The Pittsburgh Riverhounds had their way with Toronto FC II, aka the Baby Reds, roasting them like baby red potatoes, for a 5-1 win on Saturday.
The win pushed their season mark to 2-1-2, good for 8 points, and a spot in fifth place in the USL Eastern Conference standings, right behind the four remaining undefeated teams in the USL Eastern Conference standings.
This is a nice start for a franchise that wasn’t able to get a win the previous two seasons in their first two months. In my 2015 season team preview, one of the three keys I wrote about for the Riverhounds to have a successful season would be getting off to a good start. Mark that off the to-do list.
After watching Saturday’s 5-1 win over the young Toronto FC II youthful squad that was full of speed, energy, technical ability — but lacking composure and ability to play a complete game, here’s what I learned about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds after their fifth game.
KERR & VINCENT: DYNAMIC DUO PROVIDE GOAL SCORING PUNCH
Another one of three things I listed as keys to a successful 2015 for the Hounds, would be to find a way to replace goal scoring prowess of Jose Angulo, the team’s leading scorer in 2013 and 2014, and former league MVP. While most of their goals have been accumulated in two big performances, the combination of Kevin Kerr and Rob Vincent are way ahead of Angulo’s previous paces, as after five games, they are tied in the team lead with four goals apiece. Now, it would be ludicrous to believe that one, or both, could roll off a 15-goal season that Angulo produced in 2013, but together with their tremendous work-rate and being opportunistic on the wings in Mark Steffens system, they are providing the Riverhounds with ability to put the ball in the back of the net — and they’ve been a big reason why this team has clearly found a way to replace a dynamic scorer.
How’s this for production: the Riverhounds are third in the USL in goals scored (behind Sacramento FC and Seattle Sounders FC 2) with 13 goals, second in goals per game (2.6 gpg) — and Kerr and Vincent are tied for second in the league for goals (4). They are also responsible for all of the team’s five assists (although in an aside to sometimes why soccer statistics can be meaningless, Mike Green’s pass that set up the game’s pivotal play, Kerr’s PK, on Saturday was right on target, yet he’s unable to receive any credit for what was by all intents and purposes — a deadly assist).
Let’s not get too excited though about these numbers. As one great sports entertainment performer would say — the cream always rises to the top. These numbers have been padded by two 5-goal outbursts. Even Coach Steffens made it clear after the game — he’s not expecting a five goal performance with any regularity.
In the other three games, against tougher, more physical teams – that are more organized in the back — Rochester, St. Louis and Louisville – it was probably a bit more of reality check, as they scored one goal in each tough encounter. But still, the Riverhounds, clearly have proven that they have the type of players, led by Kerr and Vincent, who can exploit teams that make mistakes and have cracks in their back line. Definitely a good sign going forward.
And by the way, Angulo is doing just fine with the Strikers — scoring a pair of goals this past weekend in Fort Lauderdale’s 3-1 win over the Ottawa Fury FC as the Strikers appear to be in contention at the top of the NASL standing. Good for Jose!
STEFFENS HAS OPTIONS – EXPERIENCE AND DEPTH
This past game again proved that the Riverhounds and Head Coach Mark Steffens have been able to pull from their deep roster, and with the rigors of the a long season ahead, that’s a huge asset.
After the game he talked a bit about that.
“It’s really good to have depth. We haven’t had (Matt) Dallman all season until tonight, and Tyler Pasher stepped up. And I am excited that as the season progresses, we’re going to see some of what the younger guys will do as they get their chances too,” said Steffens.
“I really feel like we are just now building our chemistry — and the best is yet to come.”
With Fejiro Okiomah, Max Touloute and Lebo Moloto — all starters in previous games — nursing injuries, the Riverhounds didn’t miss a beat on Saturday.
Willie Hunt filled in admirably for Okiomah in central defense — and while TFCII’s Jordan Hamilton was giving him fits with his speed in the first half, it appeared that Hunt settled down and was able to keep his mark the rest of the game. Sterling Flunder returned to the line-up at left back — and Dallman made his return at left back.
Dallman wasn’t back for long though, as he was injured around the 25th minute. But Steffens had the option of bringing in Pasher, another speedy back into the mix that seems to fit his system very well. ***INJURY UPDATE*** Steffens said on Monday that Dallman should be back in the lineup within the next couple of weeks.
But the guy who’s been the Riverhounds “Mr. Versatility” this year has been Mike Green. Kind of like the Riverhounds version of Josh Harrison.
Going into the season, Green was listed as a midfielder, and played a lot in preseason in the attacking mid role, which seemed to be a good fit for him. In 2013 he played outside back, in 2014 started at outside back, but moved up to midfield and forward as the season progressed. But after injuries to the back line at the end of this preseason, and Green was playing outside back again at the start of the season. On Saturday, with Moloto and Touloute out of action, Green got the start at attacking mid. Green may not have the dynamic foot skills or speed as Moloto or Touloute, but he’s shown he can be productive in the final third of the field. His pass to Kerr that set up the penalty was right on target — and when asked about that pivotal play — the first thing Kerr did was rave about he teammate for three years — Green — and his pass.
“Unbelievable ball from Greeny, that got through. It was right there,” said Kerr.
Throw in the likes of a steady veteran presence of Danny Earls along with Stephen Okai — who have both been rock solid from 18-to-18 — in their holding mid field roles, Anthony Arena (former Houston Dynamo) and Flunder (with over 110 starts for the Hounds) in the back — and finally having 30 year-old keeper with much club and international experience in Ryan Thompson in goal, and the Riverhounds have a club that have players that bring leadership and understanding of what it takes to be successful and can deal with adversity.
“We know we’re a good team. Adversity is going to come in every game,” said Earls, also Riverhounds team captain.
“You just get on, and do the best that you can. It’s about sticking to your game plan. They could have 9, 10 or 11 men against us, but knew we had to keep coming at them.”
MLS 2 TEAMS NOT FARING WELL SO FAR
Many USL observers had a feeling this might be the case. For the most part, primarily in the Eastern Conference play, the Major League Soccer franchise second teams are struggling to put together teams that can win many games.
As of now, if you look at the USL Eastern Conference standings, Toronto along with the Riverhounds next opponent, NY Red Bull, and Montreal Impact FC II, are at or near the bottom.
The Baby Reds on Saturday showed they are a team that was full of energy, with lots of technical ability and speed. They played very well at the beginning of Saturday’s match, but the Riverhounds were patient, and eventually exposed them into the second half.
NY Red Bull II’s only win of the season came when they called up 10 players from their senior club in a 4-1 defeat of TFCII. And Toronto’s only win came against Montreal, who are without a win.
The USL mainstay franchises appear to be more cohesive and have enough talent to produce results against the MLS backed teams with regularity. That might change as the season and the years progress,. For now, it appears that the MLS teams are still struggling to figure out a way to not only use their second teams as a way to develop players – but also put strong teams on the field that can contend to be at the top of the standings. In the Western Conference, some of the “2’s” are faring better, but not that much better.