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View From The Booth: Did Tampa tie show Hounds the way?

Points were left on the field, but there’s reason to believe a possible attack solution has already taken root.

Andrew Lubahn turns upfield against Tampa Bay. - ED THOMPSON

View From The Booth: Did Tampa tie show Hounds the way?

Editor’s note: Riverhounds SC play-by-play broadcaster Matt Gajtka brings his perspective on the team throughout the season in his ‘View From The Booth’ column.

The Riverhounds are unbeaten in the month of August (3-0-2) and head into a two-match trip next week in second place in the Eastern Conference.

Sounds like reason for optimism, but the recent two-draw homestand has pumped the brakes a bit on the Hounds’ train. In both matches, against sub-.500 foes in Charlotte and Tampa Bay, the Hounds dominated the ball like they seldom have in 2018.

Need proof? The United Soccer League’s data-gathering service had Pittsburgh with over 70 percent possession in each, marking the first time this season they’d exceeded that barrier … and they did it in back-to-back games over the span of four days.

That part of the stat sheet had to please Bob Lilley in particular, since the manager has been publicly pushing his team’s need for more possession for about a month now. Even after watching his team concede its first game-tying goal since May in Wednesday’s 1-1 result with the Rowdies, Lilley was outwardly pleased with his side’s process, if not the result.

“I thought we played really positive,” Lilley told reporters on the Highmark Stadium turf. “We had good possession. That’s a brand of soccer that will win a lot of games and win playoff games.”

Still, there’s no mistaking that both Charlotte and Tampa Bay achieved some measure of success by packing bodies behind the ball and challenging the Hounds to thread passes through them. All that possession meant Pittsburgh was dictating the game at home, but to generate just one goal over 180-plus minutes smacked of disappointment.

Now, if we judge attack success by scoring chances only, Pittsburgh should’ve had a couple of goals Saturday against Charlotte, which finished the match with 10 men to boot. An off night from Golden Boot contender Neco Brett scuttled any chances of a fourth straight victory and made that effort look worse than it probably was.

To end up with just eight shots (four on target) against the Rowdies, though … there’s some reason to wonder if the Hounds struggled for ideas while facing a veteran-laden Tampa Bay side. If getting into playoff form is the goal, then finding a way to break down organized opponents is on the checklist.

But maybe the Hounds already have a solution to what ails their offense. Mouhamed Dabo‘s unexpected banger from Wednesday could hold a clue.

Beyond putting forth the finest goal celebration of the Hounds’ season, Dabo’s ambition from outside the penalty area stood in sharp contrast against the team’s M.O. this season.

“Last practice, coach Bob was telling us to sometimes try to shoot,” Dabo said Wednesday. “When Neco (gives) me the ball, I try sometimes to shoot. So I took my chance and it worked today.”

Sounds like the coaching staff might’ve seen something on video. Brett has two of his 13 goals from outside the 18, but those are the only such strikes for Pittsburgh in 2018, and those were just barely beyond the box.

As my broadcast partners Gene Klein and Paul Child suggested on the air Wednesday, getting more aggressive from downtown might be just the thing that loosens up opposing defenses in the homestretch of the season. There isn’t a Rob Vincent on this year’s squad, but as Dabo showed, there are plenty of capable Hounds with strong enough pegs to score from distance.

As Lilley indicated in Wednesday’s postmortem, it doesn’t even take a killer hit sometimes.

“Most of them, if they catch the bouncing ball and get it on frame with any type of movement, most of our guys can hit from there,” Lilley said. “That is a range we can score in. (Dabo) did well to recognize it, ran on, concentrated and got a good strike. It was a big goal.”

Dabo’s first pro tally might not have delivered a victory, but it could very well have shown the way to get more from an attack that ranks 22nd of 33 USL teams in goals and 19th in shooting percentage. With how well the Hounds have defended this season, simply lifting their goal production closer to average could make all the difference.

After watching Dabo, Tobi Adewole and Christian François all let loose from deep against Tampa Bay, there’s reason to believe a possible solution has already taken root.

Matt Gajtka is a columnist, analyst and reporter for Pittsburgh Soccer Now. In addition to his four-year role as play-by-play broadcaster for Riverhounds SC, he has experience covering pro and amateur sports for over a decade. Matt got his start in soccer while calling games for the Marshall University men's and women's Division I teams. He remembers attending Hounds matches at Bethel Park High School, although he lapsed during the Moon and Chartiers Valley years.

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