Here are three things we learned following the Pittsburgh Riverhounds mostly dominating, yet narrow 1-0 defeat of FC Montreal on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium.
KERR’S THE MAN ON THE SPOT
FC Montreal’s goalkeeper, Maxime Crepeau saw plenty of Kevin Kerr on Saturday.
A few days before, Kerr played wonderfully against a fairly strong D.C. United team that still fielded a number of key players — providing a tireless effort against top flight competition.
His tremendous work rate and ability to create chances in the final third carried over into Saturday’s game — even with just two full days rest after playing a full 120 minutes.
In the first half, he had some outstanding chances — but was stopped by Crepeau each time.
“It was disappointing,” said Kerr — as he acknowledged that was the feeling at the half.
But the eternal optimist, Kerr knew a goal would come.
“I’ll worry only when chances stop coming. We kept coming tonight.”
As Riverhounds assistant coach Josh Rife said, it was fitting that Kerr, who’s been so good at creating many chances on his own, was the beneficiary in receiving a ball that was deflected from a Rob Vincent shot.
Kerr reacted quickly to make the most of opening provided to slide the ball past Crepeau just inside the right post for the game-winner in the 79th minute.
Vincent has been a dangerous threat all season who has received a lot of recognition and praise — and deservedly so — with nine league goals (12 total in all competitions).
Yet, Kerr has been every bit as valuable to the Riverhounds attack. It’s one of those things that right now if someone asked me to vote for an “Offensive Player of the Year” or MVP for this Riverhounds team, it would be impossible to pick between them.
I’d split my vote in half.
FINALLY — A LEAGUE SHUTOUT
Going into Saturday’s match, the Riverhounds were the only team in both conferences of the 24-team United Soccer League that had yet to post a shutout.
“It was a long time coming,” said Josh Rife, Riverhounds assistant coach, following the team’s first clean sheet of the league season.
The Riverhounds were fortunate in that FC Montreal lived up to their billing as the poorest offensive outfit in USL — only taking three shots with none on goal.
They fielded a back four that appears to be their strongest unit. Due to injuries, primarily to Fejiro Okiomah and Steling Flunder, coach Mark Steffens has gone with many different combinations in the back this year. Willie Hunt and Anthony Arena have played the most minutes, but with Okiomah healthy, it allows Hunt to slide down into the outside right back spot, and Flunder takes the outside left spot. In this scenario, the speedy 20-year old Canadian, Tyler Pasher, is likely to be the first defender to come off the bench — and can play either the left midfield or outside back spot.
This looks like the starting back line that Rife and Mark Steffens likely envisioned as they put this team together in the preseason.
CORNER KICKS FIZZLE
On a night when the Riverhounds controlled the run of play, peppered the opposing goalie with numerous shots — they also naturally created their share of corner kick opportunities.
Despite having eleven corner kicks (to only one for Montreal) — they seemed lethargic in execution.
“There were three or four (corner kicks) where there wasn’t even a viable option,” said Rife of his team’s lack of any kind of threatening set pieces on Saturday.
Rife cited fatigue as a factor in their execution — having just two days rest — and said that some of the technique was a bit slower than usual. But Rife did acknowledge that it is a concern, and “we definitely need to sharpen up on corners.”
The Hounds have had a few games this season that have produced a lot of corner kicks, but very little threat to score. But at times, they also been creative (playing short corners) and run some nice what appeared to be designed plays.
A couple players who have not started this year, Drew Russell and Max Touloute were in the first eleven. It seemed like they were mostly absent on corners. Russell was very active in the target forward role — as many of the long goal kicks from Calle Brown went in his direction.
When Miro Cabrilo, who’s scored a few headers this season, entered the game around the 70th minute, he had a decent chance heading a ball on target by near post.
With their toughest test this season to date looming — at USL overall points leader Rochester Rhinos on Saturday night — the Riverhounds can’t afford to take corner kicks lightly.
Against strong defensive units, like Rochester, they will need to take advantage of every opportunity they get.
Ironically, set pieces were the difference that helped the Riverhounds defeat the Rhinos at Shalen’s Stadium a year ago, even as they were being outshot — and were losing the possession battle. Former Rhino, and current Hound captain Earls, who sat out this week due to suspension, served both set pieces that led to goals at Rochester last year. They will have Earls back.
With a week to prepare, I would imagine this is something that will get a lot of attention in practice this week.
FINAL WORD – WHERE THE HOUNDS STAND
Getting three points helped the Riverhounds (5-4-4, 19 points) remain tied for fifth place with NY Red Bulls II in the very competitive USL’s Eastern Conference standings, just a point behind Louisville City F.C.
Right behind the Hounds, and just under the playoff line are Harrisburg (16 points), who settled for a 1-1 tie with Rochester at home on Friday. The surging Charlotte Independence (15 points) won again, and looking every bit like a playoff contender right now. St. Louis F.C. (14 points) also remain in contention, after a loss at Western Conference foe, Colorado. Toronto F.C. 2, Wilmington Hammerheads and F.C. Montreal bring up the rear, and appear out of the picture.
The Riverhounds have seen each USL Eastern Conference side, except for Wilmington, who they won’t face until August 1. After the Rochester showdown on Saturday, they will return home for what is becoming the Annual Highmark Stadium Fourth of July game that will be a rematch against the NY Red Bulls II — who they lost 3-2 on a late stoppage time goal.