PITTSBURGH, PA. – As the playoffs grow closer and closer, a confident and improving FC Tulsa side went into Pittsburgh looking to upset Riverhounds SC on Saturday night. The Tulsa defense held one of the most potent attacks in the USL Championship to just one goal, but despite creating chance after chance, the attack was unable to find the scoreboard in a 1-0 loss.
Unlike many soccer matches, this one got off to a blistering start. Both clubs were running up and down the pitch at will and finding space in the final third. Noah Powder created a few chances early on for Lebo Moloto and Rodrigo da Costa, but the final touch never materialized the way FC Tulsa had hoped – more on this later. Likewise, the Hounds earned two good looks on the right side in the first 20 minutes, but put the first into the side netting and the second just wide of the far post.
Pittsburgh’s high press gave Tulsa issues early, but around the 25′ minute, FC Tulsa began to work the ball around and retain a bit more possession. One short pass became two, which evolved into three as Tulsa started to methodically work the ball downfield and make Pittsburgh chase. A great opportunity materialized courtesy of some shifty work between Rodrigo da Costa and Brian Brown a quarter hour in. Da Costa laid the ball off to Brown at the top of the box who was instantly swarmed by four Pittsburgh defenders. Somehow, Brown was able to slide a ball through the forest of legs back to da Costa who fired off a shot, but right into the arms of the Hounds’ keeper.
The 44′ minute nearly yielded the first goal of the match once again for FC Tulsa. Like it did so well last week at Birmingham Legion FC, FC Tulsa took the opportunity to counter brilliantly as Pittsburgh committed men forward and Eric Bird came up with a steal. Bird sent Moloto loose down the left side as Brian Brown emptied the tank with a lung-busting sprint down the middle. Moloto’s pass was just behind Brown into the box, but fell to da Costa on the far side. Da Costa sent a ball towards the far post, but the shot did not have enough on it and a Pittsburgh defender was able to clear it away.
The first half was whistled to a close with Rodrigo da Costa totaling four shots, two of which were on target. FC Tulsa limited Pittsburgh to six total shots and prevented a single attempt from being fired on target.
The breakthrough came in the 55′ minute for Riverhounds SC as it scored the only goal of the match. Midfielder Danny Griffin was able to dribble into the left corner, running circles around the Tulsa defenders as he redirected to wherever he could find space. Griffin kept the ball in bounds along the touchline and fired it into the box where a couple of Pittsburgh attackers were able to get a touch to the ball before Albert Dikwa, the man who scored twice in the first meeting, banged it into the bottom-left corner.
Pittsburgh kept the pressure on and nearly found the back of the net once again on multiple occasions over the next 10 minutes, but Austin Wormell made several key saves and the Tulsa defense refused to break despite quite a bit of bending.
FC Tulsa earned a handful of good scoring chances in the second half, but it was unable to capitalize. A three-on-two chance in favor of Tulsa resulted in a missed opportunity, as did two occasions in which da Costa and Brown had good positioning in the box with possession but were taken down on clean challenges before either could get the shot off.
The final touch continued to evade FC Tulsa as Darío Suárez bounced a ball off his knee just one touch shy of shooting in the 90+1′ minute, and Machuca sent a ball over the crossbar from three yards out in the 90+4′ minute of the allotted 94 minutes of play.
FC Tulsa finished the match with eight total chances created, but ultimately was unable to find the back of the net as the Hounds claimed all three points.
1) Improved Defense
Coming into Saturday night, FC Tulsa had only allowed ten goals over its last nine outings, showing the improvement of the defense as the season has gone on. That improvement was once again on display against Pittsburgh as the Hounds were limited to just one big chance despite allowing 87 final third entries, the definition of bend but don’t break. FC Tulsa conceded four goals the last time these two clubs met, a significantly higher mark than the lone goal it allowed on Saturday.
2) Unable to Finish
In contrast to Pittsburgh’s three big chances, FC Tulsa’s offense produced three big chances and created eight scoring opportunities. In the first half alone, Tulsa mustered a 0.33 XG total, indicating it was creating high-quality scoring chances. However, FC Tulsa was only able to convert four of its eight scoring chances into shots on target and was unable to come up with the equalizer.
3) Important Stretch Coming Up Although a win is always nice, a loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday by no means eliminates FC Tulsa from the postseason race. A critical matchup against Miami FC awaits Tulsa in 11 days, the club six points above FC Tulsa in the standings. Following that match, five of FC Tulsa’s next six matches are against clubs below the playoff line, offering the opportunity to make up some points against teams that have struggled in 2022.
55′ PIT – Albert Dikwa (Hugh Alexander Dixon)
One of FC Tulsa’s biggest matches awaits the club on August 10 as Tulsa travels down to Miami to take on Miami FC. Miami is currently one spot above FC Tulsa in the standings, clutching the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The first matchup between the two sides on June 4 finished as a 0-0 draw at ONEOK Field.
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