Goalkeeper Ryan Hulings (center, gray shirt) watches the ball as his Riverhounds teammates defend a Saint Louis chance at Highmark Stadium. (Photo: Riverhounds.com/Terry O’Neill)
Matt Gajtka is the play-by-play voice of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The following is his commentary on the Hounds’ 1-1 tie with Saint Louis FC this weekend.
As I wrote in my match coverage for DK on Pittsburgh Sports, most of the Riverhounds were rather upset after they allowed visiting Saint Louis to get a result Saturday afternoon at Highmark Stadium.
It’s easy to understand why there was an air of dissatisfaction.
The Hounds (4-3-4, 16 points) had churned through a long stretch of goal-free play before earning the 73rd-minute penalty kick that Rob Vincent converted for a 1-0 lead. To concede the tying score seven minutes later was particularly galling for a team still searching for its first USL shutout of the season.
“We’ll probably look back on this as a loss,” said second-year Hounds defender Anthony Arena. “At home we want to get three points whenever we can.”
“It’s an improvement from last week [6-5 win over Harrisburg], but at the same time we still don’t have a clean sheet in league play. It’s not acceptable. It’s just little mistakes here and there.”
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So there’s the whole tie-from-the-jaws-of-victory thing to acknowledge, on top of losing a sought-after shutout with 10 minutes to play. Jeremie Lynch’s header to level the score wasn’t as much of a downer as Kadeem Dacres’ stoppage-time equalizer for Louisville City FC on April 19, but it was close.
But beyond the late-game deflation, some of the Riverhounds – and coach Mark Steffens in particular – were also outspoken in their self-criticism regarding a different aspect altogether: lack of offensive ambition.
“Because of emphasizing defending [last] week…I think we were thinking, ‘We need a shutout today,” said Steffens, who likes his teams to be relentless on the attack. “Saint Louis is a good attacking team, but we don’t change our strategy for our opponent.”
Vincent conceded in the postgame media conference that it was probably “inevitable” that the matchup with Saint Louis would be low-scoring, considering the 11-goal bonanza in the Hounds’ previous match, which set a league record for most offense in a regular-season game.
Rubbing the Rock
Also, Saint Louis entered the afternoon as a top-five defensive club in USL; the expansion club conceded only one goal in a home draw with Pittsburgh on April 11.
“They play a tight four in the midfield, so any space kind of closes down quickly,” Vincent said.
A way to overcome that structure is getting defensive midfielders and wing backs involved upfield. A lack of that type of activity was Steffens’ biggest complaint about the first half.
Midfielder Stephen Okai and defender Mike Green said the Hounds did better to push the attack from all areas of the field in the second 45 minutes. In fact, it was Okai whose run into the Saint Louis 18-yard box won the penalty kick for Vincent.
Still, in the face of Pittsburgh’s performance anxieties, the draw extended the Hounds’ unbeaten streak to four in USL play (2-0-2) and six when factoring in two U.S. Open Cup victories last month.
Objectively speaking, they are in a playoff position with more than a third of the league season gone. At Highmark, Pittsburgh has lost just once in nine matches (5-1-3), and that lone defeat was a controversial 2-1 decision in favor of the still-undefeated Rochester Rhinos.
Regarding Saturday’s match in particular, the Hounds looked a lot more like themselves in the second half. Green, Lebo Moloto and Kevin Kerr all nearly scored or set up goals after intermission, and substitute Boris Zivanovic added some disruptive energy up front.
The Riverhounds have one more match – Saturday at Charlotte – separating them from their home U.S. Open Cup showdown with Major League Soccer’s D.C. United on June 17. For my perspective, they’re still playing solid soccer and should be able to make a serious run at an upset.
It’s natural for competitors to always want more, but from this angle the Hounds appear to have been too hard on themselves for their Saint Louis deadlock.