Any hopes the Riverhounds had of climbing from the league cellar Sunday to slay mighty Richmond were quickly quashed by two gruesome defensive misplays, including an own goal, in the game's first 11 minutes.
After the match, a bitter 3-1 defeat at Highmark Stadium, Riverhounds interim coach Nico Katic didn't mince words. He took no questions in a 37-second news conference, and none were needed.
"No heart. No passion. No desire to win the balls. No desire to win the tackles. No desire to play for this organization," Katic said of his team's uninspired effort. "And no respect for the game of soccer -- that's the main thing. No respect for themselves, let alone for the game of soccer.
"There's people that would do everything to be in our shoes, to play this game of soccer, but they can't because these guys are taking their spots. I'm disgusted by the effort. Everybody's got to wake up."
With that, Katic thanked the media and walked back to the home bench, from where he had just watched the Riverhounds spiral into a comedy of defensive errors and fall to 1-8-5 in USL Pro play.
In the fifth minute, defender Rob Vincent took a spill, unmarked, at midfield, and his giveaway resulted in the game's first golden scoring opportunity. Riverhounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap made the initial save on the counterattack, but Richmond midfielder Shay Spitz put home the rebound.
Six minutes later, a miscommunication between defender Brian Fekete and Gilstrap on a simple dump-in from midfield staked the Kickers (8-1-6) to a two-goal lead. Fekete backtracked and flicked a header toward the goalmouth, not knowing Gilstrap had run up behind him to field the ball. Both watch helplessly as the ball bounded into the empty net.
"I called 'keeper,' but maybe too late," Gilstrap said. "If someone back there makes a mistake, it's my mistake. I called for it, expecting that [the defenders] would shield and it would come through and I'd have it in my hands pretty safely. [Fekete] thought that meant to head it back to me, and I wasn't where he thought I would be."
Gilstrap paused, wearing a thin smile.
"It's very frustrating," he said. "That sort of defines the way our season has gone so far."
The Riverhounds regrouped after the disastrous start and pulled within a goal after a beautiful 25-yard strike off the left foot of midfielder Jose Angulo found the netting in the 54th minute.
The comeback was halted when Kickers forward Matthew Delicate buried a header in the 68th minute.
"We've just got to be stronger out of the gate and finish the game off," Angulo said. "That's something we're lacking right now. Hopefully we can figure that out. Hopefully it's not too late."
There were a few excuses, too, for those daring enough to consider them. There was the muggy low-80s heat, for one, and the 14 hours the Riverhounds spent delayed at the airport after a U.S. Open Cup match Wednesday in Chicago.
"I think that's looking for excuses, which isn't going to help us very much," Gilstrap said. "We're all in this together, and we've created this mess for ourselves."
Gilstrap glanced around him at the crowd of children milling around midfield waiting to get their T-shirts and game programs signed by players.
"What we did ... was not fair," Gilstrap said. "It was not fair to the fans, especially to our supporters who have been there for us all year. We didn't put on a performance worthy of them paying money to come see. That's the reality of it. We're paid to play the game, and if we don't do the job then we shouldn't be able to keep that spot. That is the tough love."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.