Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC did not make it easy on Columbus Crew SC on Tuesday night in the Club’s opening win of the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The Riverhounds – the former USL affiliate of the Crew – bunkered down for much of the game and remained content with a narrow, defensive game plan.
Crew head coach Caleb Porter commented on how those types of games often end in draws, but was proud of the cohesive effort from the group, particularly early in the second half as the Black & Gold put their stamp on the match with a 55th-minute tally from David Accam.
From the 46th through the 60th minute, over 40 percent of the game’s possession took place in Pittsburgh’s own third, while over 90 percent took place in the neutral zone or Pittsburgh’s own third.
Possession heatmap: Minutes 45 through 60 - Crew (left) vs. Riverhounds (right)
“I've seen that game hundreds of times and half of those games ended in a draw, maybe the other quarter end in a loss and the other quarter end in a win,” Porter said, “so it’s difficult when a team plays that defensive and it’s easy to destroy a game."
Regardless, Porter and the staff saw a lot of positives, particularly the early second-half display.
“I think it was a really good second-half and a good performance overall out of the group. We had some guys that obviously gained some confidence in the game,” Porter continued. “Tournament football, that’s what it is about – winning and advancing.”
From the backline anchored by Gaston Sauro and Alex Crognale, to the central midfield pairing in Artur and David Guzman, andup through the wingers and Patrick Mullins in the number nine role, there was a balance on Tuesday starting with a solid defensive effort.
“Early in the week we talked about getting back to being a good defensive team and taking pride in clean sheets,” Porter said. “There is never a good team that doesn’t defend well, and the best teams are balanced.”
The Crew rarely gave up a threatening chance in their own half, and when they did, the counter-pressure from the lower midfielders and backline came through in a big way as the Riverhounds managed four shots total, only one of which fell on-frame.
Goalkeeper Jon Kempin, who recorded his first Club career shutout, commended the defensive effort from back to front.
“The defense was unbelievable tonight. Winning every single header, every single duel, from the center backs all the way up to the attack,” Kempin said, “so, I definitely commend them, and they did an awesome job.”
Eight different Crew players registered a tackle, led by four from Artur, while Crognale shined in the air with a game-high nine aerial duels. On the importance of Columbus’ outside backs, Hector Jimenez received a game-high 140 touches, while Guzman’s centralized role came to the forefront with a game-high 123 total passes, 79 of which came in the opponent’s half. Additionally, Pedro Santos continued to play well in the number 10 role with a game-high five shots to go with his game-winning assist to Accam.
So, whether it was Santos playing in the pocket and the wingers getting narrow; or Guzman dropping with the centerbacks; or Mullins and JJ Williams working to draw the centerbacks high to create space for the wingers, e.g. the build-up to Accam’s goal, it was a connected performance and a good step forward, Porter said.
“We got to keep pushing that aggressiveness and that killer Instinct to put the game to bed but it was a good step in the right direction.”
Up next, Crew SC must wait until the Round of 16 draw to learn of its next opponent, which will take place on Thursday, June 13.
The Fourth Round winners will be divided geographically into four groups, and pairings will be determined within those groups. A fixed bracket for the rest of the tournament will be established. The match will be broadcast exclusively on ESPN+.