One-goal wins are becoming a familiar — and welcome — sight for Hounds fans.
Hugh Roberts volleyed home from close range midway through the first half, and that was the only goal the Riverhounds needed to come away with a 1-0 win over the Ottawa Fury on Sunday afternoon at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa, Ontario.
The Hounds (9-1-7) have thrived in close contests, as six of their nine USL victories have come by a single goal. The win makes the Hounds 3-0-1 all-time against the Fury (6-8-3), including a pair of 1-0 wins this season, and extends the Hounds’ dominance in Ontario, as their record moves to 5-0-2 in games played in the province since 2013.
Roberts’ first goal of the season came after the Fury enjoyed a territorial advantage for the first 20 minutes, having won three early corner kicks, and the strike seemed to be what the Hounds needed to settle into the game.
From that point forward, the Hounds largely kept the Fury out of dangerous positions. They limited the home team to just two total shots for the game, and, apart from a few set pieces, Ottawa rarely seemed to threaten Dan Lynd in the Hounds goal.
1. Back-post running pays dividends again.
The Hounds’ current streak of five wins and a draw in the past six games began with a 2-1 comeback win in Richmond on June 2, during which Bob Lilley instructed his players to make more runs to the back post and to try to get the ball back across the face of the goal more often.
In that match, Kevin Kerr returned a ball across the goal to Neco Brett for the tying goal, and since then, some of the Hounds’ best attacking moments have come from such plays.
Roberts’ goal fits that description, but it would never have reached that point if not for an outstanding save by Fury goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau on a Joe Greenspan header directly from the Hounds’ first corner kick of the game. Crépeau blocked the ball into the air with the save, and the Fury defense cleared it from the box, but the Hounds quickly got back on the ball.
Christiano François got the ball on the left side and had time to look up, where he saw Todd Pratzner still lurking at the back post from the initial corner kick. The Haitian delivered a ball right on the money for Pratzner, who headed it back to the front of the goal for Roberts to volley it into the back of the net.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) July 8, 2018
The 22nd-minute goal was Roberts’ first as a Hound and his first since April 29 of last season with Bethlehem Steel. Coincidentally, that goal for the Steel was also the only goal in a 1-0 win over FC Cincinnati.
The Fury also might be kicking themselves for letting history repeat itself. The Hounds’ lone goal in the teams’ first meeting, at Highmark Stadium on April 14, came when another center back, Tobi Adewole, scored from in front on a play that began with a corner kick.
2. Taking time to get revved up.
For the second straight match and one of many times this season, the Hounds were guilty of a slow start to the game.
The Fury won two early corner kicks, the first of which set up Kevin Olivera for a shot from the top of the box that hit traffic in front and, fortunately for the Hounds, sprayed wide of the goal. Still inside the first eight minutes of the game, Tony Taylor got on the receiving end of a ball played through from the midfield, and Greenspan had to track back and poke the ball away for another corner to stop Taylor from shooting from 12 yards away from the goal.
The slow starts have been something Lilley has talked about; he even said his team was a little fortunate for the lightning delay midweek against North Carolina after they played poorly in the 18 minutes before the long break.
The Hounds have been playing with fire by allowing teams to get behind them early in matches, but thus far, they haven’t paid a price and have worked their way into control. And in three of the past five matches (vs. New York, vs. North Carolina and at Ottawa), the stabilizing moment has been a first-half goal.
3. The shutout streak continues.
With their 12th overall and fifth consecutive shutout, the Hounds have not conceded a goal in 487 minutes, the last coming when they fell behind in the 2-1 win at Richmond. It is the longest such streak for the club in the modern (post-2010) USL era and a reflection of many factors.
Against the Fury, the Hounds did a much better job of keeping their midfielders back and in the correct positions to break up any offense from building up. The Fury were able to get the ball deep at times by playing balls to wingers Carl Haworth and Adonijah Reid, but even when they were able to get to the corners, the Hounds almost always had a defender and a midfielder doubling down to keep them from moving the ball to a dangerous area.
Even after starting the game a bit on their heels, the Hounds managed to get the possession statistic almost equal in the game — 49.7 percent for the Hounds, to be exact. Only one of Ottawa’s 11 crosses was completed to a target in black and red, and Lynd didn’t have a ton to do to record his USL-leading ninth clean sheet of the season.
Lynd’s lone save came in stoppage time, when substitute Steevan Dos Santos, a former Lilley player with the Rochester Rhinos, was played through on the right side of the goal after a long free kick was knocked around multiple times at the top of the box. Dos Santos took the attempt on goal from a sharp angle, but Lynd was quick off his line to close him down and try to smother the shot.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) July 8, 2018
The ball deflected away from Lynd and back toward the front of the goal, but Ray Lee, who came on as a defensive substitute for the Hounds, was there to thump the ball away to safety.
4. Parkes leaves the game late.
Perhaps the only big negative to be taken from the win was the departure of Romeo Parkes, who fell awkwardly in the 85th minute and had to leave the game.
The Jamaican striker was on the ground earlier in the second half after a fair tackle caused his right leg to turn awkwardly while planted in the turf, but he was able to continue. But after pressuring the ball in the Ottawa half during the 83rd minute, he appeared to signal to the bench that he would need to come off, and less than a minute later, he was down on the turf being attended to by the training staff.
Parkes walked off the field holding his neck or shoulder awkwardly, but after being looked over on the sidelines, he watched the remainder of the game with his teammates from the bench. No information about Parkes’ status was given immediately after the game.
Parkes was replaced for the final five minutes by Dennis Chin, a former Fury player who got a short run in his old stomping grounds.
5. The big picture.
The third consecutive victory for the Hounds has them, for the moment, in a two-horse race with Cincinnati atop the Eastern Conference.
Cincinnati (10-3-5) was held scoreless by Nashville on Saturday for their second draw in the past three games, which allowed the Hounds to creep closer. Now, with a game in hand, the Hounds trail by just one point and still face Cincinnati twice more this season after drawing 2-2 in their only USL meeting of the year. The Hounds are at the midpoint of their 34-game USL slate and get a week off before returning to action at home against the Charleston Battery on July 21.
Those additional days off come at a great time for a few of the Hounds. Not only will Parkes get extra recovery time after being forced to exit, so will Kerr, who was not included in the lineup or on the bench against the Fury with what the team described as a lower-body injury. The downtime will allow Lilley to reset his rotation of players, as well, with only one midweek game — Aug. 1 hosting Richmond — between now and Aug. 22.
By “stacking wins,” to borrow Lilley’s term, over the past month, the Hounds have themselves in great position to challenge for the top spot and at least claim the first home playoff game in Highmark Stadium’s six-season history.
With a record-setting defensive pace — seven goals allowed in 17 games — if the Hounds become just slightly more prolific on the offensive end, it might be hard not to consider them one of the favorites come October.