For eighty minutes, things seemed to be going according to plan for Riverhounds SC against a Swope Park Rangers squad featuring numerous MLS rostered players loaned down to the second team — including a former Arsenal product Gedion Zalalem.
After a three-goal in ten minute flurry that saw them salvage a 2-2 draw, the Hounds coaching staff was left with plenty to re-assess moving forward.
The wild finish also provided Hounds and Swope Park fans with a taste of their own March Madness in an early season hair raiser that is certainly worth revisiting one more time.
BATTLE OF CONTRASTING STYLES
The Hounds were mostly content to allow Swope Park to hold the possession advantage and make twice as many pass attempts throughout (65%-35%, 603-323).
Still, the Hounds stayed fairly well organized in what was mostly a 3-5-2 formation, that morphs into a few different things, and especially has Thomas Vancaeyezeele interchanging into various roles. They had to face dangerous first half moments erased by goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard, a Columbus Crew loanee who made his pro debut, and they created numerous counter-attacking chances but failed to capitalize.
Neco Brett and Kenardo Forbes, the Hounds Jamaican connection, hooked up a couple of different times deep in the final third, and both times, they failed to score. The first time, Brett received in stride, a long, diagonal ball from Kevin Kerr.
Brett appeared to stumble as he got into the box, but still managed to keep the ball from going out past the end line, then delivered an accurate cut-back pass to Forbes at the top of the box. With room to shoot, Forbes inexplicably sent his shot well-wide of the left post.
This goofy play is from the USL Championship match between the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and the Swope Park Rangers from Saturday, 3/23. https://t.co/18MlOHVroH
— Detroit Soccer Central (@DSoccerCentral) March 24, 2019
The two connected again early in the second half, with Kerr initially getting the ball to Forbes this time at the top of the 18. Forbes redirected the ball to an open Brett, who failed to pull the trigger quick enough, and another quality chance was squashed.
The Hounds tactical approach of moving forward and creating solid counter opportunities paid off in the 73rd minute, when Steevan Dos Santos was bulldozed by Kllian Columbie on the right side just outside the box. This set up a free kick chance from close range. Tobi Adewole got on the end of a Forbes free kick to redirect the served ball into the net with his leg – as it appeared he used his knee to bang it through for the first Hounds goal of the season.
“I knew we had some big guys in the box,” Forbes said. “All I have to do is put it in the right area and they’ll go get it.”
NO LEAD IS SAFE
Holding a 1-0 lead, Hounds coach Bob Lilley made a few substitutions that appeared would fortify the Hounds efforts to defend the lead. In particular, after the goal he took out Brett, for first-year pro Caleb Smith, who made his debut late in this match. This move prompted Lilley to rotate Ryan James from the left back spot, to the central midfield.
A year ago, the Hounds had a bad habit of allowing second half leads to disappear.
It would happen again on Saturday.
A little bit of madness followed.
Within a matter of five minutes, the Hounds found themselves trailing, 2-1, with a pair defensive lapses.
The first one was somewhat excusable.
The second…. well, not so much.
Swope Park’s first goal came off the foot of Rodney Wallace, who blasted a hard shot past Lundgaard off a rebound in the 83rd minute. The sequence began after a looping cross to the far left side of the box came to Columbie, who blasted a one-time shot on goal which was blocked by Hounds defender Joe Greenspan. The ball came right back to Wallace, who’s quick reaction was to get a solid redirect attempt right on frame. With numerous players stacking up in the box, the Hounds weren’t able to react to the rebound in time to deny the shot attempt, and Lundgaard was caught out of position.
It’s one thing to give up a pinball goal. It’s another to be completely undressed the way the Hounds were on the second goal.
After gaining possession at midfield after Hounds goal kick, the Rangers actually used patience to set up a nice combination of passes that led to their go-ahead goal. Initially they played the ball back to keeper Adrian Zendajas. With the Hounds scattered and a bit disorganized, the Rangers connected three passes along the left side, then Gianluca Busio took a few touches toward the midfield line – and three Hounds converged on the ball. Busio then released a pass to Columbie who was breaking on the left side with plenty of real estate.
This forced Greenspan to be first to attempt to defend the ball out wide. That opened everything up for the Rangers. Columbie drew and kept Greenspan out wide, and was able to get close to the end line where he scooted a low ball the made its way through the box – finding the right foot of Kelyn Rowe, who got behind scrambling defenders Ryan James and late sub Caleb Smith, to beat Lundgaard from the right side of the six-yard box, banging in his shot off the post in the 88th minute.
Lilley was certainly impressed with SPR, but wasn’t thrilled to give those two goals away.
“You get a lead that late, you want to be able to make it stand up for three points. We weren’t able to do it,” Lilley said in his post-game comments. “They deserve credit for that. Obviously, I was impressed with some of the quality and young talent with SPR. It’s a good team and I’m sure they’ll get a lot better as the season goes, as well.”
The Hounds made their final sub of the match on the ensuing kickoff, bringing in first-year pro, Anthony Velarde.
Velarde got forward immediately, and sent a cross in from the left side that was easily handled by Zendajas.
The goal kick that followed as the match entered its 90th minute this time was won by the Hounds.
It was Adewole again out-jumping the competition to send a ball to midfield that Dos Santos flicked with the side of this foot forward over the top to his former Rochester teammate Volesky, who timed a run to get behind both SPR center backs.
Volesky only had Zendajas to beat – and was clipped from behind by Mohammad Abualnadi.
We already knew Lilley must really like what he sees from Velarde to sign the first-year pro who hailed from a Division II school before camp started in January. The veteran coach put his cards on the table in Velarde’s name in a big spot – giving the nod to the rookie to take the penalty kick earned by two players that have already won a USL Championship.
Talk about cojones!
Velarde calmly guided his shot to the left as Zendajas went the other way, to level the match.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) March 23, 2019
With a long 34-game season on the docket, and two more road games to be played before the home opener, the Hounds needed something to build upon.
“It was a good game for us, coming off a loss last weekend. We played well for the first 75 minutes,” Forbes said after the match. “Because of a lack of concentration, we give up two goals. We’re lucky to get a PK to get a point. That’s the only positive today. We got a point.
They also anointed a young, talented player with a baptism by fire, and propped him right on the stage in a big, pressure moment early in his pro career.
And the kid came through.
Those previous ten minutes, though, they were dealt a cold dose of reality. They have a long way to go to becoming a championship caliber squad that they aspire to be.
There’s a lot of holes to fix.
“We have stuff to work on. It’s early. I think we were a little bit better this week than last week at Tampa. It’s not easy going and playing everyone’s home opener but we’ve got two more road games and hopefully we’ll continue to get better. I feel like we created good chances today,” Lilley said. “It’s never ideal to drop points from a winning position, but I think based on the team we played I think we improved this week. Hopefully if we improve again next week, we get all three points.”
Ben Lundgaard – 5 – he made two really, really good saves in the first half. The first goal was tough, but the second, it looked like he got caught off guard on a low cross that made its way through the six-yard box.
Ryan James – 4.5 – little bit more involved when getting forward (four crosses, all unsuccessful), winning his duels (7 of 10), but what happened on that second goal that both he and Smith were unable to get back to mark the back side?
Tobi Adewole – 7 – scored first goal, had team’s highest passing accuracy (88%) and didn’t lose a duel – including winning a header that led to the penalty for the second goal. Pretty good night at the office for Tobi.
Joe Greenspan – 5.5– commanding in the middle (won 9 of 11 balls, all eight aerial duels!), had block on initial shot attempt before first goal, and wasn’t his fault that he had to go way out to defend Columbie on second goal. I am sure would prefer to start getting some shutouts.
Jordan Dover –5 – both Dover and James are doing adequate dirty work on the flanks, but not having a big impact thus far in two games.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 5 – it’s concerning when Vancaeyezeele and Dabo are losing majority of their duels (Tommy V only won 3 of 10). He was also among the three players that got caught in the middle on SPR’s second goal.
Caleb Smith (82’) – 4 – short body of work, but was the left back when the second goal was scored. Both Smith and James were pushed up too far and caught trailing the goal scorer.
Mouhamed Dabo – 4.5 – after a number of fouls in week one, he picked up his first yellow card of season for a first half clip. Lilley had plenty of confidence in his holding midfielder though, as he let him finish the contest. A lot of the Hounds possessions are played through him with the most pass attempts (50), and another better than 80% performance. Still, maybe he was on the field a few minutes too many, as he was one of the three players in the middle of field who took the bait on SPR’s second goal.
Kenardo Forbes – 6 – again, playing on left side of attacking midfield. Provided quality service on first goal to pick up his first assist of the season. Set up Brett twice with dangerous chances, but couldn’t convert, especially from top of box in first half. Also had majority of Hounds crosses – 12!! – connecting on seven. If you had any doubt that Forbes couldn’t be involved on the left attacking side, you can put those doubts away.
Kevin Kerr – 6 – in another 62 minute starting stint, had a couple of quality balls played forward that nearly set up goals. Looked more involved than previous match, won more duels and had four tackles.
Anthony Velarde (89’) – 7 – normally it’s hard to provide a grade for a player that only played four minutes, but an immediate cross into the box, and netting first career goal on PK earns some positive points here.
Steevan Dos Santos – 6.5 – when Hounds are in or getting into the attacking third, he’s been at the center of things, winning the majority of his duels (won 13 of 24). One of those set up the free kick that led to the first goal. On the play that led to the penalty, he made a difficult pass look effortless. It was a play that was created from chemistry between Dos Santos and Volesky, once previous teammates, who were on the same page to set up the penalty.
Neco Brett – 4.5 – work rate is always there – but would have like to have a few of those golden chances back.
Christian Volesky (63’) – 6 – perfectly timed run to get behind defenders to set up PK. Also had chance after coming in that keeper made a nice play to deny shot attempt.
Subs not used: Kyle Morton Noah Franke, Sammy Kahsai, Uchenna Uzo