Editor’s note: Riverhounds SC play-by-play broadcaster Matt Gajtka brings his perspective on the team throughout the season in his weekly ‘View From The Booth’ column.
Riverhounds SC hasn’t lost often this season — just twice in USL play and once more in U.S. Open Cup — so last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Charleston Battery was difficult to grasp in the immediate aftermath.
As you could tell from my call of Ataulla Guerra‘s 88th-minute icebreaker, I was surprised to see the Hounds concede the decider after mostly dominating the evening:
— USL (@USL) July 22, 2018
(I think Paul Child was muttering about that one throughout the weekend, and I don’t blame him.)
However, if we can compartmentalize the first 2018 episode of Highmark Heartbreak, the matchup with the Battery showed the Hounds in their absolute best form, short of that crucial coverage error in the end.
By now you’ve heard similarly rosy assessments from head coach Bob Lilley and our own John Krysinsky, but allow me to follow up on that. Not only was that loss not deserved, it was also a perfect blueprint for how the Hounds might rally in the second half to take the Eastern Conference regular-season crown.
Finishing in first remains feasible partly because of the matches in hand the Hounds (9-2-7) continue to enjoy. They’ll need to keep up the point-getting pace and perform well in their remaining two meetings with FC Cincinnati, but if last Saturday was any indication of how this squad is developing, anything is possible.
After conceding possession in five consecutive matches before the midseason break, the Hounds had 57 percent of the ball against now-second-place Charleston. Pittsburgh also built comfortable margins in shots (11-5), crosses (20-4) and corners (10-5).
As we also know, they did everything but score, with Christiano François cracking two shots off the woodwork in the first half and Neco Brett missing a penalty kick early in the second half. Brett was foiled on another great chance when Charleston keeper Joe Kuzminsky shockingly snatched an against-the-grain attempt with his left paw.
The lack of finishing reminded of the only real bugaboo for the Lilley-led Hounds to date — maybe Kevin Kerr gets the next penalty try? — but all involved seem to be more concerned with the quality of the process than the odiousness of the result.
Of course, that’s easy for me to say on the outside.
Disappointed result last night. I still can't believe it happened, now it's time to get prepared for the next one on the road.. Thank you to all the Hounds fans for showing love and appreciation last night. See you soon????????❤????
— Christiano François (@Cheetahcf7) July 22, 2018
But as is so often the case in a sport that yields relatively few opportunities for scoring, style is critically important, and not just because controlling play is the best way to create the conditions for victory.
No, it’s called the Beautiful Game for a reason.
To that point, some of the combination play we saw last weekend was as dazzling as anything the Hounds have conjured in quite some time. Kerr, François, Brett, Kenardo Forbes, Jordan Dover, Ray Lee, Thomas Vancaeyezeele … all of those names were buzzing in the attacking third, reading off one another, back-heeling and volleying and overlapping their way to breathtaking sequences.
As was quite relevant with another crowd of over 3,000 in the house, those skills on display help captivate the imagination of fans, while also demonstrating the offensive potential of this group of Hounds. In previous matches against structured teams, Pittsburgh has possessed the ball just fine, but didn’t create the quantity and quality of chances they did against Charleston.
From my view upstairs, much of that energy was the direct result of the Hounds’ back line closing out opponents harder than I can recall from the first half of the season. Maybe it was the extra jump that a bye week provides, but the boys in black and gold were frequently all over Battery attackers before they could turn upfield.
That aggression had a bit of a side effect, as the usually-disciplined Hounds committed 16 fouls to Charleston’s eight, but perhaps there’s room for more physicality in Pittsburgh’s game, as long as it doesn’t distract from tactical composure.
The Hounds I saw against Charleston were fueled by that tenacity, though, as opposed to unraveled by it. Like I wrote above, they did everything but get the three points.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d be as encouraged as I am know if they churned out a questionable win over the surging Battery. With the schedule about to pick up, starting Saturday in North Carolina, there’s no better time to get back on the pitch and build confidence.
Despite absorbing their first loss since May, Riverhounds SC remain in fine form. With plenty of points still available, now is the time to take advantage.