The Riverhounds SC played its 500th match in franchise history on Friday, taking on Indy Eleven for the first time ever in a battle between two sides near the top of the USL’s Eastern Conference standings.
Despite another strong defensive effort, the Hounds weren’t able to solve Indy either — and the teams settled for a scoreless draw.
It was Pittsburgh’s third scoreless draw in a season which they have yet to lose a match in eight games played (4-0-4)
In a grudge match with the defenses clogging things up for each team’s attack, the Hounds had the only shot on target for either team.
The possession battle at midfield was pretty equal — both teams were limited in its touches in and around the box. The Hounds went with a 3-4-1-2 formation. With a solid shape throughout the match, the back seven were fairly well organized, and Indy preferred to attack vertically — playing direct and somewhat diagonal balls in to the edge of the box area as they implored a 4-1-4-1 look. Even as a team coming into the match that creates a lot movement off the ball, and they did much of that around the midfield — but the deeper they got, harder it became to knock it around and connect passes.
Although he didn’t record any saves on the night — Hounds keeper Kyle Morton was busy coming off his line to retrieve those balls being played to the edge of the box.
Indy were having trouble getting any where past that point.
In fact, if you look at USL’s post-match stats touch map — the Hounds — with a three-man back line — and wingers Jordan Dover and Ray Lee tucked in to form a five man wall at times — limited Indy to four touches inside the 18 for the entire match.
That’s right — four total touches inside the box.
There’s a lot of green space on that graphic around the box and the end lines.
Indy recorded seven shots (the Hounds had 10) — and five of those were blocked by the Hounds — including two inside the box. That’s a sign that the Hounds are clearly marking well when only two of four total touches in the box can’t even get past the defending players. The rest of the shots came as lower percentages attempts from beyond the box.
If we learned anything from Hounds 2-2 tie against FC Cincinnati, that they’ve been most vulnerable this season when teams have been able to get into those spaces. Cincy was the only team, after halftime adjustments made by its coach Alan Koch, to get to the end line with any efficiency vs Pittsburgh.
Despite what seemed like impenetrable defenses, each team had moments of quality possessions and were ambitious in attacking — particularly in the first half — and early moments of the second half.
Indy’s Soony Saad and his teammates showed they could win the midfield battles — especially the scrappier parts of the game. They few chances in the first half from the edge of the box. Saad’s first chance came when he made a run to get into a gap to get behind the Hounds back three, and inside Dover who left a bit too much space. Saad received a clever pass from the right side — took a touch and had room to shoot near the 18 — but sent his shot over the bar. His next attempt came soon after that — the former Sporting KC midfielder received a ball on the right side of the edge of the 18, and managed to send a low shot through the box but it missed the goal on the left side by a few feet.
The Hounds have played direct a lot this season but on this night, they were the ones using a more methodical approach to at least get the ball to the corners. From there, they whipped in a lot of crosses — holding a 22-7 edge for the match.
But many of the crosses were ineffective, as they were only able to convert 18 percent of those.
The Hounds were working balls through the middle of the field and using more short passes to set up efforts to the corners — as Kenardo Forbes and Kevin Kerr delivered a few dangerous balls to both Neco Brett and Christiano François that provided the closest chances for a goal. They also held a 6-4 edge in creating corner kicks.
Brett’s shot in the 43rd minute was stopped by Indy’s keeper Owain Fon Williams, while Francois had a great look from close range in the 57th minute from a low-bending cross from Forbes. It looked like Francois couldn’t turn his foot down on the ball quick enough to put it in the net. in front of them, but each time they could not convert.
After the 70th minute though, it seemed as if both teams had tired and chances dwindled.
It was also a pretty physical match — and the one thing that seemed to irk Hounds coach Bob Lilley after the match was that Indy were winning a lot of the battles for 50-50 balls — and those are what created its best runs into the final third.
Lilley said he was happy with his team’s ability to limit Indy’s talented attackers, but didn’t think it was the best performance by either team.
Another point from the Hounds coach — was that he thought that the officials really let things go even though it was a pretty physical encounter.
And Lilley was right. The teams were only called for a total of 13 fouls in the match — with the Hounds picking up eight of them.
Even Forbes, who was effective in generating chances as outlined already, only won six of his 13 duels.
To win matches like this, Lilley wants his team to be winning a majority of those duels. That’s a measuring stick for the veteran coach.
As Forbes remarked after the match, “It’s a man’s game” — and having played for Lilley for four years now — the veteran midfielder knows that winning the majority of those one-on-one battles will put this team over the top.
And to separate themselves as a legit contender — they’re going to have to win these games.
As Lilley walked away from post-game gathering with the media he acknowledged as much.
“They’re going to come,” Lilley said. “We’re gonna get those wins.”
#PGHvIND HOUNDS PLAYER GRADES
Kyle Morton –6– three starts. three wins. three clean sheets. Only one save, but thought he was solid in coming out of the box and handling his business.
Ray Lee – 5 – his cross attempts didn’t make anyone from Indy nervous but was solid defensively.
Tobi Adewole – 6 – didn’t seem as if he was tested as much as the other two on the back line, but was steady and part of another shutout.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 7 – another start at center back for yet another clean sheet for the Hounds (six in eight games). It’s a luxury to have a player that can step into central defense and be useful in playing ball out efficiently with short passes (33 of his 35 passes were short). On a night when the Hounds struggled to win its duels (sorry to keep hammering down this stat) — it was very telling that Tommy V. won nine of his 12 battles.
Todd Pratzner –5.5– lost five of six duels — but his passing efficiency in playing balls out continues to be solid.
Jordan Dover –6– another workmanlike night at the office in the hybrid winger spot
Kenardo Forbes –7– was the best play maker for the Hounds, but even then, had his hands full vs Indy’s strong, MLS seasoned midfield.
Ben Zemanski –4– while Forbes was bit more active of the two holding mids getting forward, Zemanski picked his spots and played more long passes. Played deeper this game with mixed results. Was part of another stifling defensive effort, but holding mids shouldn’t lose eight of 12 duels – right?
Hugh Roberts (85′) –6— given that there was six minutes of stoppage time, and the Hounds defense didn’t miss a beat.
Kevin Kerr – 6 – in the early going wasn’t as effective as previous week, but did connect on through ball and two of his eight crosses into the box.
Joe Holland ( 75′) –6 – showed his usual quality on the ball in a few spots to keep some late game possessions alive.
Neco Brett – 5.5 – work rate always good — only one shot on goal and may have had another shot or two that he didn’t take
Christiano François – 5.5 – got to convert on his chances
Romeo Parkes (75′) – 5 – only a few touches in final third. Needs to do more.
Subs not used: Dan Lynd, Andrew Lubahn, Noah Frankie, Bakie Goodman