Results around the United Soccer League seemed to be falling perfectly for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in recent weeks. Dropped points from all of the Hounds’ playoff rivals opened the possibility for Mark Steffens’ side to finish Saturday evening in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Those hopes were dashed five minutes from the end of the Hounds’ clash with the Charlotte Independence at Highmark Stadium. Charlotte substitute Ryan Finley met a Carlos Alvarez corner kick to nod an equalizer and give the shorthanded visitors a 1-1 tie.
Pittsburgh (9-8-5, 32 points) remains in the sixth and final playoff spot, one point behind the Richmond Kickers and the New York Red Bulls II with a game in hand over both sides. Charlotte (6-6-8, 26 points) can pull level with the Hounds if it wins its two catch-up games.
“We knew we’d have trouble with every set piece,” Steffens said after the game. “I figured that was the only way they were going to score.
“Our second half was not strong tonight.”
The Hounds looked set to record a third straight league win when Charlotte forward Dominique Badji was dismissed following a scuffle immediately after Lebo Moloto’s brilliant opener on 39 minutes.
Moloto had provided the few exceptional moments in a tight first half with his wiry ability to wriggle away from opponents in both halves of the field. He broke the deadlock after chesting down Stephen Okai’s pass at the edge of the penalty area and firing a half-volley in off the far post.
Charlotte could have been reduced to 10 men in the fourth minute when Kevin Kerr released Mike Green on goal. Independence goalkeeper John Berner appeared to handle the ball outside his penalty area to thwart the Hounds forward. Referee Jaroslaw Werel opted against taking action.
Steffens had kept faith with the 10 outfield players that picked up three points in Toronto last weekend. Jamaican national team goalkeeper Ryan Thompson made his long awaited return after representing his country at this summer’s Copa America and Concacaf Gold Cup tournaments.
It was Thompson’s first Hounds appearance since May 23 and his first at Highmark Stadium since April 25.
Kerr picked up his fifth caution of the season two minutes before the break. That rules the Scotsman out of next week’s return game in North Carolina due to yellow card accumulation.
Hounds fans will be able to follow next week’s game live on Riverhounds.com at 7 p.m.
A first trip to expansion team Louisville City closes out the month on Aug. 29 before the Hounds host the Charleston Battery at Highmark Stadium on Sept. 5.- by Riverhounds PR