The Dayton Dutch Lions triumphed over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds by a score of 2-1 on Saturday evening at Beavercreek High School. It was the first game of the USL PRO season for the Dutch Lions, and I’m not sure anyone knew what to expect. What was delivered was a game that featured red cards, missed opportunities, dueling supporters groups, and a dramatic finish.
The Riverhounds arrived in Dayton feeling that they were better than the 0-1-1 record that they brought with them. Big signings in the off-season (Motagalvan, Kinne, Seamon, Arteaga, Vazquez) and the completion of Highmark Stadium had led to big expectations. The season opening draw on the road at Richmond was hard fought and appeared to validate the expectations. Pittsburgh also played well for much of the match against Harrisburg to christen Highmark Stadium. Their inability to stave off a late City Islander’s rally, however, left them hungry for a victory against the Dutch Lions.
There weren’t many scoring opportunities generated in the opening minutes of play, but the few that did arise were generally for the Riverhounds. From the opening whistle, it was apparent that Pittsburgh’s midfield and front line had speed, strength, and athleticism. The teams were doing little more than trading possession, but there was a sense that the Riverhounds might break through at any moment.
Then, in the 28th minute, Dutch Lions forward Eli Garner was issued a red card for punching one of the Riverhounds. Pittsburgh would be afforded the luxury of playing the remaining 62 minutes with a man advantage. This should have been the death knell. The only question that should have remained was whether or not Dayton could salvage a draw.
For the remainder of the first half the Dutch Lions were able to maintain focus, stay organized, and keep their shape. The Riverhounds held most of the possession, but were unable to accomplish much more than probing around the perimeter of the Dayton defense. Most of the scoring chances came from long aerial crosses that were either cut off by a waiting Dayton defender, or failed to connect with the intended target.
The Dutch Lions were able to come up with a few scoring chances on the counter attack. In the 44th minute one of those chances paid dividends for Dayton forward Gibson Bardsley. Bardsley took the ball down the right side and eluded three Riverhounds defenders in the box. The spectacular finish screamed between Pittsburgh goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap and the near post.
The one-goal lead for the Dutch Lions would be short-lived. In stoppage time, Felix Motagalvan scored the equalizer with an assist by Jhonny Arteaga. The teams headed into halftime with the score knotted at 1-1.
The play in the second half had the same characteristics of the first. Dayton stayed organized, and Pittsburgh couldn’t capitalize on the man advantage. Shots started to come more frequently for the Riverhounds, but few of them were on frame. In fact, the Riverhounds attempted 19 shots on the night, but Dayton goalkeeper Matt Williams was only forced into six saves. Any counterattack that was mustered by the Dutch Lions was snuffed by the Riverhounds back line.
When the public address announcer stated that two minutes of stoppage time would be added, it appeared that the game would end in a draw, which would have been a satisfactory result for the home crowd under the circumstances. The men in orange had fought hard the entire game and were a man down for the majority of it.
Then it happened. Dayton turned over the Riverhounds with pressure and moved into the attacking third. The Pittsburgh defense was able to force a corner kick. Eric Kissinger served toward the back post, where Joe Broekhuizen was waiting. Broekhuizen headed the ball onto the foot of Remco Klaasse, who beat Hunter Gilstrap for the game winner.
The Dayton Dutch Lions bucked a couple of trends en route to the 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday night. First of all, this was a home opener. Dayton had never won their first home match of the regular season. Of course, this was only the fourth home opener, including the inaugural 2010 season in the PDL, in the existence of the fairly young organization. Nevertheless, winning the first game of the year in front of the hometown supporters sets a tone.
The dramatic fashion in which the Dutch Lions claimed a victory in stoppage time not only ended a trend, but completely reversed it. Last season there were seven matches in which Dayton conceded an equalizing or game winning goal in the 70th minute or later. In three of those contests, the Dutch Lions took a one goal advantage into stoppage time only to have the game end in a draw:
- May 5, 2012: Dayton held a 1-0 lead over Richmond at the end of 90′, but David Bulow converted a penalty kick for the Kickers to tie the game.
- May 26, 2012: A cornerkick was awarded to Rochester late in stoppage time. In the ensuing action, the Rhinos’ Thomas McManus netted the equalizer. The game ended in a 2-2 draw.
- August 20, 2012: The Dutch Lions led the Charlotte Eagles 2-1 after 90′, but they appeared to be running out of steam. After several opportunities, the Eagles earned the draw on a goal by Josh Rife.
The late-game breakdowns of a season ago indicated a lack of maturity and fitness. They were signs that Dayton simply did not know how to finish a match. It seemed that giving up points in the waning moments of a match had become a part of the Dutch Lions culture. If Saturday night was any indication of things to come, Dayton may be cultivating a culture of winning.
Even more impressive than winning in the final seconds of the match, was the way the Dutch Lions managed to pull this off. It would have been easy for them to become desperate and overaggressive on defense after going down a man. They could have played as individuals. Instead, they were disciplined and working as a unit. Credit goes to first-year head coach Patrick Bal and experienced players like Joel DeLass and Shintaro Harada.
Pittsburgh fans, players, and staff are left to wonder when the first victory of the season will come. After the game, one of the Riverhounds tweeted that the team was too talented to continue to fail to get results. He is right. On paper Pittsburgh is a much better team than the one that took the field last year. The season is young. I believe that all that is needed is some time for some chemistry to develop.
The attendance numbers for the home opener will likely be somewhat disappointing for the Dutch Lions’ front office, but there was an atmosphere in the stadium unlike that of most previous Dayton home games. This can largely be attributed to the presence of supporters groups for both teams. The Oranje Legion made their debut in support of the Dutch Lions. A contingent of the Steel Army made to trip from Pittsburgh. Both sides were effective at keeping the volume elevated at Beavercreek High School’s football stadium. Both teams should be proud of the support they received. After the game, one of the Dutch Lions players said that the two supporters groups really went back and forth and made it difficult to hear on the field.
The Dutch Lions (1-0-0) head to Florida next weekend to take on VSI Tampa Bay and Orlando City on back to back nights. It will be a test of Dayton’s mettle, seeing how Rochester opened the season with two losses on a similar road trip. It doesn’t get any easier for the Riverhounds either. They head to the Carolinas to face Charlotte and Charleston on consecutive days.
photos courtesy of Joe Craven