WILMINGTON, N.C. (Sept. 12, 2015) – Vini Dantas climbed off the substitutes’ bench Saturday night to rescue a point for the 10-man Pittsburgh Riverhounds in his first action for two months.
The Hounds trailed the Wilmington Hammerheads by 1-0 with 20 minutes remaining at Legion Stadium and were down a man after veteran defender Sterling Flunder’s dismissed for a last-man foul. Yet Dantas clawed back a vital equalizer that keeps Pittsburgh within one point of the Richmond Kickers in the United Soccer League playoff race having played one fewer game.
Pittsburgh (10-9-7, 37 points) gets the chance to climb back into the Eastern Conference’s top six playoff spots Wednesday when the Rochester Rhinos visit Highmark Stadium.
Riverhounds head coach Mark Steffens made two changes from the starting 11 that tied with the Charleston Battery last weekend. Leading scorer Rob Vincent returned from his one-game suspension to replace Boris Zivanovic in midfield. Stephen Okai saw his first action since Aug. 15 while Mike Green dropped to the bench.
Steffens pushed Kevin Kerr into an unfamiliar center forward role in a bid to spark his team’s offense. The Scotsman missed a chance to put the Hounds ahead on 10 minutes after a sweeping cross-field move that saw Ben Newnam overlapping Matt Dallman on the right wing. Newnam whipped in a terrific cross that Kerr met at full stretch. His header fizzed over the goal frame.
Wilmington took the lead on 15 minutes when Brian Ackley retrieved the ball on the left before firing a low cross toward the front post. Former Philadelphia Union forward Aaron Wheeler laid the ball off for the onrushing Andrae Campbell to drill a shot past Hounds goalkeeper Calle Brown from 10 yards.
Pittsburgh struggled to create chances in open play during the first half against a well-organized Hammerheads defense. Vincent came within inches of restoring parity from a set piece on 41 minutes though after Lebo Moloto picked him out from a corner kick.
Vincent could not properly connect with his initial volley. The Liverpudlian midfielder reacted quickest to the rebound to stab the ball toward goal. Ross Tomaselli made an excellent stop at the far post before Hammerheads goalkeeper Andre Rawls smothered the ball on his goal line.
The Hounds’ task was made tougher on 53 minutes when Flunder took a loose touch on the halfway line after a Wilmington defensive clearance. Justin Moose sprinted onto the loose ball before being tripped by Flunder as the fullback tried to recover.
Referee Dustin Thorne produced the inevitable red card for denial of a goal scoring opportunity.
Numerical inferiority galvanized the Hounds. Dallman made a huge appeal for a penalty kick when his attempted cross appeared to strike the arm of Fran Martinez.
A good spell of pressure yielded the equalizer on 70 minutes. Kerr provided the spark with his nifty footwork in a tight space outside Wilmington’s 18-yard box. The Scotsman teed up Dallman to hang an enticing cross toward the back post. Dantas met the ball six yards out to steer his header beyond Rawls.
It was the Brazilian striker’s first goal since he came off the bench to rescue a 1-1 tie at Saint Louis F.C. on April 11.
The Hounds close out their regular season home slate Wednesday against the regular season champion Rochester. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto will be in attendance to announce a new partnership between Citiparks Pittsburgh BIG League Sports, the Keep On Playing Foundation and the Riverhounds that will see the club’s players and coaches running soccer clinics. Keep On Playing will be providing soccer equipment for young kids in the city.
Local singer and songwriter Hannah Jenkins will be playing an acoustic set in the Highmark Stadium sports bar before and after the game and during the halftime interval.