With the Riverhounds mired in a scoring slump of late – with merely six goals in the past 10 games, and as I’ve been following this season closely, I thought it would be a good time to take a deeper look and explore the Hounds scoring thus far, and where they can find more goals.
RELATED: Last week, in my feature for DK Pittsburgh Sports, Hounds seek formula to fix finishes in final third, I spoke with head coach Dave Brandt about the Hounds efforts to rectify these scoring woes.
Riverhounds by the numbers: 2017
Soccer’s not exactly a sport that has been enamored with advanced metrics, but recently, USL has inundated its followers with new waves of statistics that measure each team’s and individual player performances. While some people feel that the jury is still out a bit on the specifics of these calculations, some of these numbers provide fascinating case-study for this year’s Hounds squad. Among the most eye-opening statistics include the Hounds being in the top half of the league in shots taken, while they sit near the very bottom in shots on target and goal conversion rates.
Here are some of the key Hounds numbers from this season:
- Games played: 19
- Goals scored: 17 (26th of 30 teams)
- Goals conceded: 21 (tied with five teams in 8th)
- Goal differential: -4
- Shots: 173 (13th)
- Shots on target: 79 (no ranking available – thanks USL!)
- Conversion rate: 8% (27th)
- Passes: 8,049 (8th)
- Passing accuracy: 72% (28th)
While watching the Hounds score six goals in a game (Miracle on the Mon anyone?!) may be a distant memory – it’s fair to say that the times have changed. Each USL game has become increasingly tougher as teams are building deeper rosters, playing much longer seasons, pull from MLS rosters and overall team defending has seemed to be emphasized as teams are vying for results.
These variables shouldn’t mean that the Hounds can’t be more efficient in the attack. There’s a number of reasons that point to reasons for the current slump. If they don’t work their way out of this funk, they will come up short of the playoffs for the second consecutive season, even as they’ve developed and rounded into a well-organized defending unit that provides a fighting chance most every game.
This brings us to the goals the Hounds have scored this year.
As I reviewed each goal, a few common themes come to the forefront. For the sake of this feature, I’ve tagged each goal under a specific category, with reasoning to specifically outline how the Hounds have scored this season.
Here are some of the typical goal scoring categories:
- Counter attack
- Free kick
- Header (with service into box)
- Golazo (long range screamer – 25+ yards)
- Solo goal
- Team goal
- Chip / lob
- Super long range
- Bicycle or scissor kick
This is a general guide, and of course, they haven’t scored by every method listed, but hopefully this gives an idea of the types of goals we could see. Something tells me that coach Brandt is not making his guys practice bicycle kicks, but hopefully you get my drift.
Riverhounds 2017 Goals
- NY Red Bulls II – Corey Hertzog tightrope on end line after getting pass from Taylor Washington on flank. (Category: solo)
2. NY RB II – Kevin Kerr finishes nice build-up that included one-touch passing from Rich Balchan and Marshall Hollingsworth. (team)
3. NY RB II –Hertzog (2)- PK, Hertzog was fouled in box in 80th minute (PK)
4. @Charleston – Marshall Hollingsworth, from distance, after getting nice feed from new sub Key Banjo (golazo)
5. @Charleston – Hertzog (3), finishes with header for game winner in stoppage time on ball in from Kerr on right side (header)
6. STL FC – Kay Banjo – botched clearance by Saint Louis goalkeeper Devala Gorrick. Banjo collected the ball a little outside of the 18-yard box and pushed toward the goal, firing a shot to the right of a diving Gorrick for the lead (counter attack)
7. @Charlotte – Banjo (2) – Receiving a feed from defender Joe Greenspan just past midfield, Banjo took off, slowing his pace right as he entered the box to uncork a tough-angled looping shot over the outstretched arms of Charlotte goalkeeper Cody Mizell. (solo)
8. @Richmond – Hollingsworth (2), turned on his heel and fired a rocket of a shot from around 22 yards into the upper corner of the net (golazo)
9. Harrisburg – Hertzog (4) – gets header on the end of a ball from Kerr, for second time in season, the pair hook up for a game-winner that proves to be the difference (header)
10. TFCII – Victor Souto – this one made ESPN’s top 10 that night as Souto fired a shot from approximately 25 yards that teammate Trey Mitchell called a “real banger” (golazo)
11. @Ottawa – Hertzog (5)– header on the end of a ball into the box from Ritchie Duffie. (header)
12. Orlando City SC – Hertzog (6). The Hounds forward’s tally came off a corner, as the play started with useful buildup from Kevin Kerr and Jack Thompson. Playing the piece short to Thompson, Kerr received the return and fired a low ball in from the right of the box. Pinballing its way through multiple bodies, the ball squirted out to the far post, where Hertzog wasted little time beating Orlando’s Earl Edwards Jr. (corner)
13. @Toronto FC II – Romeo Parkes, the controversial Jamaican scored his first goal of the season in the late stages of match at TFCII by sliding a low free kick under wall to game equalizer. (free kick)
14. Tampa Bay – Chevy Walsh, in his first start of the season, Walsh was fed a nice over-the-top ball from Hertzog, as he slid behind the TB Rowdies back line, took two clever touches and finished with a nice shot. (counter attack)
15. Tampa Bay – Parkes (2). Late in the contest, after missing a few breakaway chances in earlier games and in the contest, Parkes converted one where he broke free on the right side to seal a 2-0 win. (counter attack)
16. Charlotte – Walsh (2). This was a brilliant individual effort about 22 yards from goal, as Walsh was surrounded by three defenders, made a few moves then drilled his shot in a contest that was already decided, was 3-0 in stoppage time. (solo)
17. @Bethlehem – Walsh (3). This time Parkes found newly added outside back Shannon Gomez on the flank. Gomez brought ball to right edge of box for a cut back pass that found its way right to Walsh’s foot, and the former PDL MVP took care of it from there from about 16 yards. (team).
If you break down each goal by category, here’s what we’ve got:
- Golazo – 3
- Header from service into box – 3
- Counter – 3
- Solo – 3
- Team – 2
- Corner – 1
- Free kick – 1
- PK – 1
Takeaways: Looking for more goals
In summary, like most teams, the Hounds have scored goals in a variety of ways this season. They aren’t as one-dimensional as one may think. However, when you look carefully, there are a few things of note:
- Hertzog has been the Hounds best scorer in the box and from close range. While he’s struggled of late, Hertzog has been the Hounds most reliable finisher for much of the past two years, especially when he’s on the receiving end of great services as he does a great job to get into position to score goals. Recently, he’s had more trouble finishing in these cases, but he’s still generating and putting himself in position. He also leads the team and the USL — in a runaway — with 58 shots (next five Hounds players have combined for nearly that total). Hertzog is certainly capable of a brilliant individual effort every now and then (see his first goal of the season). Takeaway: Brandt has no choice, but to keep putting him out there. Maybe get him on the end of some more quality balls into the box or more clever passing inside the box.
- Hollingsworth had two screamers for goals in April, and hasn’t been as active in the attack since. The other golazo comes from Souto, who also has not really had a chance to be a dangerous scoring threat as he’s laid back into more of a central defensive midfield role. With three “golazos” and three “solo” goals, the Hounds have relied on pure individual efforts to score six of 17 goals this season. These type of goals are always a bonus, and should not be counted on with any kind of regularity in the grand scheme of things, but show the Hounds have individual talent that can, at times, create something out of nothing. Takeaway: It would be fun to watch these two guys get into the final third a little bit more. As for more ‘golazos’ — I have a sneaky suspicion that Parkes is due for a really dazzling goal and a number of others are certainly capable.
- If you combine the two “team” goals from a nice build-up of passing with a clinical finish, and all three of Hertzog’s header finishes in the box that came from nice deliveries from the right side — the Hounds have scored five goals on nice hook-ups. Two came late in games from Kerr to give the Hounds late wins. These are the type of goals we saw more of from the Hounds in 2013 (Jose Angulo and Matt Dallman hooked up on quite a few of these providing both with then record-breaking USL PRO scoring campaign), and in 2015 (Kerr and Rob Vincent were also a deadly combination along with Lebo Moloto). It appeared early in the season that Kerr and Hertzog were on their way to being a consistent combination, but it hasn’t materialized to this point with regularity. Instead what has materialized have been mostly individual efforts from Banjo, Walsh and Parkes. Takeaway: More possessions into the box with one-two touch passing and precise crosses like Gomez’s assist on the Walsh goal at Bethlehem.
- The Hounds have scored two goals from set pieces – and you could say that the Hertzog finish after a short corner wasn’t a traditional corner goal in the form of a perfectly timed header or one-time shot coming from an accurate ball into the box. It was instead the result of a ball coming out of the box after hitting a number of bodies, and Hertzog sliding one through. The Hounds seem infatuated with short corners, which from time-to-time, work to pull defenders out of the box to create more space. But having games where they were offside (more than once!) on corners and ineffective results from multitudes of short corners have been a huge shortcoming. Big defenders like Jamal Jack and Greenspan have been brought up for corners and some free kicks, and nothing seems to work. The free kick goal at Toronto was a nice, low placement by Parkes, but overall the Hounds have not generated many other quality chances from set pieces. When playing a style that creates goal scoring chances from mistakes, the Hounds have to take advantage of set piece opportunities. Takeaway: more quality balls on set pieces are needed. Danny Earls has barely taken free kicks. One he did take vs TB, pinged off crossbar.
- With the Hounds playing a style that doesn’t emphasize possession, but instead look to quickly take advantage of opponents mistakes, they have not been efficient enough in creating and converting when these chances arrive. They are generating shots, but with a conversion rate at the very bottom of the league, they simply haven’t been precise and creative enough in the final third. In their two best performances this year, the 3-3 draw in the opener vs NYRBII and 2-0 win against Tampa Bay Rowdies, are the best examples of when they’ve been most efficient in counter attacking and using disruptive play in the midfield and high press throughout each game. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for most of the season. Takeaway: simply must convert more on opponent mistakes. In last game vs Rochester, they created numerous turnovers, but couldn’t finish or pull the trigger on shots.
Brandt came into the pro game being a big believer in creating chances with lots of high pressure, disrupting possession-oriented teams and keeping strong defensive shape. To use a comparison to another sport, when Rick Pitino was hired to coach in the NBA for the first time (with Knicks in 1989), he was known for playing a style that included full-court pressure throughout each and every game by having the best conditioned players that would out-work opponents to force turnovers and create scoring opportunities. There’s a reason why you never see a full-court press in the NBA. The players are too skilled, too well-conditioned, and can handle that type of pressure most of the time. Thus, Pitino found that his style of play has been best suited for college game, where he’s put together a Hall of Fame resume. The same applies to pro soccer. The high press in soccer can be effective at times against the right teams, but using it with regularity and being successful is difficult to do against teams with so many players that are highly skilled, know how to use the space on the field and can possess the ball from the back efficiently. Brandt started to realize this. He said at the beginning of the preseason that he was evolving as a coach, and willing to mold the Hounds into a counter-attacking unit as opposed to a vertical, high pressing, pushing forward all of the time type of team. This adjusted approach has scored a few decent wins, provided a respectable road record (2-2-6), kept them on the edge of the USL Eastern Conference playoff line and provided a highly organized defensive approach.
Now, they’re going to have to find more goals.
If they do that, and this team could really turn the corner.