USL Pro: Pittsburgh Riverhounds Stay Hot With Shutout Of Visiting Orange County


Pittsburgh Riverhounds midfielder Danny Earls (center) prepares to defend an Orange County corner kick on August 8, 2014 at Highmark Stadium. Anthony Arena (right) backs him up, along with Kevin Kerr (far left) and Joseph Ngwenya. (Photo: Matt Gajtka)

PITTSBURGH – Sometimes a keeper has to bail his team out.

After 80 solid minutes of soccer Friday night at Highmark Stadium, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds got a little disjointed in front of goalie Michael Lisch while trying to defend a 1-0 lead against the hard-charging Orange County Blues FC.

Still, the Hounds managed to clear a bevy of dangerous balls served into the penalty area as the match inched into stoppage time. They appeared sure to lock up a fourth victory in five games, but a late Orange County give-and-go gave Stephen Okai a brilliant opportunity to tie the game.

The Blues defender delivered a quick one-touch shot from just outside the six-yard box, only to watch Lisch lunge to smother the ball in desperation. The Steel Army supporters’ section behind Lisch on the east end of the field erupted, and moments later the final whistle blew.

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“I kept telling myself during the game that I was going to have to come up with something big,” said Lisch, who recorded his third shutout this season. “You just stay focused like you are the whole game. It was a decent game for (Orange County) in terms of their pressure and you know they’re going to stack it in.”

Orange County had its share of looks at the net during its only trip to Pittsburgh this season, but the Riverhounds (7-11-5, 26 points) clearly enjoyed the better of play for the majority of the evening. However, they didn’t generate a goal until the 54th minute, when forward Mike Green deposited a short feed from midfielder Robby Earls into the top-right corner of the net.

That Green scored the lone tally, his third of the USL Pro season, was quite fitting. The converted defender from the Cleveland area terrorized Orange County (8-14-0, 24 points) all night with his explosiveness and creativity.

“Mike Green was unbelievable tonight,” Hounds interim coach Niko Katic said. “We always believed in him as a forward. Tonight he showed what he can do…on the ball, off the ball, closing down defenders, taking guys on one-on-one. This was a payoff.”

Green nearly added an assist later in the second half, but substitute Seth C’deBaca hit the goalpost with Blues keeper Aaron Perez down and out, one of two shots off the frame for C’deBaca. Boosted by that bit of luck, Perez earned his money throughout the match, making a handful of above-average saves to give his side a chance to earn at least a draw.

“Soccer is a wonderful game,” Katic said. “Tonight it was a chess game. We told the guys in the locker room, ‘You guys are going good, you just have to be patient. It will come.’ We scored a great goal and had another couple chances to score. Last 10 minutes it was a little bit ugly, but it was a good battle.”

Although it easily could’ve been a wider margin of victory for the Riverhounds, the tight nature of the game gave their defense an opportunity to shine. Lisch and Katic made sure to applaud the entire team for its commitment to fending off Orange County, led by the effort of backs Matt Dallman, Andrew Marshall, Anthony Arena and Sterling Flunder.

“Credit our defense, we killed it tonight,” said Lisch, who made four saves. “We stayed compact and it started from the top. From the forwards all the way to the defense, we played our roles. Defense wins games and it could get this squad to the playoffs. Stick with your man and no one can score.”

In fact, the Hounds were so proficient at closing down the Blues’ attack and winning battles for the ball, they created offense almost exclusively via forced turnovers.

“We built it up from the back a few times, but most of the time it was stout defense in the midfield that led to our counterattacks,” Lisch said. “Everyone’s working hard to get back defensively, and if you put the work in, you’re going to get the result.”

Points and victories have been easier to come by since the start of July. The Hounds are 6-2 over the past six weeks, moving into a tie with Wilmington and Charleston for USL Pro’s eighth-and-final playoff spot.

“To be honest, I don’t know if a whole lot has changed,” Arena said. “It’s a similar group to what started the season, but I think we were unlucky earlier this season and those bounces are going our way now. Guys are digging in and we’re grinding out results now.”

No matter whether it’s better fortune, a change in tactics, an improved work ethic or all of the above, the Hounds have an outside shot at replicating their second-half rally of last summer. That surge yielded a playoff berth, a feat that seemed unlikely when Katic took over in late May with the team winless in seven matches, a slump that eventually stretched to 10.

“(Louis) van Gaal, the Manchester United coach, said it’s going to take him three months to get his team to play the way he wants them to play, so imagine how long it’s going to take me,” Katic joked. “We’ll get there for sure. We keep working hard every practice and we’ll get better every day.

“Lisch came up big with that wonderful save at the end, but I thought overall we did a great job. Now we’re on a roll, and that gives us a chance.”


The Hounds travel to Arizona next Saturday, hoping to get 2013 league MVP Jose Angulo back as they strive for their third victory in a row. They return to the South Side on Sunday, Aug. 24 to face the FC Dallas Reserves.