Ten seconds separated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds from fifth place in the United Soccer League’s Eastern Conference Saturday night.
Ten seconds of injury time remained at Highmark Stadium when the Charleston Battery tossed a speculative long throw into the Hounds’ penalty area looking to salvage a point after falling behind to Kevin Kerr’s ninth league goal of the season.
A flick on fell to Ricky Garbanzo at the edge of the box. His shot veered toward the 6-yard line where the lurking Mikael Chang redirected it into Calle Brown’s far corner with a deft touch. 1-1. Virtual fifth place had become seventh.
“We’ve got to continue to find ways as a team to close games out,” said Hounds assistant coach Josh Rife after a frustrating evening on the South Side.
The Hounds made one change to the 11 starters that defeated Louisville City in Kentucky last weekend. Leading scorer Rob Vincent was forced to miss his first game of the season through suspension after picking up his fifth caution of the season. Vincent’s place was taken by the returning Danny Earls after the Hounds captain sat out last week’s 1-0 win.
Both teams started cautiously to prevent any early mistakes that could have hurt their postseason chances. Action picked up on 16 minutes when Ben Newnam’s cross eventually landed at Boris Zivanovic’s feet. Battery defender Taylor Mueller blocked the Serbian’s shot.
Charleston counterattacked shortly afterward as Heivel Cordoves appeared to have a breakaway. Sterling Flunder rushed back to poke the ball to safety.
The visitors had another chance on 21 minutes after Brown spilled Navion Boyd’s long distance drive. Garbanzo tucked away the rebound from an offside position.
Pittsburgh’s defense endured a series of corners to conclude the first half. Charleston almost capitalized from one of them when substitute Dane Kelly headed against Brown’s left post.
Kerr found the breakthrough seven minutes into the second half. Matt Dallman whipped an inswinging free kick toward the penalty spot from about 35 years out on the left side. Kerr reached the ball first to guide his header beyond Cuban goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper.
Brown denied the Battery’s attempts to find the leveler for most of the second half. He looked set to record his sixth shutout of a fine rookie season. The University of Virginia graduate emphatically punched away Kelly’s stinging shot on 65 minutes before tipping a Justin Portillo free kick away from his top corner five minutes later.
All signs then seemed to be heading toward a vital three points for the Hounds until Chang’s intervention altered the playoff picture once again.
Pittsburgh remains seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 10-9-6 record (36 points). Charleston edges to 40 points having played one additional game (10-6-10).
The Hounds travel to the Wilmington Hammerheads next Saturday before retuning to Highmark Stadium on Sept. 16 for a midweek clash against the league-leading Rochester Rhinos. Pittsburgh’s regular season ends Sept. 19 in Harrisburg with the Keystone Derby Cup at stake against the City Islanders.
Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto will be in attendance Sept. 16 when the Hounds close out the regular season home slate against the Rochester Rhinos. Peduto will announce a new partnership between Citiparks Pittsburgh BIG League Sports, the Keep on Playing Foundation and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds that will see the club’s players and coaches running soccer clinics. Keep on Playing will be providing soccer equipment for young kids in the city.
Local singer and songwriter Hannah Jenkins will be playing an acoustic set in the Highmark Stadium sports bar before and after the game and during the halftime interval.
The first 2,500 fans to arrive will also receive a free insulated cooler.