Kevin Kerr earned much fanfare and honors after last week’s Riverhounds SC 3-1 win over Hartford Athletic, and deservedly so, as he scored the go-ahead goal in the second half and set up the game’s opening goal with a pinpoint pass,
Kerr’s outstanding game may have out-shadowed Steevan Dos Santos’ impressive Highmark Stadium debut as a Hound.
It was Dos Santos who got on the end of Kerr’s delivery into the box in the 14th minute, as the Cape Verde native showed his ability to use all of his 6-foot-4 inch frame, as he’s a threat to the opposition on every ball played to him in the air in and around the box.
The veteran forward, who’s scored 33 career goals in USL Championship with Rochester, Ottawa, and now Pittsburgh, said that half the battle is building good chemistry with his teammates, getting into good position and be able to work on timing in getting to the end of every ball into the box.
“He(Kerr) does that in training,” Dos Santos said. “I knew when he cut the ball to his right. I had to get to it and make my move. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes you have move before. I saw him move inside, then turn, so I had to move back, and then forward.”
What resulted was a pretty well-timed header, and Dos Santos’ first goal as a Hound.
STEEVAN DOS SANTOS PGH SOCCER NOW PHOTO GALLERY (photos courtesy Rachael McKriger & Ed Thompson)
On Saturday,we saw all of the aspects of Dos Santos’ game which make him such a versatile player who the Hounds can count on to be in the center of executing their attacking tactics.
Dos Santos never stops roaming at the top of the formation. On Saturday, it started early in the match, setting the tone with a relentless work rate that made things difficult for Hartford to play the ball out of the back, to the end of the match when they were trying to push for an equalizer.
After Kerr’s goal in the 74th minute gave the Hounds a 2-1 lead, Dos Santos won a ball near the top of the box, and was pulled down by a Hartford defender, to earn a penalty kick.
Neco Brett took it from there, putting in his second penalty kick of the season to give the Hounds a 3-1 edge in the 79th minute, securing their first home win of the season.
“He’s doing a great job for us. He’s doing the dirty work,” Brett said. “Everybody’s doing their jobs. He’s working really hard so it could be a little bit easier on the midfielders and we appreciate his work.”
In all, it was a pretty typical, productive stat line for Dos Santos, who’s brings an unique array of skill sets from being dangerous in the air, a non-stop pest to opposing back lines when they have the ball and an ability to hold up the ball and draw fouls. Dos Santos had seven shots, three of them on target and drew a pair of fouls, including the one that set up Brett’s penalty kick.
For the season, Dos Santos has started all five games, played every minute (450 minutes), and leads the Hounds with 13 shot attempts, five of those on frame with the one goal.
Ultimately, he’s becoming the man the Hounds want to get the ball to that will start and maintain possessions in the final third — whether they’re playing longer and direct — or with a short passing, possession-based style. And, as we saw on Saturday, Dos Santos can also provide quality finishing too.
One statistic, that’s really attention grabbing is Dos Santos has been involved in a team leading 144 duels. It’s not even close, as Jordan Dover is next on the club with 67 total duels. Despite being under constant defensive pressure, Dos Santos holds his own, and then some, in his battles as the ball is played to him a lot, winning 70 of 144 duels, and 50 of 97 of them in the air.
Saturday’s penalty kick wasn’t the first goal Dos Santos helped set-up without getting credit in the stat line.
At Swope Park, it was Dos Santos who was fouled to set up Kenardo Forbes‘ free kick that connected with Tobi Adewole. The forward also was involved in setting up that game’s tying penalty as well, with a simple flick of the ball redirecting an Adewole clearance forward for Christian Volesky, who drew a foul in the box after making a well-timed run on Dos Santos’s ball that was played forward.
Dos Santos matches his talents with good old-fashioned effort.
“I want to work hard for this team. Sometimes I’ll be at the top. Sometimes I’ll play behind the forward. I’ll do what Bob wants me to do,” Dos Santos said after training on Tuesday. “But, I’m always working.
Having already won a USL Championship playing for Lilley, on teams that were superb defensively, wore teams down and scored timely goals, Dos Santos knows that his role is to be a two-way player as much as possible.
“Bob likes me to do that, check back and help defensively,” Dos Santos explained. “We want our home field to be like a fortress. We want to make it harder (for opponents) to score. Send a message — it’s not going to be easy for teams to come here to play. That’s what Bob wants us to do. We want to be tough at home.”
After five games, there’s little doubt that Dos Santos is doing his part in Pittsburgh to establish himself as key piece to the Riverhounds’ puzzle under Lilley’s guidance .
“Bob’s teams have a mentality. Even when I left Rochester, I had to play against Bob’s teams, and it was a nightmare to play against them. He has something special every time he builds a team.”
And so far, we’re seeing Dos Santos has been a special addition to the Riverhounds SC.
WHO’s IN GOAL?
The Hounds rotated both goalkeepers on its roster through the first four games, allowing both Kyle Morton and Ben Lundgaard to alternate starts in the first four games. On Saturday, the Lilley made the decision to alter the rotation, giving Lundgaard the start for the second straight match.
After the match, our PSN contributor Rachael McKriger asked Lilley about the Hounds goalkeeper situation, and the veteran coach didn’t pull any punches.
“We were gong to look at both the first four games and evaluate. It was close. We thought Ben was a little bit better going into this game, and he got the start,” Lilley explained. “We won’t make a decision each week until later on in the week, by Thursday or Friday. I don’t expect to be flip-floping each week though. If someone falls out of form, then maybe we’ll re-evaluate.”
For the record, Morton started the first game at Tampa Bay, and the third match at Bethlehem Steel FC, posting a 2.0 goals against average, with one save in facing five shots (a 20% save success rate).
Lundgaard, after three games, has a 1.0 goals against average, conceding three goals in three games, with five saves in facing eight shots. Lundgaard also has the team’s only clean sheet of the season, as he was in goal for their 1-0 win at Louisville City FC.
“Overall, right now we’re happy. I thought Ben was solid. It was tough to blame (Jose Angulo’s goal) him for that one,” Lilley added.
If you missed it, here’s Matt Gajtka‘s View from the Booth for this week, as the Riverhounds Play-By-Play announcer pointed out a number of interesting observations, including a small nugget that caught my attention when I was thinking about how the new turf at Highmark Stadium has made a difference.
Aesthetics are one thing, and the field looked great. More importantly, it allowed for a better flow of the game, as each player had a bit more comfort zone with their touches, ball control and passing.
Gajtka wrote at one point: “Even outside back Jordan Dover got into the crowd-pleasing fun, twice escaping from tight spots along the right touch line with some exceedingly fancy footwork.”
It’s likely, that last season, Dover doesn’t even have a chance to keep the ball in those tight spots.
Hoping to be in the lead late in games, and with Lilley preaching more patience on the ball, having a new turf field will only help the Hounds keep the ball away from its opponents.
“You’re going to see better games,” Lilley said. “These little passes at the end of the game, we can control ball better on sidelines. This turf will make for a better game this year. We have to maximize to our advantage. The better turf will help the better team — hopefully we’re going to show we’re the better team.”
The Hounds will be facing some tough foes in the next two weeks at home when they face Saint Louis FC and then Nashville, a team they failed to beat in 2018. On Saturday, Saint Louis FC come to Highmark Stadium for the first time since 2017 on top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Lilley feels that his squad is ready for anyone, and was happy with how things went on Saturday against Hartford, a side that hasn’t earned a point this season.
“It’s better than struggling in home opener. It’s been a long haul,” Lilley cited his team’s adventures in the first five weeks of the season, including spending the first four on the road. “Now we have a two game winning streak. We haven’t lost since the opener. Last year, we didn’t back off against top teams like (FC) Cincy and Louisville (City FC). I don’t expect to be intimidated. I respect how Saint Louis has started the season. We all aware of Nashville’s budget and how deep they are. Whatever 11 they put on is going to be fantastic. But, I don’t see our group afraid to play. These are games we want to play. Our guys did a good job of not feeling the pressure (in the home opener). We wanted to play. That’s something we want to do is play in these games and play with pressure to win.”
UPCOMING PGH SOCCER NOW RIVERHOUNDS COVERAGE
In addition to interviewing Dos Santos at training on Tuesday, we also had a chance to finally catch up with Robbie Mertz. Look for a feature on Mertz in the coming days.
Here’s what to expect for coverage of Saturday’s match vs Saint Louis FC.
- Scouting Report & Preview (Mark Goodman)
- Game Blog (John Krysinsky)
- Post-Game Coverage including Match Report, Player Grades & Post-Game Reaction (John Krysinsky)
Rachael McKriger‘s brewing up yet another feature story. We’ll have more from Rachael next week.
We will have a very special announcement coming — probably early next week — about an event we’ll be involved with celebrating an upcoming milestone in Pittsburgh soccer history. Stay tuned for that!