On Friday, the Riverhounds got a much needed win after three draws and a disappointing loss in Cincinnati by beating in-state rival Bethlehem Steel FC with a commanding result, 4-1, on Saturday at Highmark Stadium before just 1,356 fans.’
With the win, coupled with FC Cincinnati and Louisville’s washout after 38 minutes of play keeps the Hounds in second place at least until mid-week, when LouCityFC will face Charleston on Wednesday.
Despite the win, Bob Lilley, a driven coach always looking for his team to play at an elite level, continued with his theme of sharing — even after wins like this — that he’s yearning for more.
Leading up to this win, the Hounds have allowed one-goal leads disappear in four straight matches.
A 10-man Charlotte, Tampa Bay and Indy Eleven all found equalizers in draws, then against first-place Cincinnati before 25,000 plus fans, a lead in the 80th minute would evaporate into a 2-1 loss.
On Friday though, they put the hammer down against Bethlehem Steel FC.
After the match, Lilley was back nit-picking and finding ways after a win to see that his team remains focused and aspiring to play at a championship level.
Lilley spent a good five or six minutes picking apart his team’s moments where they backed off and looked vulnerable, then he resorted to some sarcasm.
“Maybe this is how I should just — as long as we’re being sloppy, take our chances that we’re not going to get punished,” Lilley said in light of his team’s attractive attacking play that compromised his team’s organization in getting back and restricting Steel FC’s build-up.
Still, the Hounds mostly stifled the Steel FC attack in the final third to the point of limiting its chances to two shots on frame, and only one chance from inside the box all night.
Lilley and his coaching staff, always tinkering with things to throw different wrinkles at its opponents — came out in a 3-1-4-2 formation against the Steel FC.
The three man back line consisted of Joe Greenspan anchoring things in the middle, with Tobe Adelwole on the left and Thomas Vancaeyezeele on the right. Hybrid wing backs Ray Lee and Jordan Dover certainly tucked back into the back line when defending, but spent much of this game getting forward.
Mouhamed Dabo remained the primary holding midfielder to sit in front of the back three, giving both Ben Zemanski and Kenardo Forbes more freedom to roam and contribute to the attack. With Christiano Francois sitting out, Lilley started Romeo Parkes and Neco Brett at forward together.
“It can’t be just Romeo and Neco trying to get into the box and higher,” Lilley explained after the game.
Forbes, who now has two goals and eight assists this season, has quietly become the guy that sets the table for this team.
“Kenny can get into dangerous spots, and Kenny will get people into dangerous spots. If he’s playing at left back, he can probably run the game. Doesn’t matter if it’s on the right, the left or the middle, he’ll be moving around and get us into a rhythm for sure. He gets Jordan Dover going a lot of times.”
On Friday, Dover raved about playing with Forbes.
“Playing with Kenny is one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. It’s give him the ball and pretty much run forward,” Dover said. “It’s just waiting for the ball to appear in front of my feet. It’s always nice playing with him. His vision is amazing.”
Forbes showed on his important goal, coming at the end of the first half, that he can strike a pretty good ball too — from distance no less.
With iconic last name synonymous in these parts, we now have a new General Forbes taking command here in Pittsburgh.
For Hounds fans who expressed concerns about this team relying on one goal scorer (Brett), are starting to see that this team has the capability of getting contributions from a lot of players on the roster. Going back to the preseason, Lilley emphasized this is what he wanted this team to become — and he made that point crystal clear when he said that the 2017 team was too much of Kevin (Kerr) and Corey (Hertzog) show.
When Kerr comes back from his calf injury, he will be another fantastic option and a veteran presence that will take some of the responsibility off Forbes’ shoulders when needed in terms of making key passes and providing a steadying presence.
“Overall, the front four — Kenny, Ben, Romeo and Neco were pretty good — and better in the second half,” Lilley remarked.
The Hounds shot advantage on the night was pretty telling (24-6, 8-2 on target and 16-1 in the box) — and probably did leave them open at times through the middle of the field.
It was also an even match in terms of possession (51/49 edge to Pittsburgh), but the Hounds were more dangerous for much of the game.
Bethlehem’s one chance from inside the box in the first half came on a penalty kick.
Trying to get his team to put teams away when they have a lead, Lilley wasn’t happy with his team’s play after going up a goal on two separate occasions on Friday.
“You can’t go up 1-0 and allow a team to get back in it. We were very fortunate to get that goal right before halftime, That gave us an edge and we were able to — I am not sure –because once we got a lead we stopped working against similar as we did in the first half. No pressure. Game’s starting to stretch,: Lilley said. “That’s where, at 2-1, I actually was trying to pull us back and solidify our unit. They were starting to stretch us, playing ball through.”
One goal leads apparently make any soccer coach or fan nervous. Especially after this recent run of play with the Hounds losing leads.
But then, the Hounds finally burst through to take a two-goal advantage in the 76th minute on Neco Brett’s 14th goal of the season. It was a terrific effort by Brett, who shook a pair of defenders on the right side of the box, then sent a left-footed shot through for the all important third goal of the match.
“That third goal, at that point in the game, it was needed,” Lilley added. “We got it before we got picked off. Guys are, for the most part, getting better chances each game, and tonight, they turned those chances into goals.”
IRKED BY OFFICIATING
Lilley did provide some of his insights on the officiating on Friday, and the games of late where the Hounds have been subjected to a questionable straight red card (Ray Lee vs Indianapolis), a penalty in the box on Joe Greenspan and some other instances.
“It’s just tough,” Lilley explained. “Our center backs are going up for head balls every game and getting bridged. There’s no attempt to play the ball. Teams are chopping us. It’s reckless and dangerous. And repeatedly should bring cards.”
Greenspan’s foul in the box provided enough contact in the eyes of the official, but Lilley countered.
“We’re getting called for touch fouls. Look, the defender (Greenspan) got to the ball. I haven’t seen the replay yet. Joe may have gotten some of it. But, a big, strong guy went down pretty easy. I just think it was a generous call. The ref has to call what he sees.”
Of course, Lilley did also then go on to say that that play happened because of his team’s inability to clear the ball, bad communication between the keeper and back line and allowing for an ‘unnecessary corner’.
LOW ATTENDANCE (YIKES)
This game was moved from Saturday night primarily due to Pitt-Penn State game.
As a result, the Hounds had only 1,356 fans at the game on Friday.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) September 7, 2018
While there’s a million excuses to be made, this franchise has continues to be challenged with trying to remain relevant as the busy Fall season approaches, and they could conceivably be playing through late October and potentially into November.
There was a nice three-or-four game push there where the Hounds had more than 3,000 fans, but a Wednesday game vs Tampa and now this have been disappointing.
It’s probably a good thing that they haven’t added the required seating in the East End at this point — as it would look pretty bad to have more empty seats.
The final three home games of the season are on Saturday nights, and potential conflicts with other local teams (Pitt and Pirates) should be minimal. There won’t be no high school football games to compete with — and hopefully the potential projected home playoff dates (Oct 19/20, 26/27) should also provide few excuses — and packing Highmark Stadium should be a priority down the stretch.
As our Mark Goodman so eloquently pointed out last week, all player grades are scored out of 10. Generally, a 9 or 10 is for a player that scores a hat trick or a clutch of assists or just dominates. 7 or 8 is for a good or even great game. 6 is average or maybe even a little ‘meh’. 5 is for a below average game; 4 or 3 if you were quite poor. A 2 or 1, and the game ended with you carrying your own suitcase to a bus station to get a one-way ticket to a career change.
Mike Kirk (GK) – 6 – mistake free, wasn’t tested as much, but still looked confident and secured numerous balls that came in
Ray Lee – 6.5 – fouled to set up first goal, and beauty of an assist on final goal — hooking up with his fellow wingman Dover.
Tobi Adewole – 7.5 – eight of 11 duels won, eight clearances and four tackles. Great night and quietly in very good form right now
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6.5 – after game at Cincinnati, a FCC coach came over to congratulate him — and told Bob Lilley he’s like a Swiss Army knife. Started at left wing spot (for Lee who was out due to red card) last week, and this week, he was on the right side of the back three. Just plug and play Tommy V where ever needed and he’ll do a good job.
Joe Greenspan – 5.5 – mixed game for Greenspan. Got his second goal in three games, anchored the back line solidly but was in quite a battle and had hands full with Pemi Moumbagna, who earned a PK on foul in box. Conceded three fouls including the penalty, lost six of eight duels. Had seven interceptions and four clearances though.
Jordan Dover – 7 – was active getting forward. Plays off Forbes very well and did so numerous times in this game. Scored second goal of season with well timed run and good chemistry with Lee.
Ben Zemanski – 6 – nice bounce back game after disastrous late game appearance in Cincy. Picked his spots going forward. Supported Forbes higher in the attack. Had the pinpoint assist on the first goal. Lilley didn’t seem pleased with some of his defending though.
Mouhamed Dabo – 5.5 – relatively quiet back in holding spot. Lilley felt he and Zemanski missed some tackles here and there (won 3 of 7 duels), but another workmanlike performance.
Kenardo Forbes – 9 – this may have been best game for General Forbes!
Romeo Parkes – 5.5 – point blank header chance from a great feed from Forbes came close but didn’t strike it solid and not directly on frame. Only one of four shots on frame. Won eight of 18 duels, including four in the air, which means he’s working bit harder to win balls.
Neco Brett – 7 – how many times this season has Brett given the Hounds a big time goal? It’s 14 times — and counting?
Noah Franke (75’) – 6 – good late game energy player
Kay Banjo (82’) – 6 – created one chance in late stages
Joe Holland (82’) – 6.5 – nice to see Holland back on field for first time in while. Actually looked pretty sharp. Had shot on target and created another chance.
Subs not used: Nathan Ingham, Ben Fitzpatrick, Andrew Lubahn, Hugh Roberts