the clean sheet.
“It’s a big accomplishment for the guys. They worked hard all year, and I am proud of them,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds SC Head Coach said after the match from the jubilant locker room.
“They stuck together. It was not easy. We worked hard since the preseason and never lost sight of our goal. The group responded well.”
With the win, the Hounds (19-5-9 | W-L-D, 66 points) clinched the Players Shield as the USL Championship’s top regular season points leader and secured first place in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh will also now have home field advantage in postseason which is scheduled to begin October 21.
It is the first official trophy won by the Hounds and the first time the team has finished atop the Championship or its direct predecessor, the A-League. It is also only the third division/conference title in team history, joining the 2019 team that topped the Eastern Conference and the 2004 team that won the Atlantic Division of the third-tier USL Pro Soccer League.
The Rowdies (18-7-6 | W-L-D, 60 points), remain in second place, despite holding 78 percent possession, outshooting Pittsburgh 13-8 (5-3 on frame).
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Hounds kicked off and went forward straight from the opening whistle.
Kenardo Forbes received the ball in the middle of the field from the right side, and the captain swung a pass the other way to Junior Etou. The left back struck an early cross to the far post, where Dikwa sprinted in unmarked to touch the ball into the net after only 29 seconds, making it the second-fastest goal in team history.
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) October 7, 2023
Dikwa’s 20th goal puts him three goals clear of the field in the race for the Golden Boot with one week to play after tonight’s Western Conference games conclude.
The Hounds continued to be organized and opportunistic on the counter, despite ceding 71 percent of possession to the Rowdies. Dikwa nearly had two other goals — a shot in the 16th minute that dragged just wide of the post, and a clever chip that beat Rowdies goalie Connor Sparrow but was nullified by the offside flag.
The Rowdies came alive late in the half with two very good chances. Cal Jennings, one of the players just behind Dikwa in the Golden Boot race with 17 goals, missed just high with a strong header in the 32nd minute. The Rowdies also couldn’t find the frame in a stoppage-time scramble in the box created from a free kick.
Waite came up huge in the second half, starting with the best of his five saves to deny a shot through traffic by Charlie Dennis. The Jamaican international saw the shot late but was able to get low and push it wide of the post.
The Hounds got their second goal starting with a corner that was cleared by Tampa Bay. But as the Rowdies tried to counter, Luke Biasi slid in the center circle to turn play the other direction.
The ball came to Forbes, who fed Tola Showunmi down the left side, and with his first touches of the ball off the bench, Showunmi found Ordóñez making a near-post run for the finish.
Money shot following Hounds second goal
— Pittsburgh Soccer Now (@pghsoccernow) October 8, 2023
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) October 8, 2023
The 62nd-minute goal was the fifth of the year for Ordóñez, the most ever in a single-season by a Hounds center back.
With the two-goal lead, the Hounds were able to absorb pressure and limit chances.
Leo Fernandes, the 2022 Championship MVP, forced a leaping save by Waite with a header in the 84th minute. But the Hounds’ goalkeeper was excellent against shots and crosses to record his 10th clean sheet of the season, the third-best total in club history.
The Riverhounds will finish the regular season taking on Detroit City FC, in Hamtramck, MI, next Saturday, at 4 p.m.