This hasn't been an easy season for the Riverhounds, and a midseason coaching transition only upped the turmoil.
But finally, as the USL Pro season reaches its home stretch, it looks as if they might finally be reaching the end of the tunnel.
The Riverhounds' 2-0 win Thursday night against Charlotte at Highmark Stadium gave the team its third win in four games and kept its faintly flickering playoff hopes alive for at least one more week.
"When you make a change in your life it takes time, as we all know," interim coach Niko Katic said. "For example, if I was an alcoholic, it would take me time to stop drinking. Same thing in soccer, in sports. When you make a change in your life, it takes time to buy in."
The Riverhounds needed that buy-in and discipline Thursday night, as they dominated possession and chances for more than an hour, but had no goals to show for it.
Charlotte even played with only 10 men from the 45th minute on as Wells Thompson picked up two yellow cards within 10 minutes of each other at the end the first half.
Finally, in the 67th minute, Joseph Ngwenya sparked an attack down the right side. He picked up the ball near the right edge of the 18-yard box and chipped a cross to the far post, where Kevin Kerr rose up and headed the ball back to the right, past Charlotte goalkeeper Alec Kann.
Katic admitted that his team pressed a bit too much early in the second half, knowing they were playing with a man advantage. Once they settled down and tried to open up Charlotte's defense, the offense flowed naturally.
"After that, when we settled down and just kept the ball moving from side to side, it was a lot better," he said. "When you move the ball side to side, holes open up in the middle. Then you can find those little penetrating passes, which we did, and it was great."
Ngwenya again set up the insurance goal 14 minutes later in the 81st minute, almost from an identical location in front of the Steel Army supporters sectional in the east end of Highmark Stadium.
This time, he played a low cross to forward Jose Angulo, who tapped home his team-high fifth goal of the season.
"He saw that when I took the defender to the first post and then peeled of the second," Angulo said. "So he played it to the second and it worked out."
After the game, Katic praised Ngwenya.
"Joseph is an unreal player. That's why he was [training] with Bayern Munich [in 2008]. Joseph is the guy that is going to make a difference wherever he plays. One touch and you see what he did tonight. Unbelievable game by Joseph."
The two goals in the second half erased any frustration the Riverhounds might have built up over the first 45 minutes.
The Riverhounds' best chance of the opening half came in the 39th minute when Andrew Marshall connected on a perfectly placed corner from Dallman. Marshall's powerful header went past Kann, but was directed right at Eagles midfielder Fred Sekyere, who was stationed on the goal line. Sekyere headed the ball off the line to keep the game scoreless.
"We knew at halftime that they were one man down," Ngwenya said. "We just needed to be patient and we would get our chances. Obviously as time goes on, you get a little bit more nervous, but we knew that we would get chances and manage to put them away."
The win moved the Riverhounds -- at least temporarily -- within four points of the eighth and final playoff spot. With nine games remaining, Katic said the goal remains the same.
"Every game is a cup final," he said. "We've got to go with the best effort every game and try to win every single game, whether we play home or away. I absolutely believe. If I didn't believe I wouldn't be here."
Alex Nieves contributed to this report. Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
Alex Nieves contributed to this report. Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published July 17, 2014 9:31 PM