By Richard Nightingale
Well I was wrong and happy to be proved so.
These were badly needed points for Pittsburgh. There will be no playoffs, but on Saturday in Wilmington there was an emphatic win and proof of life.
I just got done reading the book “When Pride Still Mattered, A Life of Vince Lombardi” by David Maraniss, and consummate pros Kerr, Okai, Hunt, Earls and Hertzog demonstrated that trait in spades, fueling this first road win of the season.
All teams can only play the eleven put out to play against them. Suspensions are all part and parcel of a season. Without Bruno Peroni and Ashani Fairclough to anchor their back four, Wilmington’s defense was like swiss cheese. They were a poor excuse for a USL team, let alone one in contention for a playoff spot. Their ineptness was summed up by the fact they chose to have “Christmas in July” as the theme for the game; they would have been better served playing Santa at center half.
The commentators alluded to it being “stale and miserable” but that was perhaps a better description of their commentary. The two muppets were shocking and for the first time ever I muted the sound while watching the game. The USL needs to take a firm stand with teams that deliver such a poor broadcast experience and also take a hard look at the minimum pitch requirements. The ball bounced so high off the surface it was like playing on a concrete parking lot. When so many teams are investing in soccer specific stadiums and providing game coverage in HD, there has to be accountability.
Still, Wilmington had to be beat, and kudos to Pittsburgh for getting the job done. Especially away from home and on an oppressive and humid night.
The first forty minutes of the game were like watching paint dry. Then the game erupted. A missed penalty attempt by Hertzog, followed by a brilliant finish by Kerr and then Hertzog scoring to find redemption. Just like that Pittsburgh were up 2 – 0 at the half. Wilmington responded early in the second half with a smart goal from Lynch but Pittsburgh ran out easy winners with additional goals from Okai and Nick Thompson.
Vargas picked the ball out of the net once, but otherwise I don’t recall him having to make a single other save all game.
I said on the Wednesday’s podcast that this was a game made for Okai and he didn’t disappoint. Okai took his goal well, making the Wilmington keeper look very pedestrian as he rounded him. It’s taken some time for Dave Brandt to insert Okai into the starting line up and see his potential, but on Saturday night Okai showed his quality and was my man of the match.
Pittsburgh had some really good passages of play, not forcing the ball forward and content to hold possession. The midfield of Moloto, Okai, Kerr and Earls is easily the best combination. Players who know and respect each other.
Aguilar, the new signing up front, was a passenger for most of the game. I know it’s only been two games, and he was subbed out in the sixty-sixth minute in both. But even though he didn’t get much service during the game, he still looked very ordinary and unfit. Does he give Pittsburgh anything more than Boggs does? Then again, seems Dave Brandt has lost faith with Boggs as a striker, as he utilized him as a center back late on in this game. Big callout to Willie Hunt who was switched to left back and totally shut down the speedy and talented Austin Martz.
I don’t want to diminish this victory by Pittsburgh but what a poor performance by Wilmington. How Matthew Barnes-Homer who started at center forward, can be playing professional soccer is hard to fathom. I’ve seen cruise ships turn quicker than he can. Lynch on loan from St. Louis looked the business when he came on, as did Lawal. Together they could have been a huge problem for Pittsburgh with the score at 2 – 1. Instead, in a moment of insanity, Lawal kicked out at Campbell’s head with his foot as the Pittsburgh defender lay on the turf. Straight red for him after just six minutes on the field. Wilmington couldn’t have won this game with twenty versus eleven and it certainly wasn’t going to happen with ten versus eleven. Lawal remains an enigma, the environment might not be right for him in Wilmington. He’s out of contract at the end of this season and putting Saturday night aside would be worth Pittsburgh looking into for 2017. Michael Binns who played left back for Wilmington had some flashes and I would have liked to have seen him play left midfield. Mecham in midfield for Wilmington should be the focus of a USL / FIFA investigation into match fixing the way he inexplicably kept finding Pittsburgh players and finding them in goal scoring positions.
The game was by no means a classic, but who cares. The win and three points will give the Hounds momentum and confidence ahead of next week’s home encounter with Louisville. Job #1 was accomplished at Wilmington, now the next step is to give a compelling and inspirational performance at home against the conference leaders.
From Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF” is the line “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same”. Celebrate this win, but come Monday it’s time to move on and prepare. Win, Loose or Draw the previous week is dust.
James O’Connor, the Louisville coach will be fuming after the unexpected loss to Orlando on Saturday and expect to see a reaction from his team at Highmark Stadium.
Believe Campbell with be suspended due to yellow card accumulation. It’ll be interesting to see if Brandt inserts Boggs to partner Adeleye.
Those eleven hours on the bus ride back to Pittsburgh must have flown by. The miles evaporated. Well done to Pittsburgh and remember the feeling; that’s the taste of victory.
Don’t drift back to the dark side.