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Analysis & Player Grades: Hounds ‘have to clean things up’ on defensive end

Before turning the page and focusing all attention on the deciding match of the Keystone Derby Cup coming up on Wednesday, one more look back at Riverhounds SC last match on Saturday night leaves plenty of room for scrutiny.

Things were probably more interesting for Pittsburgh than they should have been in a 3-2 win vs Indy Eleven.  For the second time in as many games against Indy Eleven, it was a wild finish.

Despite Wild Finish, Hounds hold on for 3-2 win vs Indy 

The Hounds allowed Indy back into the match after building 2-0 and 3-1 leads.

After the match, head coach Bob Lilley expressed his displeasure with his team’s inability to clamp down once they had a two-goal lead.

As a coach who’s been through his share of playoff battles and who has successfully engineered some of the best defensive units at this level of U.S. pro soccer in the past two decades, Lilley’s now dealing with relatively new phenomenon.

Over the years, much has been made in USL circles about 1-0 games being ‘Bob Lilley Special’ scorelines where Lilley’s teams find ways to get one goal, then rely on a suffocating defense to secure victories.

It’s been anything but ‘Lilleyball’ for the Hounds recently.

In a successful recent three game home stand, the Hounds came out with more attack minded tactics, scoring nine goals.

With the Hounds pushing to host one — and maybe even two (or if things really go well, three) home USL playoff games, having an attack that’s flourishing at Highmark Stadium is a very good sign.

Attacking output is not the problem at this point, and Lilley and his coaching staff deserve credit for tweaking things to push the roster’s two quality play making midfielders, Ben Zemanski and Kenardo Forbes, higher in formations (mostly 3-1-4-2) that have at times included three or even four attacking midfielders.

On Saturday though, the Hounds dropped the second forward, in this case, Christiano Francois who roamed more on the width and was dynamic on the right side while Neco Brett stayed as the lone top man. The Haitian initiated the first two goals — one that Zemanski found a loose ball in a crowded box for his first goal as a Riverhound, and another on a terrific individual effort by Brett to bring it down, turn and put into the net.

It’s the defensive lapses that are starting to concern Lilley.

“At 2-0, that game should be safe and tucked away,” Lilley explained. “We shouldn’t have had to score a third goal to secure this win. Stuff like this will happen in the playoffs, we just don’t want it to happen to us. I don’t like it happened to us, not only once, but twice. That’s disappointing. But we got three points and that matters but we have work to do.”

With Joe Greenspan, Tobi Adewole and Hugh Roberts in this match, and Thomas Vancaeyezeele also in the mix of the back three in the previous two games, along with Mouhamed Dabo in the holding midfield spot, the Hounds have been uncharacteristically vulnerable.

Jack McInerney‘s brilliant individual effort for the first Indy goal made both Greenspan and Adewole look foolish — as he snuck the ball between them after they ran into each other, then beat them to the ball and slide an outside footed shot past keeper Dan Lynd.

Under Lilley, for much of this season, the Hounds have effectively used the three center back set up to the tune of a league leading 15 clean sheets and league low 21 goals conceded.

Now, though, we may see some adjustments coming from Lilley in the coming games, as the Hounds will want to shore things up in the back.

“We’re not defending well as a team, period. It takes a whole team to defend well. We’ve got some big guys back there, but we’re getting beat on individual challenges,” Lilley said.  “Late in games we’re not dealing with it. We have the numbers, but we didn’t play great.”

In three games with Indy — Pittsburgh has found an opponent that is physical and contest everything. Duels were close in each of these games (Hounds actually had 52/48 edge in last game). I am sure that Lilley would like to see his squad winning at least 60 percent of second balls and 50-50 balls. Both Greenspan and Roberts lost more of their duels than won, while Adewole was a solid six of nine, but was involved in allowing both goals.

The most original of solutions for the Hounds to do would be to go back to a flat four — bringing Ray Lee and Jordan Dover into traditional outside back spots — then push Vancaeyezeele, who Lilley has played in a variety of positions, into a holding midfield role alongside Dabo, and let Forbes, Francois and Zemanski roam in creative play making and attacking roles, with Brett at the top.

That takes that extra attacker out of the mix.  It leaves Romeo Parkes or even a potential return of Kevin Kerr as an option for one of the next two games off the bench. At this point, you can’t sit Brett. His goals in the past two games show how valuable he is as the Hounds best clinical finisher.

Looking ahead to Harrisburg, both Kerr and Parkes were instrumental figures in last year’s Keystone Derby clinching win — and I am sure the Hounds would love to have both involved on City Island on Wednesday in some way.

Lilley is anything but a conventional coach, so something tells me that the three center back approach isn’t going away and he’s going to find the right options with using his attacking players. One adjustment for road games may come in the form of a 3-4-3 (or 3-4-1-2).

The next two matches are on the road, against teams that have difficulty scoring (Penn FC and Charlotte are 23rd and 25th in goals scored respectively). It will be interesting to see how they approach these matches, as the Hounds have played effectively on the road this season as a counter attacking side.

The Hounds shouldn’t do anything to stop the offensive momentum. They should be looking to pick up a minimum of four points and really should go for the full six in these two games — and be more resilient in locking teams down once they have the lead.

Lilley is trying to get this team not only to enter the playoffs playing well, but have them ready for a deep run.

“We’ll have to clean things up, and get ready for Wednesday,” Lilley said.

“We’re not just trying to make the playoffs, so there’s a lot more at stake for this group. They’re capable of a lot more, that’s the difference.


Riverhounds SC –

Dan Lynd – 6 – went from making a big blunder, to one hell of a recovery save on that sequence with Saad.

Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6 –  even though he’s not super pacy as an outside wing player, remained effective and won his battles and passing accuracy among highest on team again. Might be nice to see him back as holding mid.

Tobi Adewole – 5 –  won 6 of 9 duels, but must avoid lapses

Joe Greenspan – 4 – plenty of clearances, but breakdowns and credited with the own goal

Hugh Roberts – 5 – team high eight clearances, but again, part of that back three that allowed two goals

Jordan Dover – 5.5 –  with Francois in front of him, felt like he wasn’t as involved in getting forward (only one cross), but still created three chances through his short passes.

Andrew Lubahn (86’) – NR – late sub in for Dover

Ben Zemanski – 7.5 – runaway leader on team in passing accuracy (85%) and starting to find his fit alongside Forbes and Francois as facilitators of the attack. Had first goal with Pittsburgh and seconds later should have scored a second one. The question is, what about when Hounds have two goal lead — can attacking mids be more involved with help with defending/limiting chances.

Mouhamed Dabo – 5 – a holding mid can’t lose six of nine duels. Continues to distribute well though.

Kenardo Forbes – 7 – played to left side of Zemanski, but roamed around and switched with Francois at times. Hit 90th minute PK for second game in a row.

Romeo Parkes (90+1’) – NR

Christiano François – 6.5 – was dynamic, especially early in the second half in creating both of the first two goals.

Ray Lee (77’) – 6 – better this time around against Indy off the bench, two solid tackles and a clearance as he came in for Francois as a fresher body and provide defensive support.

Neco Brett – 6.5 – 15 goals. Work rate is always there.

Subs not used: Mike Kirk, Ben Fitzpatrick, Joe Holland, Andrew Lubahn

PSN Coverage updates:

I am in Florida this week attending to family obligations, so Riverhounds Rabbi, Mark Goodman will have Scouting Report prior to Keystone Derby, likely on Wednesday morning, and also provide the Analysis & Player Grades for that match, while Matt Gajtka will be traveling to Harrisburg to provide game coverage.


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).

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