It was the final match in a grueling seven games in 22-day stretch – and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC left Richmond, Virginia with the result they needed, probably helped restore confidence and sent them off on a two-week break between games in pretty good position in the standings.
It was a mission accomplished for Bob Lilley and his crew.
When the Hounds lost its first league match of the season on Wednesday night, 1-0 against Nashville, and having been shut out for the third straight league game at home, the veteran coach didn’t express many concerns about his team.
“I think it was another decent performance,” Lilley would say after the Hounds first loss of the season when they were the stronger attacking side, but were coming up short numerous times in and around the box. “We have to take our medicine tonight. I don’t think the performance is bad. I am not down on the guys.”
It’s a long season. In fact, it’s a 34-game grind that even Lilley in his 20 years of coaching has never seen at this level of professional soccer.
The Hounds were closing out the most brutal part of the early season.
On Saturday, not only did they take their medicine — they moved on.
And, for Lilley and the Hounds, the busiest part of the schedule came to a positive conclusion. They left Richmond on Saturday with a character building, come-from-behind 2-1 win.
The Hounds came out in what looked like a 3-5-1-1 (or 3-5-2) formation – starting strong in the first half. With lots of short passes they carried most of the possession — even with a really wet surface that was slowing down the ball, they attacked the box from both sides of the width.
Both Ray Lee and Jordan Dover back in their more familiar roles as hybrid flank players – were instrumental figures in taking advantage of a wider playing field. Romeo Parkes started again at the top of attack, with Kevin Kerr roaming around just underneath and to his side at times and speedy Christiano François back in the line-up after sitting out on Wednesday, and Kenardo Forbes orchestrating things from the middle, with support from Ben Zemanski, who again sat deeper in a holding midfield role.
While Lilley has been mixing up his formations this season based on his opponents, the three-man back line with three center backs has been a common theme this season. Again on Saturday, the Hounds started this way – with Thomas Vancaeyezeele positioned between Todd Pratzner and Hugh Roberts.
The Hounds were in the attacking half of the field for long stretches of play that it provided a bit of a challenge for the three-man back line at times in this match to cover a lot of space and deal with Richmond counters.
That was a rough first half to watch for Hounds faithful.
The Hounds were firing away – and picked up where they left off against Nashville.
More balls into the box.
More missed chances.
In fact, Dover and Lee were working well with the central midfielders to work the ball to the end lines, finding all kinds of room to knock it around without any substantial pressure. As Riverhounds Rabbi, Mark Goodman aptly pointed out in his scouting report this week on Richmond in the previous week’s match against Charlotte, the Kickers were passive in defending in the midfield, not working to disrupt passing lanes, waiting instead to tighten its defense inside the box.
The Hounds, with plenty of room to maneuver and without a lot of pressure, were efficient with 82 percent passing accuracy in the match (73 percent in the opponents half) that led to 16 crosses into the box in the first 45 minutes, and 30 total for the game.
None of them would result in a shot on frame.
Five first half crosses connected for headers – and each time – Vancaeyezeele, Kerr, Roberts and Parkes couldn’t square up their bodies enough to put the ball between the pipes. Each attempt sailed wide right or left.
Kerr put the only shot on frame in the first half, forcing Kickers keeper Trevor Spangenberg to make his lone save.
Richmond’s only threat of the first half came when they pushed forward to create three corners in a two-minute span that started when Pratzner came up pretty far on the right side to challenge, and Mikiel Willams got around him and had plenty of room to make a long run into the box. Fortunately for the Hounds, Roberts was there to close him down, and force a corner.
After the third corner, Hounds keeper Dan Lynd stepped up to make his biggest save of the night. It seems as if Hounds keepers don’t see lots of pressure in most games in this strong defensive system, but must be ready when opponents do get their opportune moments.
Lynd came up big when needed.
The second half started much the same for Pittsburgh, and with continued pressure and missed chances.
Richmond though would take advantage of all that space the Hounds were conceding on the City Stadium pitch.
In the 53rd minute – a strange sequence provided a lead up to the game’s first goal. When the ball went out of bounds by the Hounds bench, Lilley quickly picked up the ball, giving it to Dover for a quick throw in. The Hounds got forward quickly, and the last ball in headed for Parkes was cleared by Richmond.
As Parkes lay on the ground in considerable pain, play carried on — and a through ball to Brian Shriver would set the stage for Richmond’s quick strike by an unmarked Luiz Fernando.
Pittsburgh trailed only for the third time this season in a league match.
Despite putting themselves in position throughout the match to score goals – it became a recurring theme that has become so common this season for the Hounds. No could put a finishing touch in the box.
At one point after the Richmond goal, Forbes, who had primarily been working his tall off as the play maker decided to let one rip from 24 yards.
It was a solid strike.
Forbes would have another go at it from outside the box – this time on a free kick that again forced Spangenberg to make a diving save.
Then Lilley brought in the one guy this season who’s been the team’s best clinical finisher, Neco Brett.
Sure enough, in running one of its designed plays that they work on in practice – and have already executed this season a few times – the Hounds would finally hit the equalizer.
It was a long cross over the top.
Kevin Kerr was there on the receiving side by the right end line. The Hounds captain then redirected the ball to the center of the box – where Brett – as all good topmen do – put himself in position to score the equalizer.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) June 3, 2018
And maybe it was rather ironic that after all those misses — it was a header too.
Brett’s scored his sixth of the season – and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Seven minutes later, the former Robert Morris standout became the play maker – sending a ball over the shoulder of Parkes, who made a solid effort to get to the ball and put it in goal for the game winner.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) June 3, 2018
With a one-goal lead, the Hounds closed out the final ten minutes or so in complete command, with Richmond, who sit in 14th place, with plenty to be frustrated. Oscar Umar would be shown off for a tackle that smashed Zemanski’s knee in the 85th minute.
It’s pretty clear now that if the Hounds are going to be getting balls into the box at a rate that they were on Saturday, they’re going to have to be better at converting.
The solution to the problem on Saturday was Neco Brett.
Parkes made the most of his chance on the game winner too – scoring a goal where he was battling a big, strong defender and still was able to put it through for his second of the season.
The final shot totals showed that by the second half, the Hounds were finally putting the right kind of pressure on goal, with 20 shots total in the game, 14 of them came from inside the box – and eight were on target. Seven of those eight shots on target came in the second half.
With a better conversion rate – the Hounds would have won this game going away. There will be critics out there – Lilley included – who will point to the need to finish better in the box.
“Obviously it’s nice to get those two goals after trailing,” Lilley said after the match.
“I think we played very well. It is disappointing that we didn’t get on top of the game, and obviously Richmond is very good on this field, all of their wins are here. We knew it would be difficult since we played Wednesday.”
This was a very positive result in many ways. Winning on the road is not easy, and again, just like they had at Cincinnati and at Tampa Bay, the Hounds have shown they they’ve been tactically aggressive when playing on the road. After all, it’s hard to argue with a 2-0-3 record away from home.
And quite frankly, after 12 games, the Hounds get a chance now to rest up with only one loss on its early season resume.
You know how many times Riverhounds fans have been able to say that?
In its long history of playing Richmond, they hardly ever win at City Stadium. The fact they did so in a match they were in command shows where the Hounds are positioned at this point. The Kickers are not the perennial USL playoff team they were for many years, but now the Riverhounds are positioning themselves as a team that will be very tough to beat.
With Lilley’s teams known to get better as the season goes on – these are all very positive signs.
Sure, the Hounds are still needing that signature win or two to show they can beat the top teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference, but those chances are coming.
NY Red Bulls II, Charleston and Louisville are on the docket in June.
For now – they will have some well earned rest.
— Steel Army (@SteelArmy) June 3, 2018
PLAYER GRADES (RICvPGH)
Dan Lynd – 7 – didn’t come off his line as much and wasn’t tested, but had a great stop in the first half, and had little chance on Richmond’s counter goal.
Ray Lee – 6 – lost a bunch of duels on left side (6 of 7 actually), but served in three successful crosses
Todd Pratzner –6– pretty solid, but got caught out of position on one play that led to corner
Thomas Vancaeyezeele –7.5- playing like a seasoned center back – winning duels, intercepting passes, and accurate in playing ball out.
Hugh Roberts – 7- Another good performance in his return to Richmond.
Jordan Dover – 6.5 – fairly busy on the right side and effective in stretching the field, keeping possessions deep into final third and creating some chances though Hounds failed to connect on any of his crosses.
Ben Zemanski – 6 – another performance that didn’t stand out in any way, especially in the final third but with 90 percent passing accuracy, he helped set tone for another strong possession game for the Hounds.
Kenardo Forbes – 7 – Forbes continues to be the creative play maker, and key to providing solid stretches of possession. Exerted himself a bit in the second half with those two shots on goal. Maybe we’ll see more of that in the coming months.
Kevin Kerr – 6 – When Forbes is tasked as the primary creator, it allows Kerr to take a lot of chances. He roaming all over the place in Richmond. Struggled a bit with some passes, missed a few chances in the box in the early going, then had the only shot on target in first half. That assist on Brett’s equalizer was a big play in a big moment. Nothing new to Hounds captain.
Romeo Parkes – 6 – typically erratic at times – with misses but came through with the game winner. And that’s what he’s paid to do.
Christiano François – 5.5 – thought he was more patient than usual, and he had to be on a night when the Hounds were keeping the ball more. Wasn’t really involved in any chances in or around the box.
Neco Brett (66’) – 9 – for a player that’s not flashy by any means, he was the game-changer (again) for the Hounds. Not only did he have the clinical finish for the equalizer, but also set up Parkes’ game winner with a perfect pass.
Tobi Adewole (83’) – 6 – Once the Hounds took the lead, Lilley had two subs to use, and went right to Adewole to have fresh legs to close the game out on the defensive end. Adewole didn’t disappoint in his short time.
Andrew Lubahn (90+1’) – incomplete as super late sub
Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Dennis Chin, Noah Franke, Joe Holland
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) June 3, 2018