It was bound to happen — right?
The Riverhounds SC lost its first league match of the season, falling to Nashville SC, 1-0, in another tightly contested trench battle at Highmark Stadium on Wednesday.
Brandon Allen‘s second half goal was the difference in match featuring two of the best defensive sides in the USL.
“It’s disappointing to be beaten. I knew being unbeaten wouldn’t last forever,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds head coach said. “It’s tough to lose at home. We made a mistake on the restart, and couldn’t find a goal a home. It’s tough to not get one goal at home or even come away with a draw.”
As the fairly evenly played match reached the 69th minute, the Hounds were in yet another scoreless affair despite holding the edge in possession, shots and crosses.
In the second half though, the Hounds started to concede lots of space between its midfielders and back line.
That’s when Nashville started to create some decent chances.
Nashville broke through for the game’s decisive play preceded by a dangerous sequence that set up a corner kick in the 69th minute.
In the run of play, Nashville’s Matt LaGrassa was fed a nice ball in from former Hounds Lebo Moloto — and LaGrassa unleashed a right footed shot from the left side of the six yard box that forced Hounds keeper Dan Lynd to make a quick reaction save.
The Hounds were reeling at that moment, and then Nashville delivered the knock-out punch.
The ensuing corner kick played by Liam Doyle into the box connected with Michael Reed who delivered a header that missed, but deflected off Hounds defender Hugh Roberts in the six-yard box, then Allen came in to smash the ball into the back of the net.
— Nashville SC (@NashvilleSC) May 31, 2018
“It was a battle, quiet frankly, it was trench battle, when you come here. It’s not going to be the most beautiful soccer. You’re not going to get through on the ground,” Taylor Washington, former Hound who started on the wing for Nashville in his return to Highmark Stadium. “We were able to adjust our game, and find the back of the net. The goal was coming — and Brandon put it in.”
“We were trying to go forward and be aggressive the whole game,” Ray Lee, Hounds defender, said. “Unfortunately we lost a lot of second balls, and that’s how they were able to create their chance –and a back post goal.”
The Hounds inserted both Kevin Kerr and Romeo Parkes into the line-up right before the goal to try to rejuvenate its attack.
Sure enough, after conceding the goal, the Hounds started to get forward — with most of the direct pressure coming from dangerous crosses that forced Nashville goalkeeper Matt Pickens to feel some heat.
In fact, the Hounds ended up the match with a huge edge in crosses (27-7).
“I know their keeper (Pickens) made more big plays and I know they were in a lot more trouble than we were,” Lilley added. “It’s (Nashville) a good team. We knew we had our work cut out, but bottom line we said to the guys if we don’t handle the details you’re leaving it to chance.”
In the 77th minute, Forbes delivered stinging ball into a dangerous spot for a wide open Parkes, but the Jamaican forward missed.
Moments later Ray Lee delivered a ball from the left side that bounced low, and right on frame, forcing Pickens to reach down to knock it away.
Kerr delivered a corner that connected with Parkes in the back corner of the far side of the box. Parkes stuck his left foot out quick enough to redirect a hard one-time shot that hit the side netting.
The Hounds final sub of the night, Dennis Chin, was in position for a header on a cross from Forbes in the 89th minute, but the ball was slightly too high — and his header went way up in the air.
As the game reached stoppage time, Kerr, who scored the improbable game-winner three-years to the day in the ‘Miracle on the Mon’ comeback, couldn’t put his shot on target when receiving a ball at the top of the box.
“We’re not striking balls low and hard enough. We need to start doing that more. We have to do everything we can to get balls on frame. That’s all it takes,” Lilley said.
Lee felt they were on the verge — but weren’t good enough.
“We did get our chances, but we didn’t put them away today,” Lee said.
Each team was methodical in attacking in the first half.
“It was two teams lining up with three center backs that were tough to penetrate, but we got behind them on several occasions,” Lilley said.
The Hounds opted to come out in a 4-1-4-1 — but Thomas Vancaeyezeele sat very deep in the back line between the two traditional center backs Tobi Adewole and Hugh Roberts.
Most of the night they formed a three-man back line, but both Connor Maloney and Lee also took turns making runs forward and tucking back into what amounted to a five-man back line to bottle things up.
Pittsburgh brought a high press with its top man Neco Brett applying pressure various times, including a sequence in the eighth minute when Ray Lee sent him a long ball that he almost took away from charging Nashville’s keeper Matt Pickens.
The Hounds worked its attack through Kenardo Forbes, who took on the role of play making central midfielder. Forbes occasionally made runs and worked with Joe Holland in trying to break down the well-organized Nashville unit.
“In the first half, we were feeling the game out a little bit. Our back line is incredible,” Washington added about his new team that’s been as good defensively as the Hounds this season. “We held tight today. It’s a tough field to play on. I think when you come here — you have to change your style.”
Forbes found Brett in the sixth minute on a cross to the near post. Brett’s turn-around — and shot effort turned into a weak effort that sailed right of the goal.
The Hounds defense suffocated the visitors for much of the first half — limiting Nashville to two shot attempts. Both Adewole and Roberts were up to the task in a physical battles with Allen on numerous balls in the air.
Nashville’s Ropapa Mensah came off the field injured — which brought former Hound Lebo Moloto in for his first appearance at Highmark Stadium since his two season run in Pittsburgh in 2015 and 2016.
It was a physical battle at times — and brought out hard play between players that know each other all too well, when Washington was booked for a yellow card when taking down Adewole near the end of the first half.
“I just won the ball — and I was just trying to win it back,” Washington explained. “We laughed about it after, but I wanted to make sure he was alright.”
The Hounds also closed out the first 45 minutes with a few more chances.
Holland took a short pass from a corner kick, then sent a ball to the middle of the box that connected with Vancaeyezeele, but the former Division II Player of the Year’s header chance sailed by the outside of the right post.
Holland followed that up with a free kick opportunity from 35 yards –which sailed over the right corner.
Ultimately, it added up to more missed chances for a team that is in a bit of a scoring slump, as the Hounds have been shut-out in each of the past three league matches at home.
“We’re definitely going to take this to heart, and move forward and not let this happen again,” Lee said. “That’s the mentality we are going to have. We’re going to train with a different intensity now, and move forward.”
With the result, the Hounds are now 4-1-6 overall this season, while Nashville improves to 4-2-4 this campaign.
“We have to do better. We’ve only picked up two of a possible nine points at home in the last three matches. Would I like to have seven wins right now instead of four, absolutely,” Lilley said. “We’ll now try to go ten games unbeaten again. The important thing is, when we go to (Saturday’s next match) Richmond, we have the shots, we have the better chances.”
It will be quick turnaround for the Hounds as they hit the road to face the Richmond Kickers (3-5-1) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at City Stadium.
This will be their first meeting of the 2018 campaign between the two Old Guard USL rivals. The game will be televised on Pittsburgh’s CW.
Riverhounds SC – Dan Lynd – Ray Lee, Tobi Adewole, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Hugh Roberts, Connor Maloney (Dennis Chin 83’) – Kenardo Forbes, Jordan Dover – Joe Holland (Romeo Parkes 66’), Noah Franke (Kevin Kerr 66’) – Neco Brett
Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Christiano François, Todd Pratzner, Ben Zemanski
Nashville SC – Matt Pickens – Taylor Washington (Ish Jome 70’), London Woodberry, Liam Doyle, Brad Bourgeois, Ryan James – Michael Reed, Matt LaGrassa, Bolu Akinyode – Brandon Allen (Tucker Hume 84’), Ropapa Mensah (Lebo Moloto 34’)
Subs not used: CJ Cochran, Justin Davis, Kosuke Kimura, Robin Shroot
THE 99th MINUTE
I will not have a Player Grades/Analysis piece until after the Richmond game, as it’s been an equally busy stretch with six Hounds games in a three week period.
In post game interview with Washington, I had a chance to get his thoughts on a number of things in his return match to Pittsburgh.
On Nashville SC’s chances this season
“Our goal is to win a USL Championship, if you look at our depth, our starting 11, everything is going good now.”
Thoughts on this year’s Riverhounds team
“Coach Lilley has done an amazing job. He’s done what he does at every organization he goes. He creates his system, and they get results.”
On returning to Pittsburgh
“I know so many guys on this team (Hounds). Some are good friends. This place, this city, it’s a special place in my heart.”
- Defender Hugh Roberts led the Hounds with nine clearances and tied for the team lead with three interceptions in the match.
- Forward Dennis Chin and Noah Franke each logged their first action in league play, as the former amassed seven minutes whereas the latter recorded 66 minutes.
- Centering the attacking midfield, Kenardo Forbes led the team with three chances created.
- Starting at center back, Thomas Vancaeyezeele played a full-90 minutes and still has yet to miss a minute this season – the only Hound to obtain this feat.
NSH – Brandon Allen 69’
NSH – Taylor Washington (caution) 44’
NSH – Matt LaGrassa (caution) 58’
PGH – Ray Lee (caution) 61’
DAVID HAGUE PHOTO GALLERY #PGHvNSH