Moment to Shine: A monumental win from a Hounds team

In what will go down as one of the most monumental moments in club history, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, a second division club that has never won a trophy, took down MLS Columbus Crew, 1-0 to advance to the round of eight in the US Open Cup.

The largest crowd in Hounds history were all decked out in white and shouting from whistle to whistle to exhort the boys to victory. And those 6,107 fans all went home immensely happy.

“The fans played a big part,” said Head Coach Bob Lilley. “We were tiring in the second half … and the fans pulled us through.”

“It wasn’t pretty at the end, but there was energy in the building and the guys had something to hold onto.”

The match began with slow pace for Columbus early on seemed like a cagey and clever way to take the Hounds out of the game. Upon later reflection, one might conclude that a lack of urgency and energy condemned Columbus Crew to be a little flat early on. Despite dominating the possession the ball and dictating terms, it didn’t ultimately prove a successful tactic.

In the early frame, Pittsburgh got some opportunities from DZ Harmon, Albert Dikwa, and Tola Showunmi in just the first 20 minutes demonstrated that Pittsburgh were not at all intimidated by their MLS opponents. But the breakthrough goal was a piece of poetry that will forever live enshrined in Riverhound fans memories.

In the 22nd minute, Arturo Ordonez make a critical tackle near the midfield circle. In one of those perfect soccer moments, the ball caromed perfectly to Robbie Mertz, who lifted his head to see Albert Dikwa accelerating through the center of the defense and past his marker. Mertz hit the pass to Dikwa; later in the press conference he would say he was worried that it might have been a moment late and offsides. No worries. As the flag stayed down, Dikwa took a touch, raced forward, put the laces of his right boot on the ball will a subtle curling shot to the keeper’s left. Columbus GK Evan Bush never had a chance, and the Riverhounds would be staked to a 1-0 lead with still 68 minutes of soccer yet to play.

Pittsburgh didn’t bunker in defensively. In fact, in the second half, Coach Bob Lilley said “we were even trying to look for that second goal.”

Columbus continue to possess the ball, working things from side to side while the Riverhounds closed down the space and maintained shape. The Hounds defensive shape was a fairly tight and consistent 5-3-2. In attack, the Hounds went into a 3-3-1-2-1; Albert Dikwa playing deeper as a second striker/attacking mid, with Robbie Mertz on his right and Danny Griffin at his left, but central, not wide.

Tola Shuwunmi was posted up as the Hounds big-body target striker threat. Lilley remarked “I think those Columbus centerbacks are going to be dreaming of Tola. Nightmares.”

On the night, the Riverhounds were quicker to so-called second balls and fifty-fiftys, more aggressive in duels, and more energetic. Their passes were more reliable. Sometimes it just seemed like the right ball ball fell in the right place at the right time. Among the Hounds spitfires were Danny Griffin, Marc Dos Santos, Robbie Mertz, and Marc Ybarra, who were just winning all the balls when it was needed.

Marc Dos Santos was everywhere he needed to be along the backline. Chasing down balls like an angry Rottweiler.

Some will ultimately criticize Crew Head Coach Wilfred Nancy for the choice to rotate his squad. Nancy chose to start players usually on the reserve squad; he called up three MLS Next players for the match, and even started one; and left his three best players, Cucho Hernandez, Darlington Nagbe, and Lucas Zelarayán, back in Columbus and unavailable for the match.

I thought Columbus was being a little conservative with their lineup for starters, but in hindsight, one might argue that their choices looked both overly optimistic and also quite risky.

Columbus, a talented MLS team, both wanted to focus on league play and let their less-experienced guys get some run. That was achieved, but at a steep price – the end of the Crew’s time in the US Open Cup.

Meanwhile after yet a second Riverhounds upset of an MLS team, Pittsburgh’s dream run in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup continues.





Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men’s and Women’s teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called ‘Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.’ He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis.

When he’s not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really.

You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi