Things took an interesting turn for the Riverhounds SC’s players, coaches and staff who made the trip to Tampa this weekend for its season opener.
After a difficult 2-0 loss in a tough environment, the Hounds found themselves stuck in Florida for a few more days.
Apparently, their return commercial flight was among the many that were grounded due to Federal Aviation Administration emergency order grounding Boeing 737 Max jets in the wake of an Ethiopian Airlines crash Sunday and a previous deadly accident in Indonesia.
President Donald Trump announced the order last Wednesday, and U.S. airlines acknowledged that it would lead to canceled flights around the country.
Sure enough, the Hounds return trip to Pittsburgh was among those that were cancelled.
“I don’t think it was really a major set-back for us,” Bob Lilley, Hounds head coach said on Wednesday. “Being displaced in some ways helped us stay together, get two additional days of training as a group.”
Lilley said the Hounds were staying at a hotel that was across the street from where the team was training so they didn’t have to worry too much about additional travel and were training in pretty nice weather conditions while Highmark Stadium continues to undergo getting its turf replaced. Those who played on Saturday, were able to get day off on Sunday, receive necessary treatments. Other players were able to get some additional workouts.
Lilley acknowledged that “it wasn’t an ideal situation” for the players on the roster who didn’t make the trip, and the trialists that are still scheduled to train with the team this week.
The Hounds finally returned from Florida early Wednesday morning, and the full squad went about business as usual with a short training session Wednesday at Montour Junction Sports Complex in Coraopolis.
AFTERMATH FROM OPENING LOSS
Lilley was fairly optimistic about where his team is at this point, even after Saturday’s disappointing result.
“Obviously we have to clean some things up. Get tighter in the box,” Lilley said when addressing the two goals that his team surrendered against the Rowdies.
“It’s hard when the team we were playing had already played a game, they were playing at home — and were a tough opponent,” Lilley added. “We faced a similar situation last year in Nashville, and weathered the storm, and came out with a result. We would have like to have gone to the half scoreless. That first half goal really put the onus on us. We had a lot of success last year when scoring the first goal. But overall, I thought we still did reasonably well.”
The veteran coach added he liked what he saw at the outset of the second half, saying that both Ryan James and Jordan Dover were assertive in taking the attack forward from both sides, as well as Thomas Vancaeyezeele. However, after spending much time in the off season addressing these concerns, Lilley wants the Hounds to become quicker and more efficient in creating chances in the final third.
“We’ve been working hard on possessing the ball, and our spacing. We’ve got to start putting more balls into dangerous areas. Our first play and possession was mostly good. It was the timing, the runs, the service and the decision making — that’s not there yet.”
INJURY UPDATES / DISCIPLINE REPORT
The Hounds are relatively healthy at this point.
Veteran forward Christian Volesky went down hard late in the first half, and was taken out early in the second half of Saturday’s game as he was battling through some ankle pain. Lilley said that Volesky is about at 80 percent — and has been training with the squad this week.
The USL released its weekly discipline report on Wednesday, and the Hounds didn’t have anyone included. Mouhamed Dabo led the team with four fouls against the Rowdies.
PREPARING FOR SWOPE PARK
“Tough,” was one word that Lilley used when describing how the Hounds will prepare for its next opponent, Swope Park Rangers, whom they’ll face for the first time ever on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park, in Missouri. “We only have one game to go off of. They’re talented young team along the lines of teams we’ve played like Red Bulls II, Bethlehem Steel (FC), with a roster that could include a lot of first team MLS (Sporting KC) players. This will be their first time at home, and it could be easier to stack their line-up, but we’ll see about that as the senior team has had a busy schedule that includes CONCACAF Champions League.”
Swope Park Rangers lost its opening game at Red Bulls II, 3-1, on March 9.
“They’ve only been in USL a few years, and have been in the Western Conference finals twice in 2016 and 2017. They have a lot of quality and will be a competitive opponent,” Lilley explained, but said his primary focus is keeping his team locked in on what they’re doing.
“This is one of those games early in the season we have to focus on what we’re doing. We’re an experienced group. We have to have the right mindset. We’ve seen plenty of good line-ups and talented teams. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be fine. We’ve got four games on the road to start the season, and we don’t want to dig too big a hole. That puts onus on us in this game.”