Only days removed from the draw in Tulsa, Louisville City were back in action in Pittsburgh against the Riverhounds. While the recent stretch of matches has produced some mixed results, it has been a challenging period for the club to manage. Between the concurrent short rests and its placement late into the season, the physical limits of the LouCity team has been tested. The race for first in the East, as well as the regular season title, are tight with Louisville in contention for both. Despite the fixture congestion, Morados needs results to finish the regular season in the top spot.
Wes Charpie, Amadou Dia, Paolo DelPiccolo, Jorge Gonzalez, and Brian Ownby all rejoined the starting eleven as Coach Danny Cruz managed around a beat-up team on tired legs. Rotations of this magnitude have been common over these past five matches. It was clear based on last match’s lineup that Coach Cruz respected the threat posed by Pittsburgh and tried to preserve as much of key players like Ownby and Dia as possible.
This matchup between two stingy defenses saw limited opportunities for either side. It was PIT with the first close chance. At 12’, a freekick flew into the far side of the box and was headed centrally. A Riverhounds’ attacker got a head on the airborne ball and sent it narrowly wide of the post. Only 21’, Josh Wynder made his return from injury replacing Charpie. City’s first big opportunity came a few minutes later when Dia whipped a cross towards Pittsburgh’s far post where Wilson Harris smacked the bouncing ball towards the goal but it was deflected away by the keeper. In the first half’s added time, LouCity had another chance coming from a long throw-in from Dia. Ownby got a foot to the ball and sent a lobbed shot just narrowly above the crossbar. A freekick from Jorge was taken right before the halftime whistle. He sent it into the box where Matiti Mushagalusa headed it a tad too high. The half then ended. Still tied up 0-0.
Entering the second half, Oscar Jimenez relieved Many Perez. Disaster nearly struck for Louisville at 53’. A lofted PIT pass resulted in LouCity defenders scrambling to catch up. Morton blocked the one-on-one shot, and the ball bounced towards the center of the box. A backtracking Oscar attempted to hit the ball out but sent it towards his own goal. Josh fell over himself trying to hit the mis-hit ball. He did enough to have it roll into the post where another PIT player took a point-blank at goal. Thankfully, Sean Totsch was there to body block it and get the ball away. A truly wacky sequence that left Louisville City fans relieved and Riverhounds fans outraged, they somehow didn’t score. At 80’, Oscar took a freekick that flew into the box and found the head of Harris. His header was then scooped up by the PIT keeper. In the dying minutes of the second half, Elijah Wynder entered the match marking the first time both Wynder brothers were in a LouCity match at the same time. In extra time, it was another very close call for LouCity. A lofted pass landed outside of the box, with Josh ahead of the attacker. He decided to protect the ball and allow it to bounce to Morton rather than kicking it himself. Unfortunately, the attacker had other plans and bullied Josh off the ball and tried to get the last-minute tap over Morton. Kyle was in position and stuffed the lob and secured possession and the draw.
By The Numbers
This was only the third match this season that Louisville City had an expected points value less than one. They had an xPts of 0.32 which was only ahead of their xPts from the Rowdies’ loss earlier this season. Similarly, it was only the fifth match with an expected goals (xG) less than one with it being the second lowest next to the Rowdies’ loss. Despite those uninspiring facts about the lack of offensive production, LouCity did well to keep the ball out of their own net. The Riverhounds faithful will be miffed that they were not able to secure a win with 1.63 xG. However, that only came on two on-target shots. The same amount that Louisville was able to produce. Morados’ woes can be linked to an uncharacteristically poor 66% accurate passing rate, but it falls only 3% below PIT’s. An overall very defensive battle with no winner able to be determined after 90 minutes of play.
Player Of The Match
This was a big defensive test for Louisville and Kyle Morton was a big factor in that battle. While on-target shots were limited for the Riverhounds, they did earn an xG of 1.63. The pressure was on and Morton handled it like the star that he is. While only one official save was made, it was a big one. He has been clutch many times throughout this season and this match was yet another example.
Pittsburgh is always a great team, so to leave their city with a point isn’t all that bad. In the context of trying to secure first in the East and the battle for the regular season crown, the need was for every point available. I had entered this match considering it a “must win” for the sake of those respective races, but that was assuming that the Rowdies would handle Charleston. Shockingly, they dropped those points really relieving the pressure on a result in PIT. Things remain positive for securing first in the conference, but catching and surpassing San Antonio is looking like a real uphill battle. Considering the stretch the team has been on and the quality of the opposition, a point feels decent, especially considering how close it was to being a loss given some of those close calls.
Coach Cruz was overall pleased with his team upon the conclusion of the match. “I’m extremely proud of the group tonight,” said Coach Cruz. “This has been a difficult stretch. This is a tough place to go and play, and I’m sure you can tell watching the game we can’t play the football we want to play here. But I asked the group to fight and give all they could before the match, and I certainly felt that they did that.” He went on to highlight the defensive outing and the squad’s ability to withstand the match’s big moments; “We needed to get back to shutouts. There were a couple of big moments and big plays we made to keep that zero. I can’t speak highly enough of the group in (the locker room) right now.”
The recent run of games on short rest has been a huge challenge even for a team as deep as Louisville. Not all injuries and ailments make the official lists, but it’s certainly a long unofficial list this late in the season. “If everybody looks at the work that these guys have had to put in the last five games in a difficult stretch — to see the response from the group, to see the fight from the group, to see the willingness to go out and make sure we get a result out of it — it’s fantastic.” The timing of all this has been suboptimal. Sure, things look good for the conference, but with the regular season title so close, it’s hard to watch the team get anything less than three points. That accolade is still within grasp but SA is going to have to do a bit of fumbling of their own for City to have a shot.
All in all, there is much more to be proud of than disappointed in. The Riverhounds are a playoff team and LouCity came into their house with an exhausted team and left with a draw. Really not a bad deal. Four of the final five matches are back at home and most have more than three days of recuperation leading into them. If you are unsatisfied with the past few, things look a lot better from here to the end of the season. A lot can happen in the final few matches and nothing is off the table for this team. City needs to focus on controlling what they can control. And that is getting all the points they can out of these last few matches. Let’s cheer on the boys during these final games as they head towards the playoffs!
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