Riverhounds midfielder Rob Vincent stood in the center of the goal box, ready to take a penalty kick in the 74th minute that could tie the score with first place Orlando City.
Instead, he and his teammates walked away shaking their heads in frustration as the referee rescinded the shot.
Orlando City (6-0-2, 20 points) picked up the only goal it needed in the 14th minute when league-leading scorer Kevin Molino chipped a shot into the back of the net as the Lions remained the only undefeated team with a 1-0 victory against the winless Riverhounds at Highmark Stadium.
“I can‘t explain what the refs do. I don’t know,” Riverhounds coach Justin Evans said. “I thought we played well. We had just as many chances as they did, I thought we played well and stuck to the game plan. It’s just too bad [the referees] had to get involved in the game.”
The outcome could have been different had the penalty remained.
Riverhounds midfielder Matt Dallman had the ball as he crossed through the box and attempted to make a play when he was apparently fouled from behind. The referee immediately blew the whistle and signaled for a penalty kick, but after several minutes, he opted instead to call a drop-ball.
“It’s frustrating, obviously, because, usually when a decision’s made, they stick to it, even if they see something different,” Vincent said. “We’ve had some calls go against us this season, but I’m sure we’ll bounce back.”
After the controversy, the last-place Riverhounds (0-3-3, 3 points) could not muster an attack, and Orlando City ran out the clock, even with 6:28 added on after regulation.
“The explanation was that [the referee] didn’t see it clearly and the linesman that was 70 yards away [said] that it was not a foul,” Evans said. “I’ve never seen it happen in my life. I’ve never seen a referee take a call back.”
Early on, the Riverhounds kept the pressure on Orlando City, but despite several scoring chances, they could not solve goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo-Aparicio. Instead, Orlando countered with a perfect play to open the scoring.
Lions forward Dennis Chin cruised down the left side and flipped a pass to Molino as he broke into the box unmarked. Molino lined up his shot and chipped it over Riverhounds goalkeeper Mike Lisch and under the crossbar.
“Goals change games and, if you’re away from home and you get a goal, it changes the whole semblance of the game because the home team has to press harder,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said. “With the players we have, we always think that we are capable of a counterattack and it was a really good goal and it came at an important time because they were just getting a head of steam.”