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Riverhounds stay in playoff race with draw vs. Richmond

| Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, 9:15 p.m.

The Riverhounds can't make a move in the playoff hunt, but they are not falling out of the race, either.

Stephen Okai scored with eight minutes remaining to help the Riverhounds avoid a damaging home loss, as they came away with a 1-1 draw against the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium.

A win earlier in the day by eighth-place New York Red Bulls II dropped the Riverhounds (5-8-9) to three points out of the last playoff spot in USL's Eastern Conference, but with three other teams between them and New York, the Riverhounds will need wins down the stretch to climb the standings. The club is 0-2-5 in their past seven games.

“There's still 30 points (10 games) left on the table for us, but we've given away two points in a lot of games — maybe four of the last six,” Riverhounds coach Dave Brandt said.

With 56 percent of possession and a 12-6 edge in shots, Saturday's game fits Brandt's description. However, it was the Kickers (3-11-8) and Raul Gonzalez who scored first against the run of play.

Yudai Imura's quick surge through the midfield forced right back Marshall Hollingsworth to close down the ball, which opened space for Gonzalez on the left side. The Riverhounds' center backs were unable to close out in time, allowing Gonzalez time to pick out the far side of the net with his shot in the 65th minute.

“You start controlling (the game) and it's easy to go to sleep,” Brandt said. “I just thought we all collectively went to sleep, and we've done that a number of times this year. As soon as the shot happened — a right-footed player on the left side, he gets room to open his hips, you know it's going back post. It was a bad goal to give up.”

The Riverhounds continued to fire dangerous crosses into the Kickers box, but it was a play down the middle that got them level. Okai calmly finished into the left side of the net after substitute Victor Souto picked him out with a perfect pass rolled on the turf into the box. All Okai needed was one touch to slip past defender Conor Shanosky, and his second touch on the ball gave the defensive midfielder his first goal of the season.

“Victor has great vision, and I knew he was going to try to slip me in,” Okai said. “When he did that, I got the touch on it, and I knew I had to do everything I can to get the ball in.”

The Riverhounds pushed forward for a late winner but couldn't turn their momentum into a second goal. Despite being winless since June 22, the players are confident in how they have played and feel they have a playoff push to come.

“Everything good that happens, you have to go through some ups and downs, and that doesn't mean you should give up,” Okai said. “Anything can happen at any given point, and we're going to keep fighting and pushing until we get to where we want to be.”

Matt Grubba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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