There was no doubt that the Riverhounds SC players and coaches were disappointed with Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Charleston Battery at Highmark Stadium.
The set back ended all of the momentum that the Hounds carried from a six-game unbeaten streak before a 13-day break between games.
But, there was also no cause for concern.
Head coach Bob Lilley remained fairly optimistic after he watched his team miss numerous chances, then have an uncharacteristic defensive breakdown late in the match that allowed Charleston to pull out of Pittsburgh with a win.
“We were better the first half. The second half was a little more even, but I still think we created the better moments and carried the game. I am really happy with how we played,” Lilley said after the game. “I am happy with the chances we created – that’s soccer. It would have been awesome getting the three points today. This was maybe the best game we played all year, we just didn’t come out with the win.”
It was reminiscent of a game played between these two teams last year, when the Hounds escaped Charleston with a rare win in the Holy City on a late strike from Corey Hertzog on a pinpoint pass in the box from Kevin Kerr.
On Saturday, the Battery found the late magic moment when Angelo Kelly won possession of the ball on the right end line, had a rare opening behind the Hounds back line — and delivered the ball to the far post. Kelly found one of the top goal scorers in the USL, Atulla Guerra unmarked behind Hounds goalkeeper Dan Lynd.
I am betting that longtime Battery coach Mike Anhauser, who’s had his share of battles against Lilley over the years, probably felt the same way last year after losing to Pittsburgh as Lilley felt last night.
Lilley said that over the years, getting chances in the final third against Anhauser’s teams are not always easy to come by — and they were able to get enough to his liking on Saturday.
But it was just one of those nights.
“Charleston deserves credit. They were pretty sharp, and they hung in there, and found a goal. And that’s what good teams do,” Lilley explained.
And just like that, after dominating a match for a good part of 88 minutes, the Hounds trailed in a match for the first time since May and for the first time in 570 minutes.
For the record, they only trailed for a minute and stoppage time.
“I felt good about how we were playing, and even after we gave up that goal, I thought well we can still probably get out of here with the draw,” Lilley explained.
The Hounds owned the ball to the tune of having 57 percent of the possession, they out shot the Battery 11-5 (4-3 on target) and with more shots from inside the box (9-2), doubled the margin on corners (10-5) and crosses (20-5) and completed 100 more passes.
They earned a penalty kick. But couldn’t convert it.
Christiano Francois hit the woodwork — twice.
Ray Lee was whipping in dangerous balls into the box from his left side where Lilley had given him the green light to get forward on this night. In the second half Lee got deep into the edge of the box with a few options. He laid the ball off to his left for Brett on the left side who couldn’t put a shot past Kuzminsky.
What Lee didn’t see was Kerr — with his hands up hoping to get the ball with all kinds of room on his right.
It wasn’t to be.
This game can be cruel sometimes …😒
— SuperHughman (@hughrob13) July 22, 2018
It was a difficult set back for Pittsburgh — as they’ve now surrendered two goals at home all of this season (in 10 games). But both goals decided season series against teams that are very much in the playoff hunt and battling for spots near the top of the table. With the win, Charlelston jumps past the Hounds in the standings. Adding to that, front running FC Cincinnati continue to blaze ahead with another win, 2-1 at home against NY Red Bulls II, leaving Pittsburgh (35 points) nine points back from the top spot.
Lilley was not too concerned with all of that right now. He likes the way his team is playing.
Taking into consideration how the Hounds executed, and despite the loss, the Hounds looked sharp in the midfield and were getting into the final third connecting passes against one of the league’s best teams. They created enough chances from a cleverly set up 3-4-1-2 formation that could have resulted in a win on most nights. Through the middle, both Kerr and Kenardo Forbes were winning their share of duels, linking passes, patient on the ball, and making good decisions (as usual).
Lilley liked how much his starting eleven were playing, he didn’t even want to use his subs. Kay Banjo and Romeo Parkes would enter the match in the 81st minute to provide a late spark, replacing Kerr and Brett, but couldn’t contribute any late magic.
Despite the Hounds’ coach’s overall optimism, I’ll pick a bone or two from this result.
Firstly, there’s a little bit of a trend going when the Hounds are on the front foot in games when they dominate possession — they struggle to score.
It happened in scoreless draws against Harrisburg, and in the 1-0 loss to Nashville.
Unlike those games, especially the Harrisburg draws, this the Hounds attack looked sharp and had more purpose in the final third. Charleston keeper Joe Kuzminsky made a few dazzling saves to keep the clean sheet.
The other bone would be having defensive lapse from a spot where the Hounds have been exposed a bit this year. Charleston were able to keep possession on the right side, getting it away from the initial Hounds pressure on the ball. Suddenly by the end line Kelly found himself with plenty of room to deliver a ball to Atuerra. You could see defender Tobi Adewole realize that Kelly was behind him, and he scurried back to get in position, but it was too late.
In the Cincinnati draw, both goals surrendered came from balls into the box from the edge and inside the box area along the end line. This is a space that the Hounds rarely concede much room — and when they do — they’re vulnerable.
Forbes seemed ready to put this one behind him.
“The key to being a pro, you have to have short term memory,” Forbes said. “We have to sulk tonight and get over it tomorrow. We have to come back ready for practice Monday.”
Indeed, it’s time to move on to player grades — and next week’s game at North Carolina FC.
Dan Lynd – 5.5 – maybe if he was playing deeper in the goal box the goal could have been prevented, but that really wasn’t on him.
Ray Lee – 6.5 – man he whipped in a couple of real dangerous balls into the box that forced Kuzminsky to come out to get near post. Got into box in second half, laid ball off to Brett on his left that resulted in another save for Kuzminsky, but Kevin Kerr was all alone to his right. Missed opportunity no doubt.
Tobi Adewole – 5.5 – it was a really strong game for the three man center back line, until that late moment when Adewole wasn’t there to be in front of Kelly’s cross.
Joe Greenspan – 6 – as usual excellent for much of the night in the back — in command of things coming his way. For second straight game had a header chance from a corner kick, but this time tried to hit the corner instead of straight to the middle of box and missed it wide right.
Hugh Roberts – 5.5 – much the same as Adewole and Greenspan defended very well most of the night. Roberts won 11 of his 17 duels (mostly with Atuella). But the big forward got behind him (and Jordan Dover) on that goal.
Kevin Kerr – 7 – that 3-4-1-2 formation played very well to Kerr’s strengths as the ‘1’ between speedy Francois and tireless Brett. Kerr was the key link in connecting passes and making decisions between the central mids and getting it forward. Created the penalty after a decent 1-2 to get the ball back on the end line.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6 – a yellow card late, a few give-aways here and there, but still another solid performance for the only player who’s been in for every minute of every match. The ironman streak continues.
Kenardo Forbes – 7 – a big reason why the Hounds were strong in the middle of the field throughout the match, and one of the reasons why Lilley isn’t too concerned with his team.
Christiano François – 5.5 – if there’s one player on this team that’s has a knack for having games and moments where he comes close to scoring but can’t come through, it’s Francois. Does a lot of good things to get into position, but on this night hitting the bar and post within 11 minute period had to be frustrating.
Neco Brett – 6 – Sure there was the missed PK, but Lilley was positive about Brett’s performance and was happy he was getting more chances than he has in recent games.
Romeo Parkes (82’) – 5 – didn’t have much of an impact
Kay Banjo (82’) – jumped into Kerr’s spot underneath high forwards, but didn’t result in any chances created
Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Todd Pratzner, Andrew Lubahn, Noah Franke, Mouhamed Dabo