Rookie keeper makes eight saves in USL debut
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (0-4-3) fell for the first time on the road this season, dropping a 1-0 decision to FC Cincinnati (5-2-2) in front of a USL-record crowd of 23,375 at Nippert Stadium.
The game-winning tally came midway through the first half, as Sean Okoli fed a ball past Conor Branson to Jimmy McLaughlin, who converted on his initial rebound past a sprawling Mauricio Vargas. Both teams traded possession for much of the contest, but it was Cincinnati with the bulk of the chances, flooding Vargas and the Hounds defense with 11 shot attempts and nine shots on goal.
Vargas, making his USL career debut, was stellar, stopping eight of the nine shots he faced including four or five bonafide scoring chances. His performance solidified an overall strong effort from the Hounds defense under siege for most of the match.
A native of Alajuela, Costa Rica, Vargas had several highlight worthy moments. His best save of the night came on a chance in the 50th minute, as Okoli found himself with space just outside the front of the box. The Cincinnati forward put a strong shot heading for the upper right corner, but Vargas, well-positioned, dove to his left and caught just enough of the shot with his hand to send it into the stands.
The rookie keeper’s shining debut extended further into the match as the Hounds defense faced yet another barrage of Cincinnati attacks. Kicking a second-consecutive corner at the 79th minute, Cincinnati found space on the far post and attempted a dangerous cross. Vargas though darted off his line to make a sprawling catch and end the scoring threat.
On the offensive side, Kevin Kerr had perhaps the best chance of the night for the Hounds following the McLaughlin goal, as the captain pushed for an equalizer in the 28th minute. Receiving a long ball deftly in the front of the box, Kerr bull rushed his way past Cincinnati defenders to put a shot on goal in close, but goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt was able to dive to his right and control the attempt.
The Hounds would continue to threaten with solid bouts of possession in the Cincinnati defensive end in the second half, including five corners, but could not find any room for shots on net. They finished the half with one shot on goal on three shot attempts in the final 45 minutes.
Pittsburgh now heads back home to Highmark Stadium next week to host Toronto F.C. II (1-3-2) on Saturday, May 21. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.