Allen’s goal ends Pittsburgh’s unbeaten run, sends Nashville home happy

PITTSBURGH, Penn. — The Pittsburgh Riverhounds hadn’t lost in 11 USL matches dating back to last season.

That is, until Nashville SC ended the streak Wednesday night in the Steel City.

The Boys in Gold (4-2-4, 8th place) rode striker Brandon Allen’s 69th-minute goal to a 1-0 victory in a defensive match at Highmark Stadium, ending Pittsburgh’s status as the last unbeaten team (now 4-1-6, 4th East) in the United Soccer League. Nashville is now unbeaten in its last five league matches, seven in all competitions.

“Really good win,” said Nashville SC Coach Gary Smith. “Really, really tough place to play. The field is very difficult to try and deal with. It’s very quick and tight, and [Pittsburgh] is very well organized. They are extremely committed to their cause. There weren’t too many chances either way, but we were able to capitalize on the set piece.”

The goal was Allen’s first league tally in a Nashville jersey but second in three matches after he found the net in the U.S. Open Cup match against Mississippi Brilla.

Allen scored off a corner kick, one of only two Nashville managed in the match [Pittsburgh had nine]. After the ball played pinball in the box, Michael Reed headed the ball toward the right corner of goal. It caromed through a Pittsburgh defender’s legs and found Allen’s hungry foot for the winner.

“That’s exactly what you want to see,” Gary Smith said of the tally. “It’s an instinct play. It’s a poacher’s goal. It’s sensing where the ball is going to be, and that’s what good goal scorers do. They have a mindset that is so linked in to scoring goals. I am absolutely thrilled to see him score tonight.”

Pittsburgh orchestrated a series of late chances but was unable to penetrate Nashville’s defense, which pitched its sixth clean sheet in 10 league contests.

While Nashville ended the match up top, the stats trended Pittsburgh’s way. The Riverhounds outshot the Boys in Gold 16-10 (3-2 on goal), led possession 54 to 46 percent and managed nine corners to Nashville’s two. Ten of the Hounds’ shots came from inside the box.

But Gary Smith’s squad held tough despite a late onslaught from resurgent Pittsburgh. Nashville cleared the ball 39 times [compared to Pittsburgh’s 16] and fended off a dominant spell of Riverhounds possession in the waning moments.

All was not well for the Tri-Stars. Ropapa Mensah left the match in the 34th minute after taking a knock, leaving his availability in question for two upcoming matches in a seven-day span.

Nashville now returns home for five of its next six matches, starting with a home tilt against Penn FC Saturday at 7:30. Then it’s a U.S. Open Cup showdown with the MLS’s Colorado Rapids at Vanderbilt Stadium Wednesday before traveling to Tampa for a romp with the Rowdies on Saturday, June 9.

“They are all very competitive and really tight games in this league,” said Smith. “It’s an even league. We have done a good job with our schedule not being kind. We set ourselves a target of being in a reasonable position and we have done that.”

“It’s nice to get rewarded for my hard work, but we need to keep working hard to get three points Saturday and the game after that,” Allen said.

Postmatch thoughts

  • This was the match we expected. It was a tight, defensive affair with few chances for either team (until Pittsburgh sent everyone forward late in the match). The difference: an opportunistic Brandon Allen.
  • Speaking of Allen, he did precisely what he was signed to do: find space in the penalty area and provide a solid finish. We don’t expect him to lead the USL in goals or create stunning highlights. We do expect he’ll find himself in the right place at the right time, which is more of a skill than it appears.
  • We weren’t surprised that Gary Smith rotated his squad. We were mildly surprised he sat Lebo Moloto in favor of playing Allen and Mensah together. This led to a lack of quality service in the first 60 minutes, even after Moloto entered for the injured Mensah late in the first half.
  • Ryan James and London Woodberry started in place of Kosuke Kimura and Moloto, while Matt LaGrassa slid into Moloto’s role as an attacking midfielder. Smith was pleased with the way James and Woodberry performed. “Of course, I am very happy with where the group’s at,” Smith said. “London and Ryan were very terrific. The guys that came in did a sterling job.”
  • This is a big three points. Pittsburgh is as stingy along the back line as anyone in the league. A win on the Hounds’ home turf is hard to come by, and the Boys in Gold will take loads of confidence from the victory.
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