PITTSBURGH – The ceremonial ribbons had been cut, flesh had been pressed and city councilors had been schmoozed. Highmark Stadium was officially open and all that remained was for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to beat the Harrisburg City Islanders before a lively sellout crowd.
“That’s the easy part,” quipped Pittsburgh head coach Justin Evans before the April 13 clash. Harrisburg triumphed by 2-1.
Pittsburgh’s early struggles seem increasingly distant after Saturday’s 3-0 of the Rochester Rhinos extended its unbeaten run in the United Soccer Leagues Pro Division to six games. Former New York Red Bulls strike duo Jose Angulo and Jhonny Arteaga notched a goal apiece before substitute Ryan Kinne iced an excellent team performance two minutes from the end.
New characteristics are emerging in this Riverhounds side. Gone are the perfunctory line-ups of yesteryear that struggled to enthuse paltry crowds in the Steel City’s distant suburbs. Unrestrained, dynamic movement from wide midfielders Matt Dallman and Kevin Kerr are becoming the staple of Pittsburgh’s play.
“We give them a lot of freedom,” fourth-year head coach Evans told The Soccer Observer after Saturday’s game. “They’re pretty interchangeable. It doesn’t really matter who ends up where as long as they are in good shape defensively when we lose the ball.”
Dallman leads the league with seven assists this year. His vicious 20-yard drive against Rhinos goalkeeper Kristian Nicht’s crossbar led to Angulo’s opening goal on 42 minutes. The Colombian-born forward seized on the rebound to drill a left-foot shot inside the near post.
Former Bolton Wanderers trialist Dallman marauds down the touchline like an impatient subway commuter barging up an escalator with an oversized briefcase. He’s going to reach his destination, the endline or the edge of the penalty area, no matter how many people he has to jostle past. Dallman’s energy proved too much for a Rochester team that had tied 2-2 with the Los Angeles Blues on Friday evening before embarking on an eventful overnight journey to Western Pennsylvania.
The Rhinos’ bus broke down on the outskirts of Pittsburgh at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. It was 7 a.m., 12 hours before the second of their back-to-back games, before the players finally reached their hotel. Rochester’s sluggishness was exploited by a series of excellent diagonal switches behind the full-backs for Dallman and Kerr to chase.
“We wanted to make them run without the ball and take their spirits down,” Evans said. “We did a good job with that.”
Rochester’s pre-game preparations were furthered hampered when central defender George Kyriazis limped to the bench as the teams lined up to start the game. Midfielder Jimmy Banks took his place and the enforced reshuffle led to four positional changes.
The visitors still created two clear chances to take the lead. Hounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap foiled Michael Reidy on eight minutes after Tam McManus sent the right-midfielder through on goal. Scottish veteran McManus showed his nous on 26 minutes with a late run into the box that should have brought a pass from Banks. The late entrant failed to lift his head and dribbled into two covering defenders to the disgust of his teammate.
It was imperative for Rochester to score the first goal to take something from the game. Pittsburgh’s breakthrough knocked the stuffing from them. McManus dropped deep to look for the ball but found little assistance coming from the flanks and on-loan New England Revolution forward Blake Brettschneider become increasingly isolated as his teammates wilted. Arteaga’s close-range header from Angulo’s beautifully arched cross on 63 minutes effectively ended the contest.
Pittsburgh has now picked up 10 points from the past four games, all at Highmark Stadium. Seven of the next eight are also at home, leading Evans’ players to focus on winning their five games this month after going through May undefeated.
“I think it’s feasible for us to do that,” Evans said. “Of course we’re going to have tough games. You don’t get an easy one.
“But the guys are all bonding together and they want to climb up the table.”
June 1, 2013 — GALLERY: Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs. Rochester Rhinos
April 11, 2013 — Pittsburgh Riverhounds Chase Major League Status
Nov. 16, 2012 — GALLERY: Highmark Stadium
June 19, 2012 — Riverhounds And Rhinos Share Spoils On Subpar Surface