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Analysis/Player Grades: #CHSvPGH — Difficult to beat

It’s never easy for the Riverhounds SC when they make their annual away trek to Charleston, South Carolina to take on long-time opponents, Charleston Battery.

On Saturday, a quality but determined Battery side mired in a five game winless streak found out what many teams this year have discovered: the Riverhounds SC are very difficult to beat.

The teams battled to a scoreless draw — the fifth of its kind this season for the Hounds on a typical very warm, muggy Summer night in Charleston.

RELATED: Not much gives as Hounds-Battery play to nil-nil draw

In the first of a two game road swing, Hounds head coach Bob Lilley was content to come away from the Holy City with one point.

“We held our own in a difficult place to play,” Lilley said. “They don’t drop points here very often. I think it was a game they were desperate to have and I think we got a very good Charleston team tonight.”

It was yet another road match where the Hounds executed a game plan of trying to frustrate the home side with a flexible 3-4-3 formation that tightened into a 5-2-2-1 at times.

Both teams did an excellent job in denying any clear cut opportunities in the run of play through the middle of the field. Even in the early going, when Romeo Parkes intercepted a pass in the final third, he couldn’t penetrate anywhere near the center of the box, and settled for a difficult shot from the right side that sailed wide.

This heat map of the match pretty much says it all — as most of the action and touches (red) took place in the center of the field on Saturday.

Pittsburgh’s three man back line featured a pretty impressive trio of Hugh Roberts on the right, Joe Greenspan back in the center for his first start since March 30 — and Tobi Adewole on the left. Charleston really couldn’t get any clear looks behind these three.

Both Ray Lee and Jordan Dover were active up and down the flanks — as the solidly organized back line afforded them with opportunities to get forward. Charleston’s back and midfield were equally organized — also in a 3-4-3.

The Hounds attacking wingers, Kevin Kerr and Christiano Francois, couldn’t really solve Charleston’s stingy wall of defenders and were either sending in inaccurate crosses or settling to play the ball back to the midfield.

This wasn’t a match where one team held any significant advantage over the other — and there wasn’t much separation.

Both teams had one shot in the first half — neither on target.

In the second half, each had one clear-cut dangerous moment. For Charleston it came on a set piece, when Gordon Wild‘s free kick in the 55th minute connected with the lower part of the crossbar, but came down outside the goal line — and Greenspan came flying in to clear the ball away from danger.

It was Greenspan who delivered the Hounds only shot on target 10 minutes later– as he got on the end of a Kenardo Forbes corner kick.

When Neco Brett came into the match in the 60th minute, he replaced Parkes, who was working hard at the top of the attack, but was running into a sea of yellow and black striped Battery defenders. While the Hounds had success the previous two games at Richmond and at home against NY Red Bulls II with both Parkes and Brett in the line-up, Lilley opted to stay with 3-4-3 — and one central forward.

Brett’s did open things up a bit for the Hounds, who had some better possession deeper into the final third in the moments after his entry and ultimately settled for five second half corner kicks.

Lilley’s next substitution in the 68th minute clearly was a defensive move — as he brought in scrappy holding midfielder Mouhamed Dabo for right winger Christiano Francois. With this move, the Hounds pushed Dabo into the central midfield alongside Thomas Vancaeyezeele, while Forbes moved up to the right side of the forward line.

Sure enough, Dabo picked up a yellow card only moments after entering for a hard foul that slowed down a Charleston advance. For good measure, Greenspan also was booked for going over the back of Charleston’s leading scorer Ataulla Guerra.

While Guerra showed why he’s a quality player in the final third (100% passing accuracy!) he wasn’t able to win many duels and battles with the Hounds back line — losing seven of 10 duels.

The final few minutes provided a flurry of up and down action, but no real quality shots on target for either side as defenders were well positioned — causing foul calls on attackers trying desperately to get inside the final third with the ball at their feet.

In the end, it was defense that prevailed for both sides — and the Hounds walked away from yet another road match with a result.

Both teams now have seven draws — and for the Hounds it was a league leading ninth shutout.

Indeed, Charleston got a first-hand look at how difficult the Hounds are to beat on Saturday.

Lilley’s crew (now 6-1-7) will face USL’s defending champion Louisville City on Wednesday in what will be a battle of the two teams that currently sit in a tie for second place in Eastern Conference standings, both trailing FC Cincinnati (30 points), with 25 points each. Lou City also played a road draw on Saturday — playing North Carolina level at 2-2 after conceding a late goal in the 87th minute.

Player Grades (#CHSvPGH) 

GK – Dan Lynd – 6.5 – another shut out — wasn’t really tested much (one save) but was active coming out on edge of box numerous times and working well with the back three.

Hugh Roberts – 7 – on right side did well in his battles, and solid throughout in neutralizing Guerra.

Joe Greenspan – 7 – return starting eleven in the center of three man back line — and if he was rusty — only showed in a few moments. Opponents will have a hard time scoring on balls in air as long as he’s in middle — won 5 of 6 aerial duels.

Tobi Adewole – 7 – won 5 of 7 duels and had a few nice tackles.

Ray Lee – 6 – left more crosses to the wingers in front — spent lot of time battling in middle of field

Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6 – got forward a few times toward the end of match, but spent most of time sitting in front of back three.

Kenardo Forbes – 6 – alternated between central midfield and getting forward later in match.

Jordan Dover – 6 – like his counter part on the left, spent a lot of time battling in middle of field, won 7 of 9 duels.

Christiano Francois – 5.5 – in games like this, it might take a dynamic play to make a difference, and he was having trouble trying to get deeper on right side.

Kevin Kerr – 5.5 – like Francois, Kerr was running up against a wall, and had to show lots of patience when trying to work ball into final third, but didn’t have much success. If going to play at top of 3-4-3 — have to get shots on goal.

Romeo Parkes – 4 – against a really good defense, he was losing a lot of his battles (8 of 9 duels including all four in the air) and couldn’t create a single shot on frame.

Neco Brett (60′) – 5.5 – things opened up a bit after he came in, then was quiet the rest of match

Mouhamad Dabo (67′) – 6 – did what he needed to do in middle to keep Charleston’s attack away from trouble spots.

Joe Holland, (87′) – n/r – a late sub that could have paid off. Had one moment where intercepted ball — and played ball through for Brett but Charleston’s center backs recovered nicely.

Subs not used:

Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Kay Banjo, Andrew Lubahn, Todd Pratzner

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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