Riverhounds midfielder Rob Vincent drives a shot on target in a game earlier this season at Highmark Stadium. (Photo: Paul Wintruba/Riverhounds.com)
Matt Gajtka is the play-by-play voice of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Here are his five observations of Saturday’s match against the Richmond Kickers at Highmark Stadium.
1. The Riverhounds allowed the first goal for the fourth straight game and the sixth time in eight matches, but they rallied back for a 1-1 draw against one of the USL’s top teams in Richmond.
It wasn’t a victory – Pittsburgh moved to 2-3-3 on the year with the split result – but it did break a two-game road losing streak that dropped the club into the bottom half of the 12-team Eastern Conference.
“You get two losses in a row, you start to get bad thoughts in your head,” said central defender Anthony Arena, who scored the Hounds’ lone goal in the second half. “To get a point against a good team is nice.”
The Riverhounds have now scored 12 of their 17 goals in the second halves of games, a trend that is both mysterious and encouraging for head coach Mark Steffens.
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“It’s happened that way this season, and I don’t know why,” Steffens said. “I’d really like to reverse that and get some goals early, but I think the team feels good about itself.
“I thought we had the better of the game, so our halftime talk was, ‘Hey guys, keep playing the way you’re playing and you’re gonna get one.’ We did, and we had a lot of opportunities to get more goals.”
2. The highest-scoring team in the league (2.29 goals per game entering Saturday) could have enjoyed another outburst, but Vini Dantas and Drew Russell both misfired from close range after brilliant crosses from impressive first-year wing back Tyler Pasher.
The 22-year-old Canadian continues to provide an extra push to the Hounds’ attack, although he has but one goal to show for his efforts through six games.
“He put a really good game together,” Steffens said of Pasher. “I’m really proud of him. He should have had a few assists. He’s had his moments where he’s made some mistakes…but we’ve been working on his service, his movement and his positioning.”
Missed opportunities aside, Steffens could hardly contain his enthusiasm after what he felt to be one of his team’s best performances of the season. The Hounds outshot Richmond (4-1-4) by a 12-7 margin one week after creating a season-low four attempts in a loss at Charleston.
“I feel positive…we’re making progress in that area,” Steffens said. “We worked all week on having our strikers up high and our (midfielders) running under them. We also tried to get our backs forward and serving more balls.
“We could have walked away with three goals easily. If we possess the ball like we did tonight and knock it around, we’re going to get our scoring opportunities.”
3. Arena’s equalizer (which can be seen at 1:18:30 of the game video) was especially sweet, as it was his inexplicable giveaway that directly led to former teammate Brian Ownby’s opening strike in the 24th minute.
With the artificial surface at Highmark drenched by a pre-game rainstorm, Arena took a wrong step and slipped to the ground just outside the left corner of Pittsburgh’s penalty area, allowing Ownby to take the ball away. Ownby, who played in five matches for the Hounds last summer, was clinical in his side-netting finish past rookie goalkeeper Calle Brown.
Rubbing the Rock
“You feel snakebit after that, because we’ve given up some goals in the first half,” Steffens said. “It’s tough in this game to chase. We’ve been in that position way too much.”
Arena was bent over for several seconds after Ownby’s goal, but he was jubilant following his deft headed tally off Rob Vincent’s corner kick 10 minutes past halftime. Although the defender often comes forward for set pieces, this was his first goal in 24 USL games, all as a Riverhound.
“I count it as a goal and an assist on the scoresheet,” said Arena with a wry smirk. “After the first one I had to keep my head. Mistakes happen. I was fortunate enough to get it back. Definitely a relief.”
4. Making matters more interesting: Arena and Ownby roomed together for two years after both were drafted by the Houston Dynamo of the MLS. Arena, 24, said it’s “always fun” to square off against one of his best friends.
“He’s a great player,” Arena said. “Mutual respect on the field. You like challenging yourself against the best players.”
Ownby was Richmond’s most consistent attacking player on this night, compiling four shots as one of two Kickers forwards, three of those on target. Predictably, Arena had something extra to say about the prime chance he inadvertently handed to his old buddy.
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“I told (Ownby) he owes me half his goal bonus for that one.”
5. First-string Riverhounds keeper Ryan Thompson sat out with a back injury sustained last Saturday at Charleston, giving the 22-year-old Brown an opportunity between the sticks.
It was the first time this season that Thompson was on the sideline, so the Hounds were a little more cautious in the back to insulate the rookie Brown, who is coming off a national championship run with the University of Virginia last fall.
“With our keeper in his first pro game, we asked our outside backs to settle in a little bit at the beginning of the match,” Steffens said. “We wanted to be safe back there.”
Through no fault of his own, the first shot Brown faced eluded him, but he got his vengeance against Ownby in the second half by making a pair of aggressive stops to preserve the tie score.
“You saw his confidence,” Steffens said. “We think he’s going to be a big-time keeper one day. He just needs the experience.”
Count Arena as one of the Hounds impressed with the effort of the 6-foot-5 former Cavalier.
“He’s pretty bold,” Arena said. “He didn’t show any fear at all, which is what we counted on. First game or not, he came out and performed. He’s a big guy, he’s done well in training, and he made some big saves back there.”
Thompson’s status is unknown for Wednesday’s home U.S. Open Cup match against the West Virginia Chaos of the USL Premier Development League (PDL). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Highmark Stadium.