PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC secured its fourth consecutive USL Championship playoff berth by knocking off the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Rowdies, 2-0, tonight at Highmark Stadium.
Tommy Williamson and Russell Cicerone scored for the Hounds (15-8-6), who jumped back to second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Rowdies (20-7-1) with the victory. Danny Vitiello recorded four saves, including a critical penalty kick save to preserve a 1-0 lead in the 57th minute, which gave him his seventh shutout of the season.
The win also snaps a nine-game winning streak by the Rowdies that is the longest in the USL Championship this season, and it give the Hounds the season series over Tampa Bay.
The match started out as a cagey battle, with neither team taking too many chances in the early going.
Williamson nearly opened the scoring after receiving a pass dropped back to him at the top of the box in the 17th minute, but his shot headed toward the far corner struck teammate Kenardo Forbes on its way through and was cleared out by the Rowdies.
The Rowdies then had a near-miss of their own, as former Hounds striker Steevan Dos Santos headed a ball off the crossbar, only to have it bounce straight down and away from the goal line in the 25th minute.
Williamson made the breakthrough with three minutes left until halftime. Preston Kilwien sent a cross into the box from the left side, and Tampa Bay defender Jordan Scarlett misplayed the pass, flicking the ball right to where Williamson could tap it home from 6 yards out for his sixth goal of the season.
The moment of the match happened in the 57th minute, as the Rowdies swept forward on the counter attack after a Hounds corner kick. Dos Santos got clear behind the Hounds defense, and Vitiello was whistled for taking him down on his slide after charging off his line to meet his former teammate.
Leo Fernandes stepped up to take the penalty for Tampa Bay, but Vitiello dove low and to his left to make the save and preserve his team’s 1-0 lead.
In the 72nd minute, the tables turned, as Alex Dixon was tripped by Tampa Bay defender Forrest Lasso entering the penalty area, and the Hounds had a penalty kick of their own.
Cicerone stepped up and slotted the ball toward the right side of the net for a 2-0 lead and his team-leading 15th goal of the season. That ties Cicerone for the third-best goal-scoring season by a Hounds player with Said Ali (2004), José Angulo (2013) and Neco Brett (2018).
Vitiello capped his shutout with a diving save of a free kick in the 83rd minute, and the Hounds were able to see the clean sheet through to the finish.
Hounds Man of the Match
Danny Vitiello provided the biggest moment of the game with his penalty save, but he was also sure-handed controlling crosses into his box against a tall Rowdies side. Along with his four saves, he also gets credit for the play where he conceded the penalty kick, as he prevented Dos Santos from scoring an easy goal with his quick decision to leave his line.
With the playoffs assured, the Hounds next turn their attention toward claiming home field in the first round. Doing so almost certainly requires getting a result at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when the team visits Miami FC. Miami (14-8-6) was stunned by last-place Loudoun today, 3-2, but the Hounds have gone 0-2-1 this season against Miami after letting a lead go in all three games.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC lineup (4-2-3-1) — Danny Vitiello; Preston Kilwien (Jordan Dover 72’), Shane Wiedt, Mekeil Williams, Jelani Peters; Danny Griffin, Todd Wharton; Kenardo Forbes (Anthony Velarde 81’), Russell Cicerone (Albert Dikwa 81’), Alex Dixon (Louis Pérez 90+2’); Tommy Williamson (Dani Rovira 72’)
Tampa Bay Rowdies lineup (3-4-3) — Evan Louro; Aarón Guillén, Forrest Lasso (Jordan Doherty 79’), Jordan Scarlett; Leo Fernandes, Yann Ekra, Lewis Hilton, William Antley (Laurence Wyke 70’); Juan Tejada (Sebastián Guenzatti 62’), Steevan Dos Santos (Sebastian Dalgaard 70’), Zach Steinberger (Dayonn Harris 45’)
PIT - Tommy Williamson 42’
PIT - Russell Cicerone 74’ (penalty)
PIT - Danny Vitiello 56’ (caution - unsporting behavior)
TBR - Forrest Lasso 59’ (caution - unsporting behavior)
PIT - Shane Wiedt 78’ (caution - unsporting behavior)
TBR - Laurence Wyke 90’ (caution - unsporting behavior)