By Richard Nightingale
Mike Green stood alone waiting for the inevitable.
Referee Henrik Karlsson had just given a penalty to Louisville in the sixty fifth minute with the game tied at 1 – 1 for a foul on Chandler Hoffman. Now he just needed to be sure which Pittsburgh player committed the foul and issue sentencing. Chaos reigned for a good four minutes before Karlsson, after consulting everyone but the valet at the nearby Sheraton, flashed a straight red card to Green. Interpreted the last man rule to the letter and Green walked like a man on death row the full length of the field to the locker room. I doubt if Green on that lonely walk watched the penalty being taken by the very same Hoffman, but must have heard the crowd roar as Vargas guessed correctly, diving low to his right to defy the Louisville striker his fifteenth goal of the campaign. Credit to Vargas, but an awful penalty from Hoffman. Waiting five minutes to take the kick didn’t help, but he telegraphed which way he was going. No pace on the penalty and Vargas was on the ground waiting for the ball to reach him. A big save, an emotional lift with thirty minutes left and Pittsburgh down to ten men.
The game started brightly for Pittsburgh and they looked like the team challenging for the Eastern Conference title rather than a team deep in the basement at 3 – 12 – 4. Louisville had lost two on the bounce and for the first forty five minutes were lethargic, lacked purpose and couldn’t string any passes together. Pittsburgh competed for every ball, every knock down and deservedly took the lead through Hertzog in the twenty seventh minute. Earls clipped a lovely ball behind the Louisville left back to find the advancing Green who put a brilliant first touch on the ball and drove a low cross into the six yard box. Hertzog, like all poachers saw the opportunity and accelerated from the penalty spot to beat everyone to the ball and side foot the chance home. Exquisite goal.
David was beating Goliath and deservedly.
Then the half time whistle blew and the game was lost.
Whatever happened in the home and away locker rooms during the fifteen minute interval could probably be the subject of a Harvard case study. Louisville came out rejuvenated and Pittsburgh stagnated. As the famous son of Louisville, Muhammad Ali said “ The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – Behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under the lights “. Buried on June 10, 2016 at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, the great man would have been proud of Louisville’s response. James O’Conner, the Louisville coach probably made Sir Alex Ferguson look timid as he no doubt ripped his players a new one. He also made some great tactical adjustments that as the second half unfolded neutralized the dangerous trio of Moloto, Kerr and Hertzog. Moloto just vanished from the game, who was the imposter out there? The Louisville pressure built, momentum changed and the experienced George Davis IV found two goals to clinch victory and the three road points for Louisville. Earls failed to clear on the first and then an Adeleye’s deflection left Vargas stranded on the second. Outside of a late golden chance for the Pittsburgh substitute Ewart, the sub par Louisville got the job done and back on track towards a title.
So where did it go wrong for Pittsburgh after such a promising first half?
Louisville took the midfield by the scruff of the neck in the second half and bossed the game. Quinn, Kaye and DelPiccolo came to life and showed their quality. These three and Davis IV sparked the revival, dragging their teammates with them. Louisville upped the tempo playing the ball quicker, switching the game at will and got behind the Pittsburgh back four. When Pittsburgh did win the ball back they gave it away almost as quickly. Pittsburgh started to employ the long ball more and more. Aguilar, Pittsburgh’s new signing up front was a passenger for most of the game. Three games in and we still have yet to see ‘proof of life’. In general, the quality that Pittsburgh showed early on faded, too many players looked unsure of their defensive responsibilities and the team as a whole showed Louisville way too much respect in that second half.
Louisville deliberately started to push their two fullbacks Smith and Newnan further up the field. That was a result of them having to chase the game from behind. Once they got the equalizer and Green was ejected, they turned the screws and Pittsburgh’s outside midfield players were unable to get forward having to focus on the marauding pair.
Inexplicably for me, Brandt again pulled out Okai and more puzzling Hollingsworth who I thought was having a good game. I get the Moloto substitution for the reason I have mentioned before. Raw truth is that when you looked at the Pittsburgh bench you probably had to do a double take. No one to call on who was going to impact this game and turn the tide. As I keep repeating, like putting deckchairs out on the Titanic. Sometimes it’s just better to go with players you have out there. Players do find ‘ second winds ‘. Encourage them to dig down, show some pride and work their way back into the game. Regardless, the Pittsburgh squad is very thin on quality and the front office should have been far more aggressive in divesting of and most importantly acquiring talented and impact players in key positions. Aguilar is no answer.
I keep reading and hearing about how important it is for all the players to get along, for there to be a team spirit and embracing these values, we will only see benefit ‘next year’. This is Professional soccer, a results based business where there is only one season and that is the here and now. There are not enough true soccer ‘ Professionals ‘ on this Pittsburgh squad and hard to fathom why they would bring all but maybe six players back in 2017.
As Muhammad Ali said “ It isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe “.
Making the same mistakes over and over is toxic and frankly boring as a fan to watch.
Understand what this league (USL) requires to be successful, acknowledge and adapt.
Not rocket science.
On to a difficult midweek game in Montreal.