This concludes a series of features highlighting the biggest Riverhounds moments over the past 12 months. Earlier entries on the list are linked at the bottom of the story.
For all the moments to celebrate in 2022, nothing felt as good for players and fans alike as snatching a playoff win on the road.
The Hounds advanced through this year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by knocking off Birmingham Legion FC on penalty kicks, 8-7, after twice rallying to tie the game 2-2, once in regulation and again in extra time. It was the Hounds’ first postseason victory since 2019, and it stunned a Legion-record crowd of 10,277 at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Ala. (See the original match recap here.)
The match was set up by a tight regular-season series between the two clubs. Though the Hounds had the Legion’s number by winning the first four meetings all-time, including a 1-0 win in May at Highmark Stadium, the Legion got their first win over the Hounds on Sept. 14, a 2-1 match in Alabama that proved to be the difference in who would have home field for the postseason meeting.
The Hounds had to weather an early storm from a team that was in form and playing in front of a raucous crowd, but Robbie Mertz nearly poached an early goal for the Hounds with some clever footwork in the box. Still, the Legion carried play, and Jahmali Waite made two of a career-high seven saves before the interval — and that would be far from his only heroics.
Birmingham thought they had a winner on their hands in the 72nd minute when Prosper Kasim headed the hosts in front and force Bob Lilley to send in as many attacking options as possible from the bench.
Lilley’s last card to play was sending in Edward Kizza, and the impact was instant. Thirty-eight seconds after setting foot on the field, Kizza found himself on the end of a Mertz cross, and he made no mistake with the header for a 90th-minute equalizer.
The Legion pushed back in extra time, and Bruno Lapa gave the hosts a 2-1 lead in the 99th minute. But it was Kizza who was the hero again, this time finishing on a perfectly weighted low cross from fellow substitute William Eyang in the 116th minute.
The drama was far from finished, however, even as the Hounds seemed to have a commanding lead in the shootout after Waite stopped Birmingham’s first two penalties. Legion goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg, himself a substitute put in specifically for penalties, made two stops of his own, and the shootout continued to extra kicks at 3-3.
Eight consecutive shot-takers held their nerve as the shootout progressed to the 10th kick — one away from each goalkeeper having to take a shot — but Waite came up with his third stop to deny Grayson Dupont. The Hounds’ last remaining field player, fittingly, was Kizza, and the Ugandan striker left no doubt with a well-placed finish to end the match.
The Hounds flooded the goal box in celebration after the marathon win, and not even being pelted with plastic giveaway balls from some of the Legion faithful could put a damper on the zenith of a sometimes up-and-down season.
After the match, AL.com columnist Joseph Goodman chronicled the match from the vantage point of the Legion supporters section — read the full column here — and perhaps the clearest way to understand the unbridled joy of the Hounds’ best moment of 2022 is to see the opposite from the Legion view.
“The epic game against treasure-thieving Pittsburgh, of all cities, was like a tragedy in five acts: joy, anger, rebirth, burning confusion and then the pain of sudden death. A friend said to me that he had never had more fun having his heart broken, and I will raise a toast to that truth.”