Riverhounds forward Miro Cabrilo pushes the ball upfield in a recent match against Tampa Bay Rowdies at Highmark Stadium. (Credit: Nick Milliron/City of Champions)
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are on a roll, having won four straight overall and sporting a three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1) in USL play.
They’ll remain in league at 1 p.m. Saturday, when they host expansion club Saint Louis FC at Highmark Stadium.
In their last time out, the surging Hounds (4-3-3, 15 points) participated in one of the wildest games in the history of the league – if not all of American soccer. Trailing 5-3 in the final minute of regulation, Pittsburgh scored three more times before the final whistle to steal a 6-5 decision (VIDEO) from rival Harrisburg City Islanders.
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The match not only capped a spectacular week for the Hounds, who also topped the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies on May 27 on a late Rob Vincent strike, it also was the highest-scoring regular-season match in six years of USL soccer.
“We created tons of opportunities,” Hounds head coach Mark Steffens said. “I’m happy when we do that, but giving up five goals is a nightmare. To give up five and score six is unheard of.”
In the wake of the outburst, the third time this season that Pittsburgh has netted five or more goals, two Hounds were honored by the league. Golden-boot frontrunner Vincent (eight goals in 10 USL matches) was named the player of the week for his two-goal outburst, while fellow midfielder Danny Earls earned placement on the team of the week after a rare double of his own.
Earls’ strikes were pleasantly surprising, as the holding midfielder and team captain usually contributes more on the defensive side of the field. When he does get into the attack, it’s usually as the trigger man on free kicks.
Rubbing the Rock
“Danny is always opportunistic,” Steffens said. “That never surprises me. He’s a winner.”
Earls scored twice in the final 10 minutes of regulation, keeping the Hounds within range of an opportunistic Harrisburg squad before Vincent and Kevin Kerr connected in stoppage time to shake Highmark Stadium to its foundation.
After all that excitement, which drew attention from all corners of the continent, the Riverhounds enjoyed their first “normal” week of training in a while. U.S. Open Cup games against West Virginia Chaos and Tampa Bay crowded the schedule in the final two weeks of May, but now Pittsburgh will be on a one-match-per-week diet until June 17, when D.C. United comes calling.
“That’s so important for a team,” Steffens said of the return to normalcy. “On the other hand, playing games is good, too, because you can build that chemistry you need.”
Increased rest appears to have paid off, as all roster players except veteran wing back Matt Dallman will be healthy for Saturday afternoon. Starting goalie Ryan Thompson is also unavailable, but not because of any ailment; rather, the 30-year-old Jamaican is in Chile to compete for his home nation in the Copa America tournament.
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That means the goalkeeping duties will be left to a pair of rookies: Ryan Hulings and Calle Brown. Hulings has played in three of the Hounds’ past four games, compiling a pair of clean sheets prior to last Saturday’s madness; Brown has one pro start to his credit, a 1-1 home draw against Richmond on May 16.
Riverhounds keepers have gotten plenty of offensive support this season, as the team leads the 24-club league with 2.5 goals per outing. However, after allowing a season-high five to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh’s focus at training this week was on protecting its own goal.
“We tried to paint a mental picture for the guys of what we’re looking for,” Steffens said. “We were poor in putting pressure on [Harrisburg] and that allowed them to play balls into our midfield. They went through us like butter.”
Vincent is part of that midfield that Steffens said “lost its shape” against the Islanders. The scoring star concurred with his coach’s assessment of the previous match.
“We were showing them far too much respect,” Vincent said. “I could tell about 10 or 15 minutes in that we weren’t ourselves.”
As for Saint Louis FC, the first-year team is two spots behind the fifth-place Riverhounds in the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 3-3-3. In their only meeting to date, Pittsburgh rallied for a 1-1 tie April 11 in Fenton, Mo., despite being outshot 9-1 in the first half and 15-7 for the game.
“They have some good individual talent on that side,” Flunder said. “We have to try to defend them as a team”
Keeping up the scoring pace would be nice, too, although asking for six goals again might be a little much. Vincent and Kerr have gotten the majority of the accolades, but Steffens said forward Miro Cabrilo and attacking midfielder Lebo Moloto have made a difference with their recent improved play.
Cabrilo, 22, earned his first assist last week and the 25-year-old Moloto picked up three, including helpers on the dramatic final two tallies. The duo has also combined for four goals (two each) over the past month.
“They’re coming on,” Steffens said. “They’ve helped our attack. We went through a stretch when we weren’t getting too many quality chances, but now the volume is coming.”
The Riverhounds’ fifth home match in the past three weeks can be viewed on the team’s YouTube channel. I’ll have the play-by-play, with Pittsburgh soccer legend Paul Child in the analyst’s chair.