PITTSBURGH – No. 6-seed Bethlehem Steel FC rallied in both regulation and overtime, and then went 8 for 8 from the penalty spot to defeat No. 3-seed Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 8-7 in a penalty shootout after the teams had played to a dramatic 2-2 draw through 120 minutes before a Riverhounds SC club-record crowd of 5,189 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium.
Riverhounds SC took the lead in the first half through Ben Zemanski and then again through Hugh Roberts in the first period of extra time, but Steel FC replied on a second-half goal by Michee Ngalina and another in the second period of stoppage time by James Chambers to send the game to a shootout.
The Pennsylvania rivals then exchanged goals in the shootout with Steel FC taking first consistently putting pressure on its hosts to match. Three times with the game on the line Riverhounds SC answered in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, but after Olivier Mbaizo scored for Bethlehem with a low shot just to the left side of the net to open the eight round, Hounds defender Ray Lee pushed his shot wide of the left post to send the visitors through.
The contest had been back-and-forth since midway through the second half when Steel FC pulled its way back into a game it had only officially recorded two shots in until that point, and with the game all square after 90 minutes the visitors almost stunned the record crowd at Highmark Stadium just two minutes into extra time as his first-time finish from near the penalty spot flashed just over the crossbar.
Pittsburgh also had a big chance in the 95th minute when a corner from the left took a deflection at the near post to set up for a close-range header by Thomas Vancaeyezeele that the defender was just unable to put on target. The Hounds found the net in the final minute of the first period, however, as a rasping shot from the right side of the penalty area by Joe Holland was turned onto the crossbar by Steel FC goalkeeper Jake McGuire, only for Roberts to head home the rebound from a yard out after the ball caromed high off the turf.
Steel FC replied four minutes into the second period, though, after the visitors were awarded a free kick fractionally outside the top of the penalty area that had Bethlehem claiming a penalty for the foul on Santi Moar by Roberts. But Chambers treated the chance as though it was a penalty kick as he lashed his shot in off the left post and into the net to level the game again and send the game to a shootout, prior to which Holland was sent off for a strong foul on McGuire in the 119th minute.
The first 90 minutes had opened in quieter fashion and didn’t come alive until the Hounds found another gear midway through the first half. A 23rd-minute corner kick by Christiano Francois from the right picked out Roberts, whose header had McGuire scrambling across his net only to hit the crossbar and be cleared to safety. Two minutes later, though, Zemanski made no mistake as Neco Brett picked out the midfielder with a cross from the left that allowed a solid header that opened the scoring.
Zemanski almost had a second in the 27th minute when he found possession at the top of the penalty area and fired low to the left corner, only for McGuire to do just enough to turn the effort wide of the post. Another set piece just before halftime saw Roberts threaten again with a near-post header that went wide of the left post another good delivery from the right by Francois.
The Hounds tightened defensively to start the second half, offering their visitors little in the way of a path back into the game as torrential rain fell. That changed with the introduction of Nanco as a second-half substitute as the Canadian’s speed began to give the Hounds difficulty on the counterattack. In the 68th minute the first big chance of the night arrived for the visitors when Nanco cut past his marker to shoot low to the left corner as Lynd got down well to save.
Two minutes later, though, another counterattack chance saw Nanco slide Santi Moar into the left side of the penalty area, and the Spanish winger’s low cross into the six-yard area was turned in by Ngalina.
Nanco again forced a low save by Lynd in the 73rd minute with a bouncing shot from 25 yards that was turned wide of the left post before the Hounds regained some control on the contest. Zemanski curled a corner kick from the left under the crossbar forcing McGuire to punch over the crossbar seven minutes later, and Pittsburgh continued to press into the final 10 minutes as Steel FC managed to scramble the ball to safety following another corner kick with six minutes remaining.
Pittsburgh’s Kenardo Forbes went close to breaking the deadlock in the 89th minute with a bending shot from 30 yards that drifted just wide of the right post after Francois’ shot had been blocked. That chance gave way to the drama that was to await in extra time and the shootout, where Steel FC held its nerve to claim its first postseason victory.
25’ – PGH – Ben Zemanski (Neco Brett)
70’ – BST – Michee Ngalina (Santi Moar)
105’ – PGH – Hugh Roberts
109’ – BST – James Chambers
PGH – 10-Kevin Kerr, Goal; 11-Kenardo Forbes, Goal; 17-Kay Banjo, Goal; 20-Joe Greenspan, Goal; 7-Christiano Francois, Goal; 25-Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Goal; 21-Mouhamed Dabo, Goal; 3-Ray Lee, Missed
BST – 45-James Chambers, Goal; 37-Chris Nanco, Goal; 36-Omar Holness, Goal; 38-Santi Moar, Goal; 39-Drew Skundrich, Goal; 48-Matt Mahoney, Goal; 32-Matt Real, Goal; 5-Olivier Mbaizo, Goal
#PGHvBST: Highlights and Opta Box Score
Three Things That Matter:
1. After suffering a pair of defeats in the regular-season series between the teams, Bethelhem Steel FC took its revenge to spoil Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s first home USL Cup Playoffs contest and the nights of almost all the record crowd of 5,149 that packed into Highmark Stadium to witness it with a gutsy display that saw the club’s youngsters hold their nerve from the penalty spot to advance. In the middle of that youth, though, was the veteran midfielder James Chambers, who played the role Steel FC had brought him on board to do to perfection. His free kick and opening goal of the penalty shootout opened the door for the likes of Matthew Real and Olivier Mbaizo to follow through as they too found the net from the spot in the seventh and eighth rounds on a night that saw Steel FC continue the growth as a group we’ve seen this year.
2. While Chambers provided the leadership to hold things together, Chris Nanco provided the spark off the bench that allowed Bethlehem to find a way to threaten a comeback in the first place. The speedy Canadian’s impact was felt soon after he came on in the 55th minute, stretching the game alongside the duo of Santi Moar and Michee Ngalina who to that point had largely been held quiet. Nanco has proven a weapon off the bench regularly this season for Steel FC, coming on in 21 of the 31 appearances he’s made. On Saturday night he changed the course of the game for the visitors to help send them to a first postseason victory.
3. Everything was set for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s big night, including a pair of leads in both regulation and extra time that gave the club-record crowd hope it was going to be part of a special night on the banks of the Monongahela. Instead, those hopes evaporated in the damp night air as Steel FC’s players and staff celebrated on Highmark Stadium’s field after a thrilling contest. While the result might not have gone the Hounds’ way after a tension-filled shootout, though, the atmosphere the club and its fans generated offered hope that there will be much more from the side in 2019.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Chris Nanco, Bethlehem Steel FC – Nanco turned the game in Steel FC’s favor after being introduced as a second-half substitute, setting up the opening goal as his speed tested Pittsburgh’s defense and scoring from the spot in the shootout.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Bethlehem Steel FC at Louisville City FC, Saturday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. ET, Slugger Field
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – End of Season