Saturday’s Riverhounds SC-Tampa Bay Rowdies match — which ended 2-2 — provided a little bit of everything.
An own goal.
Each team had the lead.
A stunning free kick equalizer.
In the end, the Hounds remain the lone team in USL without a loss, even with a far from perfect performance on Saturday, this result was emblematic of this team’s resolve and ability to grind out a result.
And again, just like at Cincinnati, they let a lead get away.
“It was a game we let points slip away,” Head Coach Bob Lilley said after the match. “There were plenty of positive signs. We just have to mature as a team. We did a lot of good things, but it takes maturity to win. Some of these ties we have to grow tactically and be able to manage these games.
Even falling behind by a goal in the first three minutes, and finding themselves trailing for the first time in 723 minutes this season, the Hounds did not panic and stuck to its game plan.
Lilley knew that he would have to eventually insert Romeo Parkes back into the starting eleven at some point this season. Having used Parkes as a late game sub in the games since his return from an early season injury, and with the emergence of Neco Brett as a productive central forward who’s scored five goals during this time, Lilley waited for right opportunity to go with Parkes as his top man.
Against a possession team like Tampa, Lilley rolled out Parkes as a weapon at the top of a 3-4-2-1 formation.
It paid off.
The Hounds used quick counter chances to pull back into the lead in the second half. And both times Parkes was there to make something happen.
The first goal came thanks to Christiano Francois‘ well played through ball into open space to the speedy Parkes. That is exactly where Parkes is so effective — receiving balls in stride when in space. Moving toward goal from a difficult angle on the right side, Parkes skillfully rocketed at shot inside the near post that forced Tampa’s keeper Akira Fitzgerald to make a quick save — deflecting the ball into the air. Rowdies defender Max Lachowecki botched an attempt to clear it out — and was credited with an own goal that started with a solid shot from Parkes.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 20, 2018
Again, Parkes made sure he was at the end of another counter that Kenardo Forbes facilitated beautifully to give the Hounds the lead in the 30th minute.
And a silky finish has us ahead with 4️⃣5️⃣ to go. pic.twitter.com/i0gV7tCLdL
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 20, 2018
On Saturday, once again, they showed that they are not strictly defensive-minded team only hoping to absorb pressure and get opportunistic goals.
Although they were a bit guilty of that in the second half. Holding a 2-1 lead, they were packing at least five players around the box, when Forbes fouled Sebastián Guenzatti on the left edge of the box.
This provided 36 year-old former Chelsea and English national Joe Cole to step up for a free kick opportunity.
Goalkeeper Dan Lynd was right in position to make a save but the pace of the shot was too hot for Lynd to handle.
— Kody Allenson (@KodyAllenson) May 20, 2018
That was a tough one for the Hounds, and its young goalkeeper.
Lynd showed a lot of composure for the rest of the match, and held on for some quality saves as the Hounds absorbed more pressure than they have in a season where they’ve been putting up some historic defensive numbers.
Preventing shots on target has been a vital part to the Hounds’ unbeaten record, and the team has allowed just 1.63 shots on goal per game. Also currently allowing just 0.38 goals per game, the squad is on pace to shatter its previous best mark of 0.85 goals allowed per game, which it recorded during the 2004 campaign.
On Saturday, the Hounds allowed a season-high five shots on target (Tampa had the edge in total shots 15-5). In addition, the Rowdies poured in twice as many crosses as the Hounds (22-11). That’s probably a little more than Lilley would like to see.
The Hounds were fairly effective in getting into Tampa’s box. Seven of its eight shot attempts were from inside the 18, however, they were not having any success generating much from the flanks. None of the Hounds 11 cross attempts connected — as they were relying on central midfielders Forbes and Ben Zemanski to orchestrate counter chances through the middle. Another reason for this was that both Ray Lee and Jordan Dover were spending more energy and time defending, than getting forward.
At halftime Lilley spoke about the Hounds’ sloppy passing — and he was right. They connected on only 67 percent of its passes in the game (and only 54 percent in the final third). By comparison, Tampa connected on 79 percent of its passes on Saturday and nearly doubled Pittsburgh’s total passes (482-294).
What does all of this mean?
Against opponents like Tampa or even Atlanta United 2, they’re probably not going to keep the ball as much, but they’re going to have to be a bit more efficient. It will be important for the Hounds to extend possessions. This will reduce opponents shot totals, and because of this inability to keep the ball enough, the Rowdies were able to create more chances than usual against the Hounds. It’s also harder to win duels and 50-50 balls when sitting back more or chasing a team that’s knocking it around more efficiently. While the Hounds were better in its battles in the middle of the field than they were in previous week’s match vs Indy Eleven, the Rowdies still won 55 percent of those battles.
With this being the beginning of a brutal stretch of Wednesday-Saturday games each week for the next three weeks for the Hounds, Lilley held off on making any substitutions until the 80th minute, when Joe Holland, Neco Brett and Tobi Adewole replaced Parkes, Kevin Kerr and Hugh Roberts.
This provided the Hounds with three fresh legs for the final 10 minutes.
This strategy was fairly effective, as Brett provided his usual solid work rate and nearly scored right after he came on. Adewole and Holland each made some plays on 50-50 balls and provided good energy.
After 90 minutes, the Hounds hung on, kept its unbeaten string going and even responded well when trailing for the first time this season.
“I’m proud that they responded well after falling behind for the first time this season. I think when the game got tied at 2-2, they could have buckled a little bit, but they turned the momentum again,” Lilley said.”It’s a decent performance. We just didn’t finish it off and now we just have to get ready for Cincinnati (in Open Cup Wednesday night at home). It’s one where we left something there, but I’m certainly not disappointed in how they competed tonight.”
#TBRvPGH – Hounds Player Grades
Dan Lynd (G) –4– surrendered a couple of goals that he probably wishes that he could have back. But stayed composed, coming up with a few big saves later in the match.
Todd Pratzner – 5.5– helped steer ball out of trouble a few times, and even made one run pretty far up pitch — but was off side.
Hugh Roberts –5.5 – of the three players on back line, tends to clear more balls away than play short passes, but held his own vs Tampa’s attackers and battled well on balls in air.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele –5– as long as Joe Greenspan is out, and the Hounds go with the three man back line, Tommy V will be the middle man of the back line. Like the Cincy match, he was challenged more and won his share of battles.
Ray Lee – 5 – quiet night on left side of attack for the Hounds, as they were less effective on using width when attacking probably because they were spending more time defending.
Jordan Dover – 5.5 – made one nice advance to get in close for a scoring chance, made a bunch of tackles (7), but Hounds weren’t as effective on crosses as Dover only delivered three.
Ben Zemanski –6.5 – on a night when the Hounds passing was less than stellar, Zemanski was the exception — racking in 87 percent passing accuracy. Zemanski sat deeper than his fellow central midfielder Forbes, and had only 23 passes (compared to Forbes’ 56).
Kenardo Forbes -7 – had his hands full against Tampa’s midfield, and did fairly well in serving as the Hounds primary play maker in this game, including a nice assist on Parkes’ goal. Also had the foul that led to the Cole free kick goal.
Christiano François –5.5 – great through ball to Parkes. Was closest defender in box to Roseboom on Tampa’s first goal.
Romeo Parkes – 7.5 – was involved in both goals. Still moments where I wonder if he wants to challenge for 50-50 balls.
Kevin Kerr – 5.5 – not as involved on the left side of the attack as he was in the middle the past few games.
Neco Brett (81′) – 6 – was robbed of his sixth goal by Fitzgerald after coming on as a sub.
Joe Holland (81′) – 5 – would be nice to see late in a game for once if he could get a free kick chance
Tobi Adewole (81′) – 5 – helped clear away some balls out of trouble in late going
Mike Kirk (G), Noah Franke, Bakie Goodman, Andy Lubahn