Analysis/Player Grades — Pittsburgh vs Louisville City (6/27/18)
It may not have be the prettiest version of the beautiful game – but the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC got the job done in Louisville on Wednesday for a statement win. The Hounds completed a two-game Southern swing by knocking off defending USL champions Louisville City FC with an impressive 1-0 win at Slugger Field.
Hounds coach Bob Lilley likes to point out many of the things he’s not pleased with after most games. And there were things to pick apart on Wednesday — but right now it’s hard to look past the most important thing — he’s assembled a team that’s very difficult to beat this season on the road.
Watching Lilley this year has been a treat. I’ve been around pro soccer circles enough now to witness various coaches in action and what they do to prepare, how they handle in-game situations and deal with adversity.
What makes Lilley special is that he sees things many of us – don’t see. Heck, he sees many things opposing coaches don’t quite see either.
James O’Connor is also a heck of a coach. In three seasons, with a roster that never exceeds 20 players, including three goalkeepers, Louisville has been a championship contender every year. After winning it all in 2017, O’Connor’s squad is making a run in the U.S. Open Cup (fifth round date vs MLS Chicago Fire in mid July) while staying in the top three of the USL’s Eastern Conference.
And this just in — O’Connor is very close to signing a deal that will make him the next coach of Orlando City of MLS.
— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) June 29, 2018
But back to Wednesday — though his team wouldn’t win in many areas on the stat sheet, it was Lilley’s Hounds that won the battle of attrition and did what it had to do against a slightly weary Louisville City side.
With the win, on the road against a top three team and last year’s champs, this was what the Hounds needed to really put a stamp of legitimacy on its first half of the 2018 season. The Hounds remain unbeaten on the road (3-0-4). Teams with this type of mettle — and ability to win tough contests — are usually the ones that are primed to do well in the playoffs.
And this is what Lilley is preparing this team to ultimately be — a dangerous side that can make a run to USL Cup.
Make no mistake, this is still a long season and a lot can (and will) happen along the way – but the Hounds are now well-positioned to make a run to win the USL’s Eastern Conference.
While Lilley is known to mix up his lineups and change tactics and formations, in beating Lou City FC, the Hounds pretty much stuck to its common road plan they’ve utilized on the road. Essentially, they played three in the back (in 3-4-3 formation), kept a tight, organized shape – and countered quickly when opportunties developed. It also helped that they were playing on a narrow field.
Still, Louisville are a strong possession team and even on the smaller field, they tend to move the ball around effectively in tight spaces. On Wednesday, they doubled the Hounds in number of passes made in the contest (602-334). Keeping the ball for long stretches helps – but it’s not important to Lilley in these games, as that proved to be the case again with Louisville holding a 63% edge. Still, the Hounds bottled up Louisville’s attack enough, winning more duels (53%) – many of which were in the middle of the field, as well as 26 clearances (as opposed to Louisville with only 9) and had a fantastic tackles success rate (88%) and stayed pretty disciplined (only seven fouls – although Mouhammed Dabo has his second yellow card in as many games for a tactical foul to slow down a counter).
The swarming defensive work for much of the game allowed the Hounds to dictate tempo and have as many chances (Louisville had 5 shots on target, while Pittsburgh had 4).
Ultimately, as O’Connor mentioned leading up to the game, that the thing that separates this Hounds team this season from other teams in the past is pace and ability to score. With a strong back three – and central midfielders willing to do the dirty work, Lilley has been afforded the luxury of positioning three attacking players high up in a 3-4-3 (looks like 5-4-1 when defending) formation. Adding pacy winger Christiano Francois and crafty Kevin Kerr, both waiting in the wings for a break through moment at the top along with leading scorer Neco Brett – the Hounds were able to stretch the field a few times. Throw in Romeo Parkes in this game as a substitute for Kerr, they didn’t miss a beat with another player who could stretch the field and get behind defenders.
Most notably, Francois almost broke the scoreless tie in the first half breaking behind the Lou City back line after getting a nice through ball from central forward Brett. Even at midfield, Brett drew in a couple of Louisville defenders, allowing for Francois to break free on the right side. The Francois’ breakaway attempt came up short as Louisville’s keeper Greg Ranjitsingh made himself big enough to deny a first half Hounds tally.
“Very structured, very organized, good pace,” O’Connor assessed of the Hounds. “They came with a game plan to press in the first half and try to attack with some speed. And they did.”
In the second half, the Hounds stayed disciplined — and waited for their moment.
“In the second half, I thought we were better,” Lilley said after his squad improved to 7-1-7, just three points back of FC Cincinnati for the East’s top spot.
That moment came when Forbes won a ball in the midfield, then found open space to deliver the ball for Parkes to use his pace to catch up with it. With all kinds of room to maneuver deeper into the final third, Parkes delivered a ball into the goal box, that took a deflection and landed at the feet of Forbes who followed his initial pass by making a timely run into the box.
Forbes took it from there, knocking it past Ranjitsingh for his first Hounds goal, and more importantly, the 1-0 lead.
“I thought we looked like we were more likely to score. … Good through-ball, good run by (Parkes) and we got in behind them,” Lilley said.
Louisville’s attack woke after that. The Hounds held on for dear life – being exposed in a way that Lilley doesn’t like to see (five total shots on frame in the game and seven attempts from inside the box for the home side). Goalkeeper Dan Lynd stayed composed and made a few nice saves when he needed – and made a really nice lunging stop in stoppage time on a shot from distance.
The Hounds could have done a better job in clearing balls away in those final minutes – but hey – a win is a win – right?
They’re now alone in second place — and right at the heels of front running FC Cincinnati – only three points behind with a game at hand.
Isn’t that all Hounds fans can ask for?
Dan Lynd –8– made big saves, in command/good communication with back line
Ray Lee – 5.5 – maybe it was the limited space, but didn’t have as much of an impact in this one
Todd Pratzner – 7 – most accurate of back three playing it out of the back.
Joe Greenspan – 7 – another solid outing in the middle of back line
Hugh Roberts –8– Lou City were coming at Roberts’ side much of the night, and former All-USL defender would have none of it – winning eight of 10 duels including four of five in the air. Had 11 of Hounds 26 total clearances.
Jordan Dover -6.5 – another workmanlike performance, won eight of 14 duels, but didn’t factor in getting forward as much.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6.5 – fairly quiet night, but again, won 9 of 10 his duels — and that’s what Lilley wants his holding midfielders to win all those battles.
Kenardo Forbes – 8 – taking on two-way role very well. Primary play maker (42 total passes led Hounds), but doing the dirty work too (won 9 or 15 duels, had five tackles and won two fouls)
Kevin Kerr – 5.5 – okay quiet night again but wasn’t really involved in creating any chances. Louisville back line was effective in limiting his touches — as well as Hounds were working ball to opposite side too.
Christiano François – 6 – showed why he’s always a threat and why Lilley keeps putting him out there. One of these days he’s going to break out for a two or three goal game.
Neco Brett – 6.5 – against a strong defensive unit, he put in a lot of work to try to win and keep balls in the middle. Came back more than usual, but delivered nice long, through ball to Francois, and drew a crowd on ball in from Parkes that left Forbes open for game winning shot.
Romeo Parkes (63’) – 6.5 – showed why he’s important to Hounds attack even when coming off bench. Provided important fresh legs at top of attack,helped stretch Louisville’s back line and got effective ball in on goal.
Mouhamed Dabo (63’) – 6 – there to do dirty work in second half when Lilley needed to move Forbes up higher in attack, played alongside Vancaeyezeele. Picked up another yellow card quickly. Starting to add up.
Andrew Lubahn (90+6’) – n/r – came in very late to the party.
Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Tobi Adewole, Kay Banjo, Joe Holland