PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ head coach Justin Evans spoke last weekend of his team’s ambition to win its five United Soccer Leagues Pro Division games in June.
That target is now unreachable after Friday’s 1-1 tie with Toronto F.C. Reserves at Highmark Stadium. Evans though was again left with plenty of positives as Pittsburgh extended its unbeaten streak to seven games with another impressive performance.
Toronto arrived in Western Pennsylvania with a strong roster boasting 39 Major League Soccer appearances between them this season. Reserve team coach Jim Brennan’s back four of Ashtone Morgan, Doneil Henry, Gale Agbossoumonde and Darel Russell have each featured in at least five of Ryan Nelsen’s first team selections. Justin Braun led the attack with rookie Kyle Bekker supporting from an advanced central midfield position.
Former New York Red Bulls strikers Jose Angulo and Jhonny Arteaga had contributed seven of Pittsburgh’s 12 goals coming into Friday’s game. They combined to give the hosts the lead on nine minutes.
Arteaga peeled to the right wing to take a short pass from Matt Dallman before whipping a pinpoint cross into the gap between center-backs Henry and Agbossoumonde. Angulo stooped to thump his header past teenage goalkeeper Quillan Roberts from six yards.
Toronto, with Bekker showing a series of tidy touches, held the early edge in possession with Pittsburgh struggling to get bodies into attack when they won the ball. The Riverhounds still created better scoring chances despite being heavily outnumbered.
Kevin Kerr drifted out to the right flank on a couple of occasions to spark dangerous breakaways with Arteaga, and Angulo should have done better with an opening on 28 minutes.
Colombian-born Angulo fired a powerful shot straight at Roberts from a difficult angle on the left side of the penalty box when Dallman had made a 50-yard sprint to arrive in space at the back post.
Bekker carved out Toronto’s first opening on 35 minutes with a delightfully clipped pass over Pittsburgh’s defense that found Emery Welshman galloping into the penalty area. Riverhounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap stood tall to swat away the Canadian’s attempted lob.
Arteaga’s involvement ended five minutes before half-time when the 2011 USL Pro top scorer tweaked a muscle. His replacement, Mike Seth, should have doubled Pittsburgh’s lead four minutes after the restart.
Angulo and Henry battered shoulders in a bid to reach Mike Green’s forward pass and the ball trickled through into the substitute’s path. Seth carried the ball unopposed to the edge of the 18-yard box before steering his sidefooter narrowly past Roberts’ far post.
Pittsburgh head coach Evans let out an exasperated scream two minutes later when his team botched another opening on a 3-vs-3 breakaway. Angulo hurriedly tried to release Dallman behind Toronto’s shorthanded defense and scuffed his pass.
Toronto right-back Russell picked up the first booking of an increasingly chippy game when he tugged Andrew Marshall’s jersey as the Pittsburgh defender worked a give-and-go with Angulo, and Roberts kept the visitors alive with a good save on 64 minutes.
Seth C’deBaca, Angulo and Kerr produced the move of the game to scythe through the center of Toronto’s defense. Kerr drove toward the penalty area before firing off a low drive that was destined for the bottom corner. Roberts sprawled to his right to tip the ball behind for a corner kick.
Agbossoumonde was fortunate to escape a booking after a senseless barge on C’deBaca on 68 minutes, and Alfonso Motagalvan picked up Pittsburgh’s first caution two minutes later for a late tackle on Henry on the halfway line.
The visitors found a fortuitous leveler on 71 minutes through Andrew Wiedeman’s deflected shot after Morgan found the former F.C. Dallas man on the right wing. Hounds left-back Green quickly stepped in to prod the ball from his opponent, but his subsequent loose touch allowed Wiedeman to retrieve possession inside the penalty box. The Toronto man’s angled drive looped up off the sliding Marshall and over Gilstrap into the far corner.
Referee Ron Dambrosia halted play as tempers boiled over between Rich Costanzo and Logan Emory, and Agbossoumonde finally received a yellow card on 76 minutes for a challenge on Motagalvan that was later than Pele turning up for a New York Cosmos press conference.
Dallman delivered a superb free kick from beside the left corner flag after another rugged Agbossoumonde challenge that forced Toronto into some diligent defending at the back post. The Reds also carved out one final set-piece chance in the closing minutes when Gilstrap flapped at Bekker’s inswinging corner. Agbossoumonde missed his kick and fouled substitute Ryan Kinne as he tried to force the loose ball over the line.
All that remained was for the excess testosterone shown by Toronto’s defenders to surface once more after the final whistle had blown. Goalkeeper Roberts and his back line petulantly surrounded a Riverhounds player after a tussle near the left corner flag.
All in all, the 3,104 fans at Highmark Stadium were treated to an entertaining encounter and a lavish array of handbags.
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