A game-clinching goal in the 13th minute? A 5-0 lead at the half? “Perfect” soccer weather in front of the home crowd? These elements, and more, contributed to the Riverhounds’ Oct. 26, 2019, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals victory over Birmingham Legion FC – their first playoff win since 2004.
The Riverhounds will have this phenomenal game rebroadcasted on 22 The Point (WPNT) at 4 p.m. this Saturday, April 25. For reminders of what made this game so special, below are some highlights and untold insight into the match.
It’s hard to talk about this game without mentioning the score. The Hounds netted seven goals, with five coming in the first half. Their first goal, which came in the 13th minute, would set the tone for the game.
Neco Brett found an opportunity on the left side, and, after ricocheting off a nearby defender, the ball catapulted into the top-left corner.
After this, the floodgates opened. Once one goal went in, they just kept on coming. The Hounds would score seven goals before the night was over, four coming off the right foot of Brett.
Scoring seven goals and unleashing several more shots allowed the Hounds to dominate the time of possession. This gave Birmingham very few opportunities to get back into the game.
“The fact that we were able to control the game was huge for us and our confidence,” defender Jordan Dover said. “It was especially huge in a home playoff game, and it helped take us into the next round.”
Recent History vs. Birmingham
Legion FC and the Hounds were no strangers to each other that season. In fact, they played the week before – the Hounds won 1-0 with the game-winning goal coming in the 90th minute.
So, what changed? Midfielder Robbie Mertz doesn’t think much changed, despite the gap in scores.
“I think we were very confident in the way we had been playing, not just in the weeks leading up to that game, but in the months leading up to that game,” Mertz said. “It just all came together on that one night. We also had the crowd on our side for our first playoff game. There were a lot of factors that heightened everything we were doing.”
Highmark Stadium Records
Several records were broken on that fateful night.
The first being that the Hounds played in front of a record home crowd that night; 5,627 bore the elements, setting a Highmark Stadium record (a record that would later be beaten in the following Eastern Conference Semifinals match). The win also marked their first home playoff victory in the Highmark Stadium era.
The Hounds also set a season-high mark in tallies that evening, scoring seven goals. Seven goals is the most scored in a single game by the Hounds at Highmark Stadium (regular season and playoffs).
Brett also became the Hounds’ all-time leader in postseason goals that night, passing David Flavius. Brett’s four goals tied a club record for most in a single game.
Pittsburgh Native Makes Home Playoff Debut
Mertz, who was new to the club last year, shined in his playoff debut, scoring one of the Hounds’ seven goals. Originally from Pittsburgh, playing well and winning before a home crowd was special for Mertz.
“It was pretty amazing,” Mertz said. “I do wish the weather had been a bit nicer that night, though. I was pretty nervous going in, but I think nerves can help you play better. I think we were all nervous that night, but I think it helped us make the most of our opportunity, which was to win in front of our home crowd.
“It was interesting. In the second half, Birmingham got a red card [in the 61st minute] when we were up 5-0, and I had no idea. So, later in the game it becomes 7-0, and by the 80th minute the game really starts to slow down. I was so confused because I didn’t see the red card initially, and didn’t know they were down to 10 men, so I was just asking myself, ‘What is going on? Why is the game so slow?’”
After Brett turned a loose ball into a 7-0 lead in the 71st minute, the Hounds would protect their lead and win their first playoff game at Highmark Stadium.
Those who wish to relive this memorable game can tune in to this rebroadcast at 4 p.m. this Saturday, April 25 on 22 The Point (WPNT).