PITTSBURGH (Oct. 15, 2022) — Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC closed out its regular-season schedule with a home win in front of a sellout crowd, as the Hounds topped Oakland Roots SC, 3-1, tonight at Highmark Stadium.
Toby Sims, Russell Cicerone and Kenardo Forbes scored for the Hounds (16-9-9), who will enter the USL Championship Playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Juan Azócar scored the first goal of the game for Oakland (11-10-13), which now needs Las Vegas to lose or draw later tonight to reach the playoffs.
The announced crowd of 5,182 was a sellout and the team’s second-largest crowd of the season for the team’s Fan Appreciation Night.
Oakland surprised the Hounds by nicking an early goal in the eighth minute. José Hernández took a corner kick aimed low and to the top of the box, and Azócar hit an outstanding strike into the corner of the net on the designed play.
The early goal opened play up, and the Hounds played positively with 53 percent of possession and a 13-5 edge in shots for the game.
Cicerone nearly tied the game in the 22nd minute when he broke into the box on the left side, but Roots goalkeeper Paul Blanchette came off his line to make one of his four saves on the night.
But in first-half stoppage time, Cicerone would play provider after a swift team move from the Hounds out of the back. The ball came to Robbie Mertz on the left, and Mertz played a backheel to Cicerone, who then beat his defender on the dribble.
Cicerone chipped the ball to the back post, where Sims cut in front of the defender and took two touches to beat the goalkeeper. It was the first USL Championship goal for Sims, and it fell on the defender’s 25th birthday today.
The Hounds pulled ahead for good from their own corner kick in the 54th minute. Oakland cleared the initial ball, but the Hounds regained possession, and Mertz got the ball at his feet on the left flack.
Mertz served a pass back to the middle, where Cicerone finished with a simple header for his team-leading 13th goal of the season. It is the second straight year Cicerone has led the Hounds in scoring, and his 29 goals with the Hounds are tied with Rob Vincent for fifth in club history.
The Hounds added their insurance goal in the 75th minute when Danny Griffin fed Angelo Kelly in the center of the box. Two Roots defenders sprawled in front of Kelly to block his shot, but the rebound fell to Forbes, and the Hounds captain scored his third of the year and his second in as many games.
The defense did its job throughout the match, limiting Oakland to just two shots on goal and holding them to just 0.13 xG (expected goals), according to Opta.
Hounds Man of the Match
Russell Cicerone broke a personal scoring drought with a goal and an assist to give him 13 goals and six assists for his second season in Pittsburgh. He was active on the ball all night, with a team-high three successful dribbles and three chances created — also tops on the team — in addition to his assist.
As the No. 5 seed, the Hounds will face No. 4 Birmingham Legion FC (17-10-7) in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23 at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Ala. The Hounds and Legion split two meetings this season, with each side winning by one goal at home.
Riverhounds SC lineup (5-2-3) — Jahmali Waite; Dani Rovira (William Eyang 90+3’), Jelani Peters, Danny Griffin, Shane Wiedt, Toby Sims (Luke Biasi 85’); Kenardo Forbes (Edward Kizza 90+3’), Angelo Kelly (Alex Dixon 85’); Russell Cicerone (Mekeil Williams 72’), Albert Dikwa, Robbie Mertz
Oakland Roots SC (3-4-3) — Paul Blanchette; Daniel Barbar, Alejandro Fuenmayor, Tarek Morad (Jonathan Rodriguez 74’); Guillermo Diaz (Jesús Enriquez 65’), José Hernández (Joseph Nane 87’), Charlie Dennis, Edgardo Rito; Juan Azócar, Óttar Magnus Karlsson, Lindo Mfeka (Mikael Tørset Johnsen 46’)
OAK — Juan Azócar 8’ (José Hernández)
PIT — Toby Sims 45+1’ (Russell Cicerone)
PIT — Russell Cicerone 54’ (Robbie Mertz)
PIT — Kenardo Forbes 75’
OAK — Jesús Enriquez 90+2’ (caution – unsporting behavior)