After getting only one point in their crucial home-and-home series with the Charlotte Independence over the last two weekend, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds needed to bring back three points when the traveled to face the second-best squad in the USL, Louisville City FC.
Adding to the level of difficulty, the Riverhounds would travel to Louisville without the services of their captain, Danny Earls, who was forced to serve a one-game suspension for his red card last week in Charlotte.
The Hounds responded, earning a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
A back-and-forth first half saw Louisville maintain a slight advantage in possession, but the Riverhounds’ re-arranged back line, which featured Sterling Flunder, Anthony Arena, Willie Hunt, and Ben Newnam, kept the score level.
When the ball did get behind the Pittsburgh defense, Calle Brown was able to scoop up what was left, as he earned the start in place of the still-hobbled Ryan Thompson. Thompson started each of the team’s last two games, but was still in visible pain at times due to his right knee injury.
The team was said to have a full squad going into the road trip, but Thompson was not even made available off the bench, as Ryan Hulings suited up instead.
Late in the first half, the Riverhounds finally pushed forward a dangerous offensive opportunity as Boris Zivanovic, inserted into the starting lineup by head coach Mark Steffens, made the most of his opportunity by drawing a penalty kick just after the 45 minute mark.
Riverhounds leading scorer Rob Vincent was called up on to take the penalty, and he deposited in the back of the net for his 18th tally of the season, drawing him even with Louisville striker Matt Fondy in a second-place tie in the USL scoring race.
The evening was not all rosy for Vincent, however, as he collected an 18th-minute yellow card, which will cause him to be suspended for the Hounds next match due to accumulating five yellow cards this season.
Vincent and Fondy both trail Oklahoma City forward Danni Konig by two goals in the scoring race.
In the second half, the Riverhounds found a way to do something that has eluded them most of the season: defend a narrow lead against a quality opponent.
It appeared as if they gave themselves a cushion in the 59th minute, when Lebo Moloto forced a turnover deep in the Louisville end. He passed it through to Michael Green, whose original shot attempt was saved by Louisville keeper Scott Goodwin.
Green hustled to the rebound, though, just saving it from the goal line. He turned and found Moloto, who buried his feed into the open net.
As the Riverhounds were celebrating, the referee conferred with his assistant, and decided that Green had been offside, and waived off the goal.
The Hounds took the setback in stride, however, and continued to frustrate the league’s second-highest scoring offense (Pittsburgh is first). In the 68th minute, Louisville got their best chance of the game as Kevin Cossette’s cross found the forehead of Serbian forward Ilija Ilic, but his header hit the bar just above the outstretched arms of Brown.
Illic again had another opportunity with a header in stoppage time, but it sailed harmlessly over the crossbar, and the Riverhounds escaped with three points.
Brown earned his fifth win of the season, all of which have come via shutout.
With the win, the Riverhounds moved back into the sixth spot – and final playoff position – in the Eastern Conference with 35 points, hurdling the Independence (32 points), which plays Toronto FC II on Sunday afternoon. Charlotte will still have a game in hand on the Hounds, even after they play Toronto.
The Riverhounds didn’t get any breathing room either, as the Harrisburg City Islanders (34 points) thrashed Montreal FC 5-0 to stay one point back of the Hounds with a game in hand.
STARTING XI: Goalkeeper Brown; defenders Flunder, Arena, Hunt and Newnam; midfielders, Zivanovic, Vincent, Moloto, Matt Dallman and Kevin Kerr; forward Green
SUBSTITUTES: 76’ Fejiro Okiomah for Green, 78’ Tyler Pasher for Zivanovic, 79’ Miroslav Cabrilo for Moloto, 90+’ Amara Soumah for Dallman.
DISCIPLINE: 18’ Vincent (yellow, 5th of season), 43’ Hunt (yellow)
NEXT MATCH: 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 5 against the Charleston Battery at Highmark Stadium.