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WEEK 2 RIVERHOUNDS RECAP – 'What We Learned', Player Ratings

toulouteIn his post game comments to the media, Pittsburgh Riverhounds head coach Mark Steffens didn’t hide his frustration after his team’s 2-1 defeat vs the Rochester Rhinos on Saturday.
“Very disappointing. We played right into their hands,” said Steffens.
Steffens has assembled a roster that appears to have a lot of promise, youth and talent.  But after being put to the test on Saturday, they didn’t play with composure that  he was hoping for.
Credit to the Rhinos of doing a nice job of pressuring the Riverhounds back line and midfielders — breaking any kind of rhythm or ability to possess the ball.   Especially in the first half, it seemed like the Hounds were giving balls away with regularity.
“They were big across their back line, and we couldn’t connect any passes,” Steffens added.
It was a very organized and physical Rochester central midfield and backline.   While Steffens said the Riverhounds wanted to come out, press forward, and try to create opportunities through the central midfield, they were careless for long stretches.
“We just couldn’t connect any passes, made some bad decisions.”
Steffens went with a more traditional 4-4-2 approach in the second half, bringing on Max Touloute, Vini Dantas and Willie Hunt.   Danny Earls found an opening in the back line, and Touloute was able to capitalize to even the contest at 1-1 in the 48th minute.
Despite the Riverhounds’ flaws in possession and inability to create many scoring chances, it took two opportunistic Rochester goals that proved to be the difference in the game.
The first goal conceded was set up by a as midfielder Stephen Okai made contact with Tony Walls after Hounds goalkeeper Ryan Thompson came way out to try to secure the ball, but lost it.  In the scramble, Okai couldn’t avoid the contact.  Walls took care of it from there, with a pinpoint free kick that screamed over a Riverhounds wall that didn’t seem to move.
The second, and game-deciding goal, well, there are two ways to look at it.
One, it’s easy from the Riverhounds perspective to blame the official.   Yeah, that’s it, he totally screwed it up, as he should have blown the whistle immediately once he went over to break up the scuffle between Rob Vincent and Mike Garzi.
But maybe that’s easier to say that in hindsight.
You can watch it for yourself, on the Riverhounds YouTubegame feed in the 52nd minute of the match (105 minute of the video)…

But, taking a closer look, both players went in for the ball, shoulder-to-shoulder at the same time.  Vincent definitely got the worst of it — going hard to the ground.  He got up — pretty ticked off.  It looked like a classic no call, with simultaneous and legal contact between two players going for the ball — and the ball remained in play.  You hear this often, and it’s cliche, but unless you hear a whistle, you have to keep playing.  That’s what Onua Obasi and Alex Dixon did, as they connected for the Rhinos goal.
Die-hard Riverhounds fans know all too well about this scenario, as they had a knack for losing close games early last season on questionable calls.  They hope this trend does not repeat itself.
It is also not the first time the Riverhounds, or any soccer team for that matter, gave up a goal when they were expecting the official to blow the whistle.   In fact, it was reminiscent of the second game last season, when the Hounds gave up a goal at Richmond when it appeared their entire midfield held up their hands calling for a handball.  Here’s the excerpt from my 4/5/2014 game report in Pittsburgh Sports Report… 

 Richmond added to the lead in the 55th minute, when for a second, it appeared a few players may have been anticipating a handball call at midfield as it appeared the ball was touched by a Richmond player.  For a split second, there was some confusion, but play continued. Kickers midfielder Samuel Asante took advantage, found a lot of space in the attacking third, and sent a ball to Kyle Porter to the right, who beat Riverhounds goalkeeper Greg Blum.
“From our perspective, it was a handball.  The referee even acknowledged it later, but didn’t have clarification from the linesman,” said Evans. 
“That’s sometimes how the game goes.  Sometimes you’re going to get calls go your way. Sometimes not.  We’ve got to make our own luck.”  

And the point here is, you play on.  You don’t hear a whistle.  You keep playing.  The Riverhounds didn’t keep playing — and Rochester took advantage, and that was the difference in the game.
Did the official screw up?  He certainly was not decisive, but did turn back around as the play continued after initially going over to break up the the scuffle.   It would be interesting to get the take from officials after the game, but I didn’t get a chance to do that.
Also, one other note, the Rhinos were called for 15 fouls to only three for the Hounds.  So, the official did seem to get it right as Rochester was definitely the more physically aggresive side.
Here’s the full game BOX SCORE 
Ryan Thompson (GK) – (6) –  Maybe could have knocked the ball away instead of trying to secure it, on the play that led to foul and free kick, but otherwise was solid under pressure.
Anthony Arena (5) – Held up well against high pressure from Rhinos and was often marking the speedy Dixon.  On a night when the Hounds needed to match Rochester’s physical play, Arena fared well. But picking up two yellow cards in two games might be costly.
Fejiro Okiomah – (6) – Along with Arena, continues to provide steady, physical presence in the middle.
Mike Green – (5) – Covering lot of ground, pushed forward at times on the right flank throughout the night, but only was able to create a few effective combination passes with Kevin Kerr and Lebo Moloto.
Sterling Flunder (3) – Kenardo Forbes on the wing seemed to have his way with Flunder. Wonder if he’s not completely healthy yet.  Came out in favor of Willie Hunt at halftime.
Danny Earls – (6) – Terrific through ball to set up Touloute goal. Remains constant for Hounds in central MF, and was one player who didn’t give too many balls away against his former team.  Also picked up costly second yellow card booking in two games.  Will be missed at St. Louis.
Stephen Okai – (3) – not a good night for Okai.  Gave his share of balls away, and his foul on Walls set up Rochester’s first goal.
Rob Vincent – (4) – also not his best performance, especially in the first half when the Hounds struggled to maintain any type of threat in the final third.  Moved over in second half to central MF, and played better.
Kevin Kerr – (4) – after a hat trick the previous week, was mostly unsuccessful in trying to create opportunities on the right flank with Mike Green. Took an ambitious shot from distance early in first half, but Rochester did a good job in limiting his scoring opportunities.
Lebo Moloto (5) – was a bit outmatched physically at times, as he struggled against Rochester’s bigger, stronger players and had few opportunities to create.  Doesn’t seem like he’s going to win a lot of balls in the air.  On the ball thought, he did draw a few fouls — and that’s what can do well.  Might have been more effective if, as Steffens noted, the Hounds kept the ball on the floor a bit more, and found their way to his feet. But as the second half began, Steffens moved him back to holding MF in place of Okai, and inserted Touloute in the attacking MF role.
Miro Cabrilo (3) – really wasn’t a factor — as the Hounds weren’t able to get in the attacking third much in the first half and playing balls in the air.  One of the players on the wall (who didn’t jump), that Walls’ free kick sailed over and into the net for Rochester’s first goal.  Like his first game, played only in first half.
Max Touloute (7) – while Touloute did play some minutes late against Harrisburg, this was his first significant minutes of the season for the Hounds.  He didn’t disappoint, showing ability to finish (with Hounds lone goal), and create other scoring chances in the attacking third against a stingy Rochester side.
Willie Hunt (6) – seemed to do a better job in contaiing Forbes in his second half minutes. Was subbed late for Kene Eze as the Hounds looked to get late goal.
Vini Dantas (6) – along with Touloute, seemed to ignite Hounds attack in 2nd half. Setting up the goal with simple ball back to Earls.  Otherwise, wasn’t able to create any dangerous chances after that.
Kene Eze (n/a) – former Rutgers star forward made his Hounds debut in the late stages.
Two of the Riverhounds toughest players, who don’t back down from a challenge, Danny Earls and Anthony Arena, were booked with yellow cards for the second consecutive game.  Both will have to be careful not too accumulate too many bookings so early in the season.
St. Louis won their first game in USL competition on Thursday — with a road victory at Tulsa — and will host the Riverhounds on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. kickoff.   The Riverhounds will be hosting a viewing of the match in their pub at Highmark Stadium.
Just like the Riverhounds, St. Louis are 1-1-0 after two games — and are in the middle of the early season Eastern Conference standings with 3 points.
I’ll have more on this match-up later in the week.
The Riverhounds have to be disappointed with attendance so far.  Weather has certainly been a factor  as temperatures were in the mid 40s at kickoff this past Saturday.  But, to not break 2,000 fans through the gate each the first two weeks has to be a bit frustrating.   There is cautious optimism by the team and others around the team, that as the weather improves, more fans will show.    Hopefully that will be the case for the Hounds.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. 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).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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