It was a beautiful night for soccer in western Pennsylvania. The crowd at Highmark Stadium were treated to an exciting match, even if the final result wasn’t the one for which they had hoped. They saw their Pittsburgh Riverhounds jump to an early 2-0 lead before the Dayton Dutch Lions clawed their way back to salvage a point on the road.
The Riverhounds didn’t waste any time getting on the board. Jhonny Arteaga scored his first goal of the season in the tenth minute, when he headed a ball beyond a helpless Matt Williams. Arteaga was set up by a beautifully delivered cross from Matt Dallman, who gave the Dutch Lions fits for most of the match.
Riverhounds Head Coach Justin Evans was asked what it meant for Arteaga to finally score a goal in the team’s ninth game. Evans answered, “That’ll do tremendous for his confidence. We were talking to him, and I think he was really trying to push to score a goal. We told him he is good player, he knows how to score goals, and just to let it come to him.”
Miscues by the Dutch Lions set up Pittsburgh’s counterattack for the majority of the first half. Dayton couldn’t play the ball through the midfield. Pressure from the Riverhounds forced questionable decisions and inaccurate passes that resulted in turnovers and scoring opportunities for the home team.
The Dutch Lions appeared to come to life in the last 10-15 minutes of the first half. They were able to retain possession and pushed the ball into the attacking third on several occasions. Dayton was unable to convert opportunities into goals, which allowed the Riverhounds to take a one-goal lead into the locker room at the half.
The second half began in much the same way as the first. Once again it was Dallman delivering a perfect cross from the right side. This time it was Jose Angulo who put a header into the net. The Riverhounds found themselves up by two in the 51st minute.
It did not take long for the Steel Army to fill Highmark Stadium with thundering chants of “I Believe that We Will Win.” There could not have been many in the stadium that would have argued with the Riverhounds supporters group. Pittsburgh had a two-goal advantage on the scoreboard and appeared to have a stranglehold on the momentum. I’m sure that even the most ardent Dayton fan couldn’t have foreseen how the Dutch Lions were about to fight all the way back.
Gibson Bardsley brought the Dutch Lions to within a goal of the Riverhounds in the 65th minute. Tjeerd Westdijk found Bardsley in space on the left side of the pitch. It appeared that Bardlsey would send a through ball to a teammate prepared to make a run by the Pittsburgh back line. Instead, he ripped a strike that curled by the near post above the outstretched arms of Hunter Gilstrap.
Coach Evans did not think that shot should have found its way into the back of the net. “That’s a save we need to make. That was a shot from the corner of the 18. That’s why we pay him… to make those saves. That really turned the momentum of the game and stood it on its head.”
The equalizer came in the 84th minute. Irakli Khutsidze found himself with the ball on the counterattack for the Dayton. He slipped a pass through an out-of-shape Pittsburgh defense that found Westdijk wide open in the right of the box. Westdijk converted for his first USL PRO goal.
After the equalizer, neither team seemed willing to take too many risks to grab the three points for a victory. It’s not that either team stopped trying to score goals, but it would have been too much to expect them to expose themselves to counterattacks. As deflating as the result was for the Riverhounds, it would have been devastating for them to lose after being up 2-0 with 20 minutes left to play. Likewise, the Dutch Lions had battled too hard to come back from the early deficit to risk leaving the Steel City without any points.
I give a lot of credit to the substitutions made by Patrick Bal, Dayton’s Head Coach. In particular, the decision to send Tjeerd Westdijk into the match for Brock Granger in the 6oth minute had a measurable impact on the outcome. When I first saw Westdijk preparing to enter the match, I assumed he was going to take a spot on the front line to try to bring some life and fresh legs to the attack. When Granger came off the pitch, I assumed that the head coach was willing to take a risk to sacrifice defense in the hopes that the extra attacker would generate the offense needed to level the score. Indeed, Westdijk assisted on the first goal and scored the second.
My assumptions though were only partially correct. Bal explained that bringing Westdijk in at a midfield position allowed him to move Shintaro Harada to center back. The Dutch Lions had been caught out of shape several times throughout the game, and Bal wanted to lean on Harada’s experience and leadership to resolve that issue. It seemed to be effective.
One of my assumptions about the match was on the mark. In the Reckless Challenge Game Preview, I warned that aerial crosses to the far post would be something that the Dutch Lions needed to be able to defend. The fact that they couldn’t do so resulted in both goals for the Riverhounds.
This leaves the Dayton coaching staff with something of a dilemma. Where are they going to play Shintaro Harada? The best use of his intangible skills may be at center back with the Dutch Lions. The back line clearly needs someone like Harada to help keep them in shape. We saw against Phoenix, though, that Harada’s presence in the midfield can free up Joel DeLass to get involved in the offense. It’s going to be interesting to see how Bal deals with this question.
With regard to the Riverhounds, the bright spots continue to be Jose Angulo, who has scored four of the team’s seven goals, and Matt Dallman, who has five of the team’s seven assists.
The Riverhounds have now scored multiple goals in two consecutive USL PRO games after failing to score more than once over the first seven contests, during which time the team averaged only 0.43 goals per game.
The Riverhounds, though, have to figure out a way to stop the opposition from scoring late in matches. Lucky Mkosana scored in the 90th minute to give Harrisburg a 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh in the Riverhounds’ home opener. Remco Klasse scored in stoppage time to give Dayton a 2-1 victory the first time these two teams met. Then tonight happened.
I asked Justin Evans what the team needs to do to stop giving up late goals. He replied, “There’s not a whole lot we can do. I think maybe we’re just losing our shape a little bit. At the end [of tonight’s game] our guys were just tired and we got out of shape.”
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds travel to Carey Stadium on Tuesday to face Ocean City in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup before returning home to meet Antigua in league play on Friday.
The Dayton Dutch Lions remain at home to take on the Dearborn Stars in the Open Cup and also get Antigua in a USL PRO match on Sunday.