For all the fluidity and complexity of football and the way the modern game is played, at its essence, soccer is a simple game. You hold onto the ball. You take the ball away from the other team. You score more goals than the other team. That’s it.
For the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Bob Lilley has tried to get these 2019 Riverhounds to be more attacking and less defensive than past teams have been, and until Saturday, it hadn’t really worked. In the Hounds first three outings this year, they had conceded 6 goals in 4 goals and walked away with two draws and a loss. Considering the team had played the entire start to the season on the road, this wasn’t half bad. But it wasn’t that good, either.
Saturday, it was back to basics for Bob Lilley, as the team pressed and defended with great ferocity. They especially pressed Louisville City in their own end and at midfield, forcing City to unload long, speculative passes. At the end of most of those deep bombs was 6’7″ central defender Joseph Greenspan. Most of those sequences looked something like this:
1- Greenspan comes to midfield for headed clearance. Drink.
2- This looks like a PK to me. *Maybe* Dos Santos slows down intentionally to draw contact, but I don't think so.#RiverhoundsSC #Unleash pic.twitter.com/KY8HOVtu0V
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) April 8, 2019
So the plan was to press, forcing Louisville to panic and kick it long, and then have Joe Greenspan win all the second balls. Joe won 7 aerial duels and had 11 clearances, which are both ridiculously high numbers. Also, more importantly, Louisville only could come up with 6 shots all game. Only 3 came within the 18-yard box, and only 1 was on target. Mission accomplished, Bob.
To do it, the Hounds had all three midfielders, Kenardo Forbes, Anthony Velarde, and Mohamed Dabo pressing high into the opponents half to bother the ball carrier. Dabo, normally a deep-lying defensive midfielder, was often level with both strikers in this game, which was a surprise to many of us, and also led to more offensive chances than you’d normally see.
Think Dabo's been inside the 18 more times tonight than he did all last year. #LOUvPIT
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) April 7, 2019
He was mostly a forward harasser, but also an offensive threat due to his advanced position.
Ultimately it all meant that Louisville had less possession than they would have liked in the first 60 minutes, and that many of their possessions were rushed. The Hounds were able to hold the ball with a little bit more composure and time, and when they got a good counter-attack in the late goings, they ultimately capitalized on it, saw out the clock, and emerged with all three points.
For the full recap, check John Krysinsky’s report here.
Ben Lundgaard (GK) – 7
Lundgaard, in his second-ever game as a professional, kept a clean sheet. Congratulations! Seven is a little low for such a momentous occasion, but to be fair, Ben was barely tested. He had a good play in the 35th minute to collect the ball in the box and keep Lucky Mkosana from scoring, and a save in the 77th minute, the only one he was called to make in the match. Gotta get more than one save to impress me, Ben.
Ryan James (LWB) – 6.5
Bob Lilley has clearly given the keys to the attack to James, as he brings up the ball on most possessions and starts the attack. James was solid-but-unspectacular with his offensive responsibilities and did well in defense, recording 3 interceptions, 1 key pass, and he was 2 for 3 on crosses. James had a great opportunity on a breakaway, got a perfect pass from Anthony Velarde, and put the ball right into the opposing GKs chest. I took a whole point off for RJ fluffing that play.
Tobi Adewole (CB) – 7
Adewole did a little of everything defensively and was everywhere constantly, while also being the teams best distributor out of the back. His solid marking was a significant part of how the Hounds kept a clean sheet.
Joseph Greenspan (CB) – 8
Ensign Joe cleared everything within 30 yards of him and won 7 of 11 aerial duels. It was huge – if any of those balls gets through, then this is a very different game. My only quibble with his game: Joe’s passing, both long and short, was not good. He had the lowest percent success rate, at only 43%, and in the 29th minute his pass was in a bad spot – only by fouling the ballcarrier a moment later and earning a yellow did he keep the team from conceding a goal.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele (CB) – 7.5
Tommy was the most active harasser, coming out of the backline to challenge runners as they approached the Hounds area. He won 4 tackles to lead the team. His out-of-the-back passing, though, was also not good, at 48%.
Jordan Dover (RWB) – 7
While James gets the attention by charging up with the ball and getting into the attack, Dover quietly did his job with aplomb yet again, earning 3 tackles and generally marking out his opponents well. I humbly submit that if Bob Lilley can figure out how to get both fullbacks evenly involved in the attack, though, it might generate more threats for the Hounds.
Anthony Velarde (M) – 6
He was good on the press, but a little quiet as an attacker. He had that one great run and pass to set up Ryan James I mentioned above. Each game, I sit quietly waiting for Velarde to decide to just boss the game, take on a few opponents and dribble, or slide in that killer pass. I think it’s coming.
Mohamed Dabo (M) – 5.5
This game was the debut of MOHAMED DABO – AGENT OF CHAOS. He charged around the Louisville City end like a madman, causing all manner of annoyance and forcing bad passes and such, and that was great! But also, he lost the majority of his duels (50-50 situations where he and an opponent both were going for the ball). And that ‘AGENT OF CHAOS’ thing applied when the Hounds were in possession, too. He blasted a shot well over the net in the 39th minute. And, most incriminating, Dabo was 9 for 22 in passing, giving away lots and lots of duds when the team was in the attack. I mean, putting him high as part of the game plan ultimately worked, but also, Dabo, square up a pass sometimes, huh?
Kenardo Forbes (M) – 5
Forbes spent the match as the left-sided pass connector, linking up James, Velarde, Brett and Dos Santos. He made 71% of his passes, and also occupied space in defense that forced the opponent to play wide. But he had zero key passes, zero shots, was 0 for 3 on crosses, zero tackles, zero interceptions. Except for some good passes to close out the first half, he was just generally uninvolved.
Neco Brett (ST) – 6.5
Brett popped up at just the right moment – drawing the penalty kick in the 72nd minute, and then converting the PK opportunity a few moments later. He didn’t see a lot of service in this match, although he did have a miss in the 26th minute that he probably should have done better on. When Neco had the big chance in the match, though, he converted it, and that’s the difference between going home frustrated and going home with three points.
Steevan Dos Santos (ST) – 6
Dos Santos was fouled in the box in the first half (see tweet/gif above) but no PK was called. Later, in the 66th minute, he was back post for a cross and he headed it into the perfect spot, but Louisville GK Ben Lundt made a great save at the last second to push it over the bar. Dos Santos has a role where he often checks back to the ball and makes a short pass to a midfielder, and so for a striker, he makes a lot of passes. In this match, he was a little sloppy though, recording just 18 of 32 successful passes. If Santos can make just three or four more successful passes a match, it could turn into three or four more shots and one more goal per game. That’s a big deal.
Featured image from Riverhounds SC via twitter