While much attention from the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ 2-1 loss on Saturday at Highmark Stadium to Charleston Battery may have come from the return of Rob Vincent, who scored the Hounds lone goal, it was yet another tough loss.
It was the second game for the Hounds new coach Dave Brandt. Despite some positive signs in the Hounds (1-6-3) second consecutive loss under Brandt, they have a huge mountain to climb to get back into the USL playoff picture.
Here are some things that we learned on Saturday as they came up short again:
BRANDT WORKING TO BUILD BELIEF
“Right now there’s not enough belief here,” said Brandt after the loss in his first-ever game at Highmark Stadium.
“They don’t dare to believe yet. We got the one (goal by Vincent) and we just don’t quite think we can do it. There’s an aura of ‘We’re not going to get it done’ and I am seeing that my main job is to turn that into pure belief.”
By all indications Dave Brandt has brought in whole new level of energy and approach to doing things — and the players are on board and working hard.
As one player said to me, there’s been a “180 degree difference” in the approach, to training and in games with Brandt, who replaced Mark Steffens two weeks ago.
However, they’re still struggling in an areas that count most — scoring goals and playing mistake-free on the defensive end.
The Hounds had most of the possession for much of the first half — outshooting the Battery 8-5 — yet the inability to convert and sustain enough dangerous opportunities in the box hurt them yet again.
Forward Corey Hertzog, who has one goal this season, missed a few good chances again on Saturday, and he knows that they are close but right now are not getting it done.
“We are in a tough spot,” said Hertzog.
“We’ve only won one game, and confidence in the locker room isn’t what it should be. But tonight we played our best soccer all year. If we can play like this — and make the most of our chances — it will be a different story.”
Brandt addressed the struggles of his players with some straightforward words.
“In athletics, or anything, you just have to battle through it,” said Brandt.
“If he could just snap his fingers and fix it, he would. But he’s got to be tough. He’s got to be a man. Stand up. Face it — and bury his next three.”
Vincent, a player not lacking confidence right now, was with the team for Friday’s training session — and believes that the Riverhounds players — and the organization know where they stand with Brandt.
“In the two hours yesterday (in training), he (Brandt) was clear about what he wanted,” observed Vincent.
“Dave has brought something fresh, something new. He’s so ambitious, and you could see it in his team talk, that he’s looking far ahead.”
“I think this team will be fine.”
DEFENSIVE LAPSES CRUSH HOUNDS
After controlling play for much of the first 35 minutes, the Hounds back line had two breakdowns in the final 10 minutes of the first half that cost them the game.
“That’s the difficult thing about soccer. You can play a really good game, but you have to get it done on both ends,” said Brandt.
It was clearly not a good night for the back line.
While Willie Hunt and Sergio Campbell, the Hounds’ center backs, have played well through most of the season, they both struggled in some key moments against a Charleston attack that had a few big, strong forwards.
The first goal was clearly a case where left outside back Jordan Murrell was flat out beat by O’Brian Woodbine on the play that led to the penalty. After making a nifty move to the inside to blow past him, Woodbine was taken down from behind by Murrell.
It wasn’t a good decision on Murrell’s part, as Hunt was right there in support — and in position to keep Woodbine from getting a good shot. Instead, the first-year player from Syracuse fouled Woodbine — who converted the penalty kick with ease to give the Battery a 1-0 lead.
A few moments later — as a free kick was played to the far post — Hunt headed the ball but it went back toward the left center of the box where Charleston’s Taylor Mueller, who remained unmarked — had no problem volleying home the shot.
Two goals surrendered on two mistakes in just a matter of minutes.
And with that, the complexion of the game changed.
While the Hounds back line have played well in stretches –it still has not been good enough. While you can say that the defense has done a good job of keeping every game close — they’ve yet to post a clean sheet.
And to make matters worse, late in the game Campbell had a hard foul, taking down Charleston’s Ricky Garbanzo, who had a clear path toward goal, just outside the box. The foul drew a red card — and Campbell will have to sit out next week’s game at Richmond.
“We need to defend well, and whether that’s the current players defending better or other players coming in, it has to be,” added Brandt.
“Once we start shutting teams out, we’re just going to win.”
One interesting side note — Brandt mentioned “other players coming in,” as we already know that the Hounds have re-signed former captain Danny Earls, who should join the team this week.
Team owner Tuffy Shallenberger also left this dangling carrot:
My guess is as good as yours, but we just might see the return of another former Hounds defender. Maybe Anthony Arena?
VINCENT GLAD TO RETURN TO HIS SECOND HOME
Rob Vincent was glad to be back in Pittsburgh — and given a chance to get a full 90 plus minute game — he took advantage with some outstanding work playing mostly in central midfield. Yes — it was just for a one-game loan but it seems as if it was good for everyone.
Of course, playing a full game gave him a chance to unleash a few of his patented shots from distance that we grew to see from Vincent in his breakout season in 2015 when he scored 18 league goals.
And he was able to get one through.
The DC United midfielder has not played a lot of minutes this year for the Major League Soccer team, but he’s played in five matches — and started once and also played in CONCACAF Champions League game in March.
“The big thing for me is to show that I can establish myself at that (MLS) level. I have had my opportunities here and there,” said Vincent.
“I believe I can step up. Start games and play well. I am really enjoying my time there — and feel that I am improving as a player.”
There may have been some some skepticism and questions about Vincent’s return to the club from some folks who may have countered that it really can’t help the team in the long run.
But Vincent’s work rate and confidence helped his teammates for the night push forward and it turned out to be a win-win for everyone.
“I’ve never played with him before,” said Hertzog.
“But he was really doing some good things out there to help us, and his goal really gave us a lift to keep pushing forward.
As Vincent goes back to DC mid-week, as the team is on break due to COPA America tournament being held in the U.S., the Riverhounds will welcome another former teammate – Earls – who re-signed with the team this week.
And unlike Vincent, Earls will be here for the remainder of the season.
And who knows, there might be more help on the way too.