Pittsburgh Riverhounds Come Up Short In Final Match, Miss USL Pro Playoffs


Riverhounds midfielder Danny Earls goes on the attack. He had an assist in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 season-ending loss to Arizona at Highmark Stadium. (Photo: Matt Gajtka)

Heading into their final match of the season, it was a two-step process if the Pittsburgh Riverhounds were to make the USL Pro playoffs.

Step 1 was beating Arizona United at home, and Step 2 was hoping for help from other teams.

They never got to Step 2, as Long Tan scored twice to boost Arizona to a 2-1 comeback victory at a soggy Highmark Stadium on Saturday night. Pittsburgh’s Miro Cabrilo scored an early goal – his second in three games – but the Hounds finished their fourth USL Pro season at 9-14-5.

The Riverhounds started the year at 0-6-4, a rut that got head coach Justin Evans fired and appeared to doom them to a drab summer on the South Side. However, the Hounds rallied back to win eight of 11 matches from July 2 through last Friday, when they blanked Charlotte 1-0 to move into the league’s top eight for the first time this season.

But that playoff positioning was short-lived, as Pittsburgh fell 4-0 at Charleston one week ago to drop behind Harrisburg and Rochester for the final two postseason berths. Harrisburg won Saturday night, so that meant the Hounds needed to follow suit and hope Rochester lost Sunday afternoon at home.

It never got to that point, even after Danny Earls served up a corner kick that Robert Morris University product Cabrilo nodded home for a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute. Just six minutes later, Arizona’s Tan stepped around the defending of left back Sterling Flunder and skidded a near-post shot under Hounds keeper Hunter Gilstrap, who appeared to misjudge the attempt.

More from Pittsburgh Riverhounds

The 1-1 tie remained through the rest of the first half and well into the second. Tan nearly nudged the visitors ahead in the 50th minute, but Gilstrap made a desperate diving save while well off his line. Rob Vincent may have had Pittsburgh’s best opportunity to go ahead in the 70th minute when he took a cross from Matt Dallman and couldn’t direct a header past Arizona goalie Evan Newman.

Tan made up for his earlier missed chance in the 75th minute, deftly chipping a through-ball over Gilstrap and into the unguarded Pittsburgh net. Needing two goals in the final stages, the Hounds pushed bodies up the field, but they ended up on the short end for the first time in their last six home matches.

Pittsburgh finished the season 5-7-2 at Highmark Stadium and 4-7-3 on the road. For the second consecutive season, Jose Angulo paced the Hounds in goals (eight), while Dallman was their leading assist man with seven. Michael Green and Kevin Kerr netted four goals, Vincent had three, and Danny Earls and Joseph Ngwenya recorded five assists each.

Houston Dynamo prospect Michael Lisch earned the majority of the playing time in goal, seeing action in 14 matches. He made 67 saves on 102 shots while posting a 1.47 goals-allowed average. Fellow Dynamo property Anthony Arena was voted the Hounds’ defensive player of the year by the media; midfielder Earls earned the corresponding award on the offensive side.

Next season, priority No. 1 for the Hounds will be to avoid a sluggish start. Although they overcame a 0-5-4 slump to make the playoffs last year, the hole was simply too deep to climb out of this time.