USL Soccer: Pittsburgh Riverhounds Hoping Late Concession Inspires Improvement


Riverhounds midfielder Lebo Moloto tries to track down a loose ball in Sunday’s 1-1 tie with Louisville City FC. (Photo: Paul Wintruba/

SOUTH SIDE – Soccer culture has an expression to describe the process of trying to protect a late lead: “parking the bus.”

As in, the defending team drops almost the entire team into the penalty area, essentially rolling a Greyhound in front of the goal.

Sunday afternoon provided the Pittsburgh Riverhounds their first “protection mode” opportunity of the season, as Fejiro Okiomah‘s 38th-minute goal gave the home side a lead that they carried into the final 10 minutes.

But in those dying seconds, Pittsburgh’s defending appeared to waver as visiting Louisville City put the pressure on. There were a handful of nervous moments even before Hounds midfielder Stephen Okai was called for a foul just inside the 18-yard box, handing Louisville striker Matt Fondy an 86th-minute penalty kick.

Incredibly, goalkeeper Ryan Thompson denied the former MLS forward on the PK and the immediate rebound, apparently preserving what would’ve been his first USL shutout in four starts.

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Unfortunately for the Hounds (1-1-2, 5 points), the elation of that moment was short-lived, as Louisville’s Kadeem Dacres leveled the match in stoppage time with a bending shot from outside the box that appeared to catch Thompson by surprise. The shocking strike earned a 1-1 draw for unbeaten Lou City (1-0-3, 6 points).

“To be fair, I don’t think Ryan got a clean look at it at all,” said Hounds assistant coach Josh Rife, alluding to an accidental screen by midfielder Danny Earls. “Some ties, they feel more like wins. I would say last week’s (1-1) game in St. Louis was one of those.

“This feels like a loss.”

View the tying goal at 1:54 of the following video:

Thompson made five saves in the game, including a pair on Niall McCabe’s point-blank chances in the first half and an aggressive stop on Dacres later in the afternoon. Still stinging after the tying goal, the 30-year-old Jamaican concurred with Rife’s analysis of the play.

“It’s difficult when a player is dribbling with the ball and has total control, and the defense stands there,” he said. “We just have to step (up), so I can see the ball early.”

“It was a good strike. I take nothing away (from Dacres), but it could have been prevented. It’s something we have to look at as a team and try to correct.”

The first reaction might be to blame the Hounds’ defending, which also had trouble tracking some long balls aided by a strong tailwind in the first half, but Rife refuted that notion.

“Of all the issues we’ve looked at as a staff this year, the (back line) is low on the list of concerns,” said Rife, a former USL defender who joined new head coach Mark Steffens‘ staff after playing for him in Charlotte. “I think the wind had a bit of a factor early. Takes a couple of those long balls to settle in. As the game went on, we felt good as a coaching staff about them.”

Unsavory ending aside, Rife made sure to accentuate some productive signs, especially on the offensive side. Unlike in their first three games, which contained some lulls in the attack, the Riverhounds consistently threatened the opponents’ goal, with Brazilian forward Vini Dantas serving as the tip of the spear.

“We’ve struggled after the first 15 to establish a rhythm, but we did a much better job of that today,” Rife said. “We’ve got to play to our strengths, which is getting the ball moving and playing to our targets.

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  • “Obviously it’s not a complete game, but it’s one of our better performances from start to finish. That’s one of the positives we’ll be able to take from today’s match.”

    Steffens has repeatedly spoken about the importance of wing backs getting up into the attack, so he had to be pleased with Willie Hunt‘s two shots – one of which went off the post – as much as he was to see midfielder Kevin Kerr (three shots) all over the field for 90-plus minutes.

    If all goes as planned for the Riverhounds, they will have plenty of opportunities to “park the bus” in the future, so their success in similar situations down the road will be determined by how they respond to Sunday’s letdown.

    “In any job there are going to be hiccups,” Rife said. “I think one thing we’re still trying to find is, when things get tough, who’s going to right the ship? As a whole we’ve been doing a good job, but in moments like this, can we do a better job to get a hold of things?”

    Pittsburgh will conclude a stretch of four home games in a month when it welcomes Toronto F.C. II to Highmark Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

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