The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC found two late second-half goals to defeat the Maryland Bobcats FC, 2-0, in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup tournament on Tuesday night at Highmark Stadium.
Forward Edward Kizza came off the bench as a second-half substitute to score the game’s breakthrough goal in the 81st minute, then Burke Fahling added insurance late in the 90th minute.
For much of the match, Bob Lilley’s squad played on the front foot but had nothing to show for it.
However, the Hounds took care of business to shake off a challenge from a pesky third-division Maryland side that showed plenty of confidence and willingness to keep bringing transition opportunities when they presented.
“It was nice to see the quality of those two goals. It was nice to see the resiliency and the toughness to keep going,” Lilley said.
The Hounds entered the match with a handful of players making their first starts for the club. Lilley said he felt it was important for those players to fight through the difficult moments, and find a way to pull through for the victory.
With only a few mainstays in the starting eleven including Robbie Mertz in the holding midfield spot, Tony Lopez in the attacking midfield line, and Luke Biasi starting at right back, the Hounds dictated terms of the match for long stretches, holding 58% of possession and a 22-6 edge in shots.
Pittsburgh struggled to hit the target with their first-half chances, however, as Fahling was the first to force saves by Bobcats goalie Alex Sutton with consecutive shots in the 36th and 38th minute.
“We were getting behind them. It was a game, early, where there were a couple of goals in it (for us). We had some corners, but weren’t finishing in the final third,” Lilley said.
“When you don’t get the goals, they (Maryland) went into the half, thinking, it’s 0-0. Then stepped up the pressure, ran at our back line, and caused us some problems.”
The Bobcats threatened early in the second half — as leading scorer and former Tampa Bay Rowdies and DC United Academy product, Darwin Espinal — weaved into the penalty area after squeezing through a pair of Hounds defenders to force one of three saves by Garner in the 57th minute.
The Hounds did go to the bench with 20 minutes to play, and one of the fresh faces into the game was Kizza, whose last two goals for the club came as a substitute in last year’s USL Championship playoff win over Birmingham.
As the match entered the final 10-minute stretch, it remained scoreless, but the Hounds kept pushing forward.
Eventually, they found the game-breaking moment when Luke Biasi chipped a ball from the right side to the back post area, where Tola Showunmi rose to head the ball back to the front of the goal for Kizza.
The former University of Pittsburgh star had no problem driving home his one-time finish to give the Hounds the elusive lead.
Kizza credited Tola Showunmi with setting him up for what turned out to be a tap-in goal.
“The biggest thing (as a substitute) is asking how you can influence the game,” he said. “The guys who have been playing have already been giving all they can, so it’s about what you can do to help the team get a result and tonight, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, you just want to make a difference.”
As the game entered stoppage time, a Hounds Academy product getting his first action with the senior club, Anders Bordoy, found himself with room to shoot from the top of the box and drilled a low shot toward the back post. Sutton made the initial save, but Fahling was in the right spot to put home the rebound.
A senior at Kiski Area High School and a Hounds Academy product who had his first Open Cup experience in 2015 as a ball boy at Highmark Stadium versus DC United, Bordoy made the most of his first playing experience in the Cup.
“I just walked out there, and it felt surreal,” he said about entering his first professional game. “To make an impact, too, for a goal was special. It was one of the best feelings I’ve felt in my life. Hopefully, there’s more of those to come.”
Lilley was impressed by his youngest player.
“For Anders to come on and recognize the space … there was no hesitation there,” Lilley said. “He’s got a gifted left peg and that ball was true. There wasn’t any spin on it. I don’t know if it was going in or was going to hit the post, but you can’t tag a ball much better. Anyone in our league would be happy with that quality of a strike.”
Despite his squad’s inability to find the back of the net for 80 minutes — despite being in control for much of the match — Lilley never thought much about making drastic lineup changes, as he kept plenty of belief in his lineup selections and the players he used in the match.
“We could have gone to the bench a lot earlier, but I wanted the guys to find a way,” Lilley said. “I wanted to put the responsibility on them, to step forward, and they were able to do that.”