ST. PETERSURG — It’s possible to both dominate play, yet get outperformed in a soccer match as a crowd of 4,627 at Al Lang Stadium witnessed Saturday night. Visiting Pittsburgh, intent on hunkering down and hoping to convert on what few scoring chances it got, did just that for a 2-1 defeat of the Rowdies.
Though Tampa Bay (6-2, 18 points) held the ball more than two-thirds of the night, Pittsburgh executed its counter-attacking game plan to near perfection. The Riverhounds’ third straight road victory pulled them into second place in the Atlantic Division, though the Rowdies still hold a four-point cushion with one fewer match played.
Pittsburgh (4-3-2, 14 points) held the ball for just 31.4 percent of the time yet ended up with nearly as many shots (10 to Tampa Bay’s 11), keeping the Rowdies out of imminent danger until a stoppage-time score by Sebastian Guenzatti.
Tampa Bay actually came inches away from a thrilling draw. Its goal, in the 92nd minute, came off a brilliant full-field pass by Lewis Hilton that late sub Dayonn Harris caught up to, then in tremendous fashion dribbled across the goal line to feed Guenzatti.
Moments later Harris went for a tying strike, but his shot drifted a few inches wide of the left post. It was Pittsburgh’s first win in St. Petersburg.
“I’m proud of the the players, and I think the fans should be proud of the players,” coach Neill Collins said. “They gave it all right to the death, and Pittsburgh had to fight, and do everything to earn that win. We got punished tonight on two of their first three attacks; we had shots cleared off the line. We dominated aspects of the game. Pittsburgh was clinical. But I’m not going to beat the lads up.”
Both of Pittsburgh’s goals came against the flow up play, true to its plan. Danny Griffin started a run on his defensive end, and although Tampa Bay had numbers, Griffin’s pass to Riverhounds’ top scorer Russell Cicerone sucked in the Rowdies. His cross got through to Griffin for a tap-in in the 21st minute.
Cicerone did the damage himself in the 55th minute on what, in effect, was Pittsburgh’s first connection of passes in the second half. USL all-time assist leader Kenardo Forbes earned his 40th career helper with a brilliant sendup to Cicerone, who put home his fifth goal of the season.
Pittsburgh did not control the ball for the next 13 minutes, yet almost made it 3-0 if not for a brilliant save by goalkeeper Evan Louro along with defender Aaron Guillen’s headed clearance that went straight up to the crossbar and somehow stayed out of the goal.
The Riverhounds, coming off a 1-0 shutout at Indy Eleven on Tuesday, sunk back and made the job easy for goalkeeper Danny Vitiello, whose toughest challenge came on a long strike by Guenzatti in the 85th minute.
Had it not been for Pittsburgh defender Mekeil Williams’ clearance of a Laurence Wyke strike off the line in the 13th minute, the entire complexity of the contest would have changed.
“We had a really good passage of play at that point and if we get that goal, it’s going to be a long night for Pittsburgh,” Collins said. “But we didn’t. Then we give up something. And it wasn’t so much the first goal that hurt us, it was the second goal.”
Wyke saw action for the first time in a month due to injury. For the second half, he centered the defensive line as Collins decided to sub out stalwart Forrest Lasso.
“Forrest has been fantastic, and he’s been our leader,” Collins said. “But tonight he got a yellow card in the first half, and the way the game was being refereed, it was very stop-start. I did not want to go down to 10 men. He handled it like the professional and leader that he is.”
The Rowdies head to Hartford, which jumped into third place (13 points) with a 2-1 defeat of Loudoun, for a road contest next Saturday.