FINAL – RIVERHOUNDS 0, SAINT LOUIS FC 0
Special thanks for Matt Gajtka for compiling quotes from post-match interviews
In a battle against the front-running team in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings, the Riverhounds SC played Saint Louis FC to a scoreless draw in a match that was delayed due to inclement weather at Highmark Stadium on Saturday.
Hounds head coach Bob Lilley didn’t think his team took full advantage of its chances on a night when they had enough possession.
“(We) Competed well, but I don’t know if we played well. I think we had a little more of the ball, but we had limited opportunities. For me, I think we need to pass the ball better,” Lilley said. “There were more turnovers than we would’ve liked and we didn’t do a good enough job holding the ball up top. Credit to Saint Louis but I think we could’ve done better holding the ball and waiting for our players to get higher so we could put some more dangerous balls into the box.”
The game was delayed for an hour, not kicking off until 8:05 p.m. — as stormy weather hit the South Shore right as the teams were wrapping up warm-ups.
Not an ideal situation for everyone involved.
When asked if a delay affects the players, Hounds keeper Ben Lundgaard provided some insight after the match.
“It does. It does for everybody, not just me. Especially since we came out here and had to go in. It’s a little different if we never came out here. The boys did well tonight to cope with it. [Saint Louis] has to do the same thing we do. It’s kind of even on both sides.”
Each team needed a while to start creating chances too once the game did actually start.
The first good opportunity for either side arrived in the 19th minute, but Saint Louis’ Kyle Greig was unable to control Matt Bahner’s cross from the right to produce a finish.
Pittsburgh’s Steevan Dos Santos had a shot carom wide of the left post off a defender in the 38th minute, and a minute later Neco Brett had some help nudging a shot from the right side that deflected off a defender and headed for spot inside the near post, but STLFC goalkeeper Jake Fenlason reacted quickly to turn it away.
Saint Louis’ Joaquin Rivas tested Hounds goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard just before halftime with a shot from range that was pegged for the bottom-right corner, while Brett again forced a save by Fenlason with a shot from a tight angle midway through the second half.
The Hounds threatened once more with two minutes to go as Christian Volesky almost pulled off a heel-flick finish that went just wide of the left post, while Greig missed the target to the right after a deflected shot fell to him a minute later, but the game fittingly ended all square as neither side found a breakthrough.
Saint Louis are on top of the table for a reason
Under the direction of Anthony Pulis, this was a well organized Saint Louis FC side have only lost one match this season. And they weren’t intent on losing two in a row.
Saint Louis did a solid job in handling a steady flow of pressure from the Hounds. Pittsburgh couldn’t do much inside the 18, but they kept coming pelting the box with 33 crosses.
Saint Louis’ back line battled and matched Dos Santos and denied most every hope that the Hounds had once they took a touch or two inside the box. Most of Saint Louis’ 28 clearances came from the array of crosses into the box.
The front-runners of the Eastern Conference lined up in a well-fortified 4-4-2. STLFC captain and veteran center back Sam Fink was the primary guy that was fronting Steevan Dos Santos, and turned back a lot of chances, with eight clearances, a few tackles and blocks.
Not clever and patient enough in the final third
Hounds came out in a similar formation as they did last week — in a 4-1-4-1 alignment. Once again, Thomas Vanceayezeele started in a holding midfield role, with Mouhammad Dabo higher up in the central midfield alongside Kenardo Forbes, and with Kevin Kerr and Neco Brett in wider attacking spots, but underneath Dos Santos.
Looking for more late game imagination in the final third, Lilley used his substitutions to take out three midfielders (Kerr, Dabo and Brett), for Anthony Velarde, Christian Volesky and Noah Franke.
It seems at Highmark Stadium, Lilley is comfortable with having the current back four that includes outside backs Ryan James and Jordan Dover covering enough ground and playing both ways along the flanks — with James taking more chances and going up higher more often. But, Dover created a chance and was involved a bit more in this game (46 passes and 10 duels) than he had been previously.
It was the next line of attackers that didn’t do enough.
Hounds fans probably hoped that some of those 33 crosses would get through — and on a few occasions nearly found that one elusive goal that could have made the difference.
- There were two lining balls to the center of the box intended for Dos Santos from the foot of Kevin Kerr — as the pair nearly connected for the second week in a row. But Saint Louis’ center backs were right up against Dos Santos, forcing the big man to rush his headers.
- Ryan James was very active on the left side, winning his duels (7 of11) and getting deep to the end line a few times, but couldn’t provide the game-breaker.
- Neco Brett had the lone shot on target and almost got the benefit of a deflection on a shot from right side in the first half. Another night where Brett came close to scoring in the run of play, but came up short.
- Late in the match, Volesky almost pulled off a ridiculous back heel — from behind — that looked like it had a chance to swing into the net on a cross from another late second half sub, Noah Franke.
But Lilley’s not going to bank on his players making miraculous shots — or to simply rely on an onslaught of crosses.
The veteran coach wants more efficiency. When you hold 50 percent of the possession — you need to make it count.
Lilley was aware that his target man, Dos Santos, was under pressure much of the night.
“I thought they did a good job of challenging the first ball in. That’s not easy on Steevan,” Lilley explained. “It’s important he can hold some of those balls and Kevin and Neco need to be available at times and they’re not. For me, the front three didn’t do a good enough job getting on the ball. If they can’t get behind, they need to get the ball at their feet, find a pass and make a dynamic run. We didn’t have enough contacts from our front three. We’ll work on that this week.
The Hounds’ captain concurred.
“We just didn’t create enough chances to win the game,” Forbes said, as the veteran pointed to the area where they came up short. “Just the final third. We’re doing good possession-wise in keeping the ball, but when we get to the final third, we run out of ideas. So we have to clean that up next week.
Lundgaard earns second clean sheet in past three games
Goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard made sure the Hounds unbeaten streak remained intact as he came up with that one big save on Rivas.
He was ready for the one low shot on the wet surface when needed.
The 6’6″ keeper on loan from Columbus, earned the confidence of the Hounds coaching staff to earn his third start in a row. With this result, he’s now earned his second clean sheet in three games.
It appears that the Hounds, giving up just one goal in the past three matches with Lundgaard in net, are starting to get more comfortable defending as a unit.
The Hounds have pretty much had the same unit back there each match, as Joe Greenspan and Tobi Adewole have started and played in every minute of every match thus far this season.
“It could be cleaner in distribution, but myself and the back line, we did our job tonight,” Lundgaard said after the match. “We’d like to work on build on that and be positive about it. We keep growing, better and better. That’s what we’re going for, each game to progress. I thought it was good progression.
Riverhounds SC will return to Highmark Stadium next weekend to take on Nashville SC (3-2-1) for a match at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 27. Tickets can be purchased on tickmaster.com.
Riverhounds SC – Ben Lundgaard – Tobi Adewole, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Joe Greenspan – Ryan James, Jordan Dover – Kenardo Forbes – Neco Brett (Noah Franke 87’), Mouhamed Dabo (Anthony Velarde 66’), Kevin Kerr (Christian Volesky 71’) – Steevan Dos Santos
Subs not used: Kyle Morton, Sammy Kahsai, Robbie Mertz, Uchenna Uzo
Saint Louis FC – Jake Fenlason – Sean Reynolds, Phanuel Kavita, Sam Fink, Matt Bahner – Kadeem Dacres (Albert Dikwa 76’), Guy Abend, Lewis Hilton, Russell Cicerone – Joaquin Rivas, Kyle Greig
Subs not used: Patrick Schulte, Paris Gee, Audi Jepson, Austin Martz, Oscar Umar
PIT – Joe Greenspan 29’ (caution)
PIT – Steevan Dos Santos 40’ (caution)
PIT – Jordan Dover 58’ (caution)
PIT – Thomas Vancaeyezeele 90’+3 (caution)