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Analysis & Players Grades: Turn the page and focus on playoffs

Analysis & Players Grades: Turn the page and focus on playoffs

The Riverhounds will finish in third place in the USL’s Eastern Conference.

After a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United 2, as Coolray Field mostly emptied out, Hounds coach Bob Lilley kept his players in the center circle to share a few words.

Wednesday’s result assured the Riverhounds that they will finish in third place in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings.

This will leave the Hounds with one game remaining in the regular season against a NY Red Bulls II team that they may very well be facing not only on Sunday in the season finale, but also at Highmark Stadium the following week.

It’s too early to even try to speculate who the Hounds opponent will be on October 20 in the first-ever playoff game at Highmark simply because of the logjam of teams that are sitting from fifth through tenth places.

There are just way too many scenarios that can play out. With NYRBII and Indy Eleven both currently sitting at 49 points each, and Nashville one point behind along with Bethlehem Steel hanging on above the playoff line with 47 points, the Hounds could conceivably play any one of those teams.

Team Points GD GP Remaining
FC Cincinnati 77 +38 34 Clinched 1st seed in Eastern Conf / USL
Louisville City FC 66 +34 34 Clinched 2nd seed in Eastern Conf
Riverhounds SC 59 +22 33 @NYRBII (10/14) – Clinched 3rd
Charleston Battery 56 +13 34 Clinched 4th seed in Eastern Conf
Indy Eleven 49 +3 34 Clinched playoff spot
NY Red Bulls 49 +11 33 @Pgh (10/14)
Nashville SC 49 +11 34 Clinched playoff spot
Bethlehem Steel FC 47 +14 33 TBR (10/14) – Clinches playoff with win/draw or loss by less than 5 goals
North Carolina 47 +10 34 Can clinch playoff spot if Beth Steel lose to TBR by 5 goals

Regardless of who the Hounds play, Lilley will want a better execution than what transpired in Georgia on Wednesday.

The Hounds were attack minded for portions of the contest, and defenders continued to play a fairly high line.

Atlanta were getting forward with advantages in numbers and had a few decent chances where they were left exposed. Goalkeeper Dan Lynd denied made a few saves that bailed out the Hounds after poor clearance.

The goal came on an ensuing corner kick after one of Lynd’s big saves, where Andy Lubahn left an open space and Laurent Kissiedou to challenge for a header headed in the vicinity of ATL’s Jackson Conway right near the goal box– even as his teammate Todd Pratzner was in position.  Ben Fitzpatrick was the next closest Hounds player that probably could have helped with closing in on that space in the box.

The ball bounced out toward Kissiedou, who had a fairly open look to put his shot past Lynd.

In response to the Atlanta goal, Pittsburgh absolutely pelted the Atlanta final third with pressure coming in from corner kicks and crosses. They held a decided edge in both categories (10-3 on corners and 27-8 in crosses).

The Hounds finished with 27 shots — nine of them on frame. Atlanta absorbed a lot of pressure — even defenders were making saves hugging the posts. The Hounds used its three second half substitutions to reinforce the attack with Joe Holland, Romeo Parkes and Neco Brett.

They couldn’t find that elusive second goal.

Ironically, they scored their lone goal on a set piece, not from a corner kick or a cross, but a free kick from Christiano Francois from a perfectly timed run by Thomas Vancaeyezeele in the first half.

Earlier in the season, when the Hounds were failing to score goals, and after an unsatisfying draw against Penn FC, Lilley picked his team apart — ultimately wanting to see more fire and better execution in the final third.

At that time, Lilley felt his team was “so easy to play against right now.”

Heading into the playoffs, Lilley wants to make sure his team isn’t going to be easy to play against.

Conditions weren’t ideal on Wednesday, but ultimately, the Hounds were clearly the better team, but weren’t clinical enough to make that final push for second place count.

Now they’re locked into third place.

It’s time to turn the page, and begin to prepare for the playoffs where third place won’t be good enough.

PLAYER GRADES

Dan Lynd 7 – it’s hard to fault Lynd on the lone goal, when he made two tremendous saves leading up to that moment.

Ray Lee5 – was very active on left side but also lost nine of 15 duels, and conceded three fouls.

Todd Pratzner6 – closing spaces were the key for Hounds defenders on night they weren’t under regular pressure. Pratzner was solid.

Hugh Roberts 6 – was left alone a few times, held his own. Four clearances and four interceptions.

Andy Lubahn4.5 – was solid for stretches winning nine of 13 duels, team high five tackles, but leaving open space that led to goal may have been on him and Ben Fitzpatrick for not effectively closing out the spaces in the box.

Thomas Vancaeyezeele8 – scored the goal, and was most active defending in the middle  — with six clearances, one block and two interceptions. His last clearance in the dying moments along the end line, handled like a veteran. In this game, broke single-season club records in minutes played (2,819) and appearances (31 — tied with Kevin Kerr)

Ben Fitzpatrick4.5 – won one of six duels, conceded pair of fouls and was involved in creating some opportunities on right side, but not enough.

Kenardo Forbes7 – clearly the team’s primary facilitator, was creating opportunities for his teammates through short passes (team leading 72!!) and keeping possession in final third.

Christiano Francois6.5 – was every where. Created bunches (7) of chances. Added his fifth assist on the night. They’ll need full-throttle Cheetah for 90 minutes in every playoff game!

Mouhamed Dabo–  really quiet night all around for Dabo, but his passing accuracy was team best 87% so he was doing his job.

Kay Banjo5 – probably needed to see more than three shots off target, one chance created from starting top man

Neco Brett (78′) – 5.5 – part of late push, one shot on frame. Couldn’t get 16th goal of season.

Joe Holland (66′) – 6 – had fabulous chance from close range but was denied. Three shots on frame in his abbreviated time, but couldn’t convert.

Romeo Parkes (78′) – 5.5 – a few sloppy passes, but also was involved in creating some late game pressure.

Did not play:

Mike Kirk (G), Tobi Adewole, Jordan Dover, Joe Greenspan

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, and more. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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