The Hounds are gearing up to face Birmingham Legion FC on Sunday in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the start of a fifth straight playoff appearance for the Hounds. After the two teams split a pair of one-goal games during the regular season, it’s a safe bet the third matchup will be another closely contested contest, and a dramatic finish could be in store.
Will the match be a classic that lives on in Hounds history? There’s no way of knowing until the ball is kicked off, but the game does provide us a chance to look back on the Hounds’ history in postseason play.
In 22 previous seasons, the Hounds have qualified for the playoffs 12 times. But certain matches in those postseason trips stand out above the others, which is why we take a look back now at the five most notable playoff matches in Hounds history.
5) A-League Quarterfinal (first leg) — Bethel Park, Pa., Sept. 26, 2001
Hounds 2, Rochester Raging Rhinos 1
Having already swept a two-legged playoff with the Charleston Battery in the first round and having reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup that year, the Hounds had some knockout-game grit in 2001.
Things didn’t start off well, as a Stoian Mladenov penalty had the Rhinos in front at the break in the Hounds’ home leg. But Welton Melo leveled the contest in the 62nd minute before John Jones — a defender with just three goals on the season — netted the winner with nine minutes to play.
The Rhinos would get revenge on their home turf three days later, eliminating Pittsburgh with a 3-0 win before going on to win the A-League title. But the Hounds’ first-leg win had the team on the verge of springing the upset over a club that would become one of their longest-running rivals.
4) A-League Round of 16 — Uniondale, N.Y., Sept. 11, 1999
Hounds 4, Long Island Rough Riders 3
The Hounds’ inaugural season culminated with a playoff appearance, and the team emerged victorious in a wild single-elimination tilt to start the postseason.
Goran Vasic and Justin Evans put the Hounds ahead 2-0 at halftime, but the Rough Riders got things all square by the 68th minute with goals by Cordt Weinstein and Darko Kolic.
Not rattled by the comeback, the Hounds answered with two goals in three minutes by Joenal Castma and Allen Eller to take a 4-2 lead in the 77th minute.
Not out of the woods yet, the Rough Riders cut the lead to one in the 87th minute with a goal by John Wolyniec, who would go on to coach against the Hounds for seven seasons with New York Red Bulls II, but the visiting Hounds hung on to book a quarterfinal matchup with — who else? — Rochester.
3) USL Championship Eastern Conference Quarterfinals — Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct. 20, 2018
Bethlehem Steel 2, Hounds 2 (8-7 penalties)
Before the first ball was kicked, the match was notable as the first home playoff game at Highmark Stadium, and a quick expansion was done to add seating to the supporters’ stand on the East end of the stadium to meet ticket demand for a then-record crowd of 5,189.
The Hounds were the No. 3 seed, and expectations were high against a Steel team loaded with young talent, including current Leeds United and U.S. midfielder Brenden Aaronson and D.C. United midfielder Drew Skundrich among them.
One the game got rolling, a physical, tightly played match began with Ben Zemanski heading the Hounds to a 1-0 lead after 25 minutes. The lone goal held up until the 70-minute mark, when another of Steel’s young talents, 18-year-old Michee Ngalina, tied things up.
The match went to extra time, and the Hounds led again when defender Hugh Roberts scored from a header, only to have Bethlehem tie things again four minutes later on a free kick by their captain, James Chambers.
Penalties would decide the match after 120 minutes, and both teams were flawless from the spot through five kicks. The Hounds would fall in heartbreaking fashion on the eighth kick, as Ray Lee’s effort was pushed just wide of the left post.
2) USL Pro Soccer League Semifinals — Salt Lake City, Utah, Aug. 28, 2004
Utah Blitzz 1, Hounds 0
The closest the Hounds have come to a championship came after the team had already dispatched in-state rival Harrisburg City Islanders in the quarterfinal round.
That win led to a cross-country trip to face the Utah Blitzz — yes, that was the correct spelling — at Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah with a spot in the championship game on the line.
The Hounds entered the game on a 16-game winning streak and had trailed just three times since a May 15 draw with Harrisburg, but the Blitzz pulled ahead five minutes after halftime on a goal by Byron Carmichael. Despite the Hounds’ firepower, the team was unable to find a tying goal, and Utah would go on to win the league title the next week by defeating the Charlotte Eagles, the team led by future Hounds coach Mark Steffens, on penalties.
1) USL Championship Eastern Conference Quarterfinals — Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct. 26, 2019
Hounds 7, Birmingham Legion FC 0
Nothing could rain on the Hounds’ parade — not even actual rain — on the most memorable of Highmark Stadium nights.
Neco Brett fired in four goals, completing his hat trick in just 34 minutes, and the Hounds scored the first playoff win at Highmark Stadium in league-record fashion before a stadium-record crowd of 5,627. Jordan Dover and Robbie Mertz also got in on the scoring fun, along with a Legion own goal, but by the time Brett bagged his fourth, things had blended into one long celebration for the fans.
The Hounds entered the match as the No. 1 seed in the East and looked every bit of it, as Brett’s goal-scoring haul made him the club’s postseason leader in goals in one game, and Kyle Morton needed to make just two saves in the shutout.
The momentum carried into the next week, as another record crowd of 6,073 — which remains the Highmark Stadium record — turned out to see the Hounds face Louisville in the semifinals.
Unfortunately, the Hounds’ run ended that following week with a 2-1 loss in extra time, but the electric atmosphere that carried into that match showed that playoff soccer in Pittsburgh was now a major event, courtesy of the excitement from that historic 7-0 display.