Playing with a one goal lead and one man advantage after Sterling Flunder was issued a red card early in the second half, Wilmington surrendered the equalizer in the 70th minute as the Hammerheads recorded a 1-1 draw with Pittsburgh at Legion Stadium on Saturday night.
Vini Dantas climbed off the substitutes’ bench to rescue a point for the 10-man Riverhounds in his first action in two months.
Pittsburgh trailed Wilmington 1-0 with 20 minutes remaining when Flunder was dismissed for a last-man foul. Yet, Dantas clawed back a vital goal that kept the Riverhounds within one point of the Richmond Kickers in the United Soccer League playoff race, having played one fewer game.
Pittsburgh (10-9-7, 37 points) gets a chance to climb back into the Eastern Conference’s top six playoff spots Wednesday when the Rochester Rhinos visit Highmark Stadium.
Wilmington took the lead on 15 minutes when Brian Ackley retrieved the ball on the left before firing a low cross toward the front post. Former Philadelphia Union forward Aaron Wheeler laid a pass off for the onrushing Andrae Campbell as the Hammerheads defender drilled a shot past Hounds goalkeeper Calle Brown from 10 yards out.
Pittsburgh struggled to create chances in open play during the first half against a well-organized Hammerheads defense.
The Hounds’ task was made tougher on 53 minutes when Flunder took a loose touch on the halfway line after a Wilmington defensive clearance. Justin Moose sprinted onto the loose ball before being tripped by Flunder as the fullback tried to recover. Referee Dustin Thorne produced the inevitable red card for denial of a goal scoring opportunity.
A good spell of pressure yielded the equalizer on 70 minutes as Pittsburgh attacked tight space outside Wilmington’s 18-yard box when Dantas met the ball six yards out to steer his header beyond Rawls. It was the Brazilian striker’s first goal since he came off the bench to rescue a 1-1 tie at Saint Louis F.C. on April 11.
Wilmington concludes the regular season against Toronto FC II at home on Saturday, September 19.