Riverhounds SC took care of business on Saturday night – remaining the only team in the USL’s Eastern Conference to be unbeaten after a 2-1 win over the Toronto FC II in Rochester on Saturday.
It wasn’t exactly a dominant performance by the Hounds — but one that they took control of early and were in command enough that they were able to overcome despite allowing its young opponents plenty of chances to climb back into the match.
The result was the same as it’s been against TFCII for the past four years — another win. The Hounds have picked up seven of them against the Young Reds in four years (7-0-2).
Technically it was a home game for TFCII, being that it was played neutral site – in Rochester, New York – provided for a unique backdrop in a game where the Hounds coach, and seven of its players returned to the place where they had success playing for the Rochester Rhinos.
Winning in Rochester — that’s something that has been rarity for the Riverhounds organization. In its 19-year history, the Riverhounds had only won once in Rochester in more than 20 games — a 3-2 win in June 2014.
At the start of the contest, Hounds head coach Bob Lilley changed things up tactically from what they had been doing in the previous weeks.
No surprise there — as he likes to come out with a specific game plan and formation for each opponent based on match-ups.
After two previous weeks of playing as a fairly effective counter-attacking team at FC Cincinnati and against a skillful Atlanta United 2, the Black and Gold came out clearly committed to being a strong possession team — and they did that in the first half, and for the early parts of the second half.
As a result — the Hounds thrived especially when the ball was at the foot of its two most accomplished and seasoned midfielders — Kevin Kerr and Kenardo Forbes.
It was fun to watch the two USL veterans for the first time this year really play off each other — as Forbes leaned more toward the center of the field, while Kerr had a bit more freedom to roam the pitch.
This was the type of game plan that Kerr has flourished in over the years — when the Hounds are knocking the ball around. His most successful year as a pro statistically was in 2015, when they played in a 4-2-3-1 — and he was given a lot of freedom to roam and create opportunities.
On Saturday, the Hounds went with a 4-2-3-1 — and the Scotsman was involved in both goals.
Only 12 minutes into the match, Kerr picked up his second assist of the season coming in the same exact fashion as the previous one — cutting back a ball that was by the end line and finding Brett.
It was yet another ‘goal scorer’s goal’ by Brett, who managed to find room in a crowded box to put away his team leading fifth goal of the season, and his 12th as a pro.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 5, 2018
By all indications, it appeared that the stage was set for another big Hounds win.
But something was a bit different about the way the Hounds were having some trouble organizing its transitional defense — allowing TFCII to get into spaces in its the counter attack opportunities as they were comfortably throwing a number of players forward.
The first real example of this came in the 19th minute, when TFCII nearly found the equalizer, but Hounds keeper, and Pennfield, NY native, Dan Lynd came up with a nice, extending save to keep the score 1-0.
Lilley banked on TFCII’s track record in its first six games of weltering away toward the end of games — including in a previous 4-0 loss to the Hounds at Highmark Stadium in early April.
Sure, the Young Reds were clearly outclassed for long stretches by the Hounds midfield that were solid in playing keep away, and in creating some splendid opportunities starting through the center of the field from one and two-touch combination passing.
The second goal was a classic run of one-touch passing with Kerr running the show.
It went from Kerr to Ben Zemanski — back to Kerr — then to Brett – then finally back to Kerr as he made it into box for a turf grazing low finish that gave the Hounds what seemed like an insurmountable 2-0 lead in the 36th minute.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 5, 2018
Game over right?
Again, Toronto would create a dangerous chance after a Hounds goal, this time from a corner kick, that Thomas Vancaeyezeele (who by the way started alongside Zemanski as holding midfielder) had to make a quick reaction play to boot away a redirected header from going into the net.
The second half the Hounds — as Lilley would like to say — were on the front foot for most of the first 20-25 minutes.
Those Young Reds — probably determined not to fade away like they had so many times this year — wouldn’t go away though. From the 55th minute to the 70th minute, they had three clear counter chances with room to shoot from the edge of the box, and just missing to the left by a few feet each time. And each time, it seemed as if the Hounds were giving them all kinds of space to counter.
For once TFCII’s young players didn’t chase the game as much — and were more effective in countering. The Hounds were willing to open things up with its attack — leaving opportunities for TFCII.
Using a four-man back line — the Hounds had some different personnel out there on Saturday. Hugh Roberts made his first start alongside Todd Pratzner as the center back pairing, while Andy Lubahn and Jordan Dover were the outside backs. Both Lubahn and Dover were effective in getting forward and contributing to Hounds possession, passing accuracy improvement, creating a few crosses — but with each TFCII counter they were getting caught a bit too wide and weren’t tucking back into the defensive shape quick enough.
This left Pratzner and Roberts in a lot of individual marking situations, which shouldn’t happen with regularity for center backs. There were also moments where the center backs struggled with playing balls to the center midfielder — and were either giving balls away or getting intercepted (depending on how you want to classify it).
The Hounds were mostly fortunate that they were playing the USL’s team with the second worst goal scoring conversion rate (6%).
By the end of the match, TFCII, who have basically trailed in every match this year, still had their legs, and enough energy to catch the Hounds lackadaisical defending off guard.
Mariano Miño played a through ball that made its way through the Hounds back line — setting up a stoppage-time strike from substitute Shaan Hundal.
Sure, it proved too little, too late for the hosts, playing a home game in another country.
For Bob Lilley‘s Hounds, a club that has suddenly has lofty aspirations to stay near the top of the standings, it was certainly not a good way to close out the game.
And as I wrote about last week — the Hounds still have plenty to prove to be legit USL Eastern Conference title contenders.
Some could make the argument that they’re the best team in the Conference right now — and why not?
They’ve yet to trail this season. They’ve only given up three goals in seven games. They’re without a loss.
I’m sure Lilley would have liked another goal — and clean-up some of that spotty defending going forward — and he’s hell bent on making sure they’re never complacent at any point this season.
#TORvPGH PLAYER GRADES
Dan Lynd – 7 – made a few big saves and denied TFCII a few solid counter chances. The goal was a close-range chance that was going to be a tough save.
Jordan Dover – 5.5 – on the attack he was present — doing his thing on the right side along with François. But lots of cracks in transition defense and outside backs must get back better.
Andrew Lubahn – 6 – he was solid for much of the match like Dover in getting forward, making accurate passes.
Hugh Roberts – 5 – in most one-on-one situations was strong and won most every ball away or forced inaccurate pass/shot. Struggled at time with playing the ball out of the back and finding feet of playmakers.
Todd Pratzner – 5 – like Roberts was forced into covering a lot of space, but that last goal — the ball can’t go through the middle of the defense and into the back door like that. I’m sure Lilley had a lot to say about that to his back line after the game.
Ben Zemanski – 5 – while I thought he was extremely effective in the overall efficiency of the Hounds ability to knock the ball around the pitch for long stretches, thought one of the reasons why TFCII were able to get into counter opportunities was Hounds holding mids were giving away too much space past midfield.
Joe Holland (72’) – 6 – Holland showed his play making abilities by setting the table for a few chances, but again getting back into defensive shape continues to be work in progress.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6 – first-year pro is the only Hounds player to now play every minute this season. This start as holding mid provided another quality 90 minutes. Played deeper — and even between Pratzner and Roberts to navigate the ball out of the back after the Hounds took the 2-0 lead.
Kevin Kerr – 7.5 – maybe Kerr’s best game of the season — found his spots to be effective in creating chances.
Tobi Adewole (86’) – 4 – a late sub as an extra defender — and was the last man on the back door that Shaan Hundal got behind for the goal that cut the Hounds lead in half.
Kenardo Forbes – 8 – on his old stomping grounds may have brought out the best performance of the season. Nothing spectacular as we’re starting to see his quality on the ball, two-way play and presence on the field showed more in this game than any other this year.
Bakie Goodman (90+2’) – N/A – very late sub
Christiano François – 6 – while Kerr uses his freedom to pick his spots to get into the action, it seems like the Cheetah is flying around always trying to make something happen. Wasn’t his best performance, but the Hounds often feed off his energy especially when building things up from the right side as his touches blemish all over the USL heat map graphic.
Neco Brett – 8 – Brett is doing exactly what the Hounds need from their target man this year. Going to make it tough for Romeo Parkes, or any other striker to see the field if this keeps up.
Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Noah Franke, Ray Lee, Romeo Parkes