PITTSBURGH — A draw that felt like a loss for some members of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC could very well have been the latter.
In the 89th minute of Saturday’s 0-0 result with Saint Louis FC, Albert Dikwa got a step on Hounds defender Tobi Adewole and crossed the ball to the top of the penalty area.
It rolled to Saint Louis midfielder Guy Abend, who appeared ready to deliver a heartbreaking strike …
… until outside back Jordan Dover blocked the drive. Saint Louis’ Kyle Greig subsequently misfired on the rebound chance, and the Hounds had survived the closest call of the night in front of Ben Lundgaard’s goal.
The clutch defensive effort by Dover was emblematic of his performance against the Eastern Conference’s top team. The 24-year-old second-year Hound compiled 46 passes, 10 duels and a team-high 82 touches in the match, one of his most active nights in memory.
He might not have been able to create a goal for Pittsburgh in its toughest match to date, but Dover did his primary job: Protect the right flank.
“(Dover) is pretty good defensively, one on one,” Hounds head coach Bob Lilley told me. “He’s good in the air. Physical when he needs to be. He’s good going forward. … He’s kind of the blueprint for us.”
Hear a comment like that from the guy in charge of roster building and you get an idea of why Dover was one of 10 players retained from the Hounds’ breakthrough 2018.
Outside backs get plenty of work in most methods of play, but Lilley’s system demands more than most from the tricky position. In short, the manager wants strength at both ends of the pitch, so a strong soccer IQ is absolutely necessary to read plays properly and not find yourself on an island.
“I think he’s got a good tactical sense of the game,” Lilley said of Dover. “We’ve deployed the outside backs in different ways from game to game, whether as part of a back four, or as wingbacks in a back three.”
Throw in Dover’s familiarity with Lilley and Jordan’s Pittsburgh encore makes perfect sense.
“Coach has faith in me,” said Dover, who also played for Lilley in Rochester as a rookie pro in 2017. “It’s just good, because I know there’s someone who believes in me, and I believe in what coach is doing here. It just adds that extra boost to my game.”
Raised in the Toronto suburb of Ajax, Ontario, Dover came up as a midfielder, until his junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, when a teammate who shall remain anonymous wasn’t cutting it at outside back.
Dover was asked to swap positions with the struggling back mid-game, a change which has proved long-lasting.
“I did well there and I’ve been stuck there ever since,” Dover said with a chuckle.
At 5-foot-9, Dover’s strengths lie in his mobility and agility, although he continues to sharpen his technical skills with the ball at his feet. He jokes that the worst thing that can happen in a game is that he pulls off a flashy move early, because then he feels the pressure to top it before the final whistle.
But Dover is certainly more of a meat-and-potatoes type of a player, complete with a healthy helping of athleticism. Under Lilley’s preferred system, both Dover and his opposite number on the left side, fellow Ontarian Ryan James, are asked to whip in crosses and support the Hounds’ attacking midfield.
“When they’re playing well, we get more out of our outside backs going forward than other team’s wingers get against us,” Lilley said. “If Jordan or Ryan are playing in combination with Kevin Kerr or Anthony Velarde, we’re able to create overlapping and two-on-one situations and really limit the chances the other team gets in and around our corners.”
Even though Dover made it look simple last Saturday, holding Saint Louis winger Russell Cicerone without a shot attempt or a chance created, Lilley’s expectations are surely high.
That’s why Dover says conditioning is a point of pride for him, since he doesn’t want to have “the excuse” as to why he couldn’t hang with his mark late in a tough match, or why he couldn’t keep a loose ball alive in the attacking third.
A glance at the stat sheet shows a back making an impact. On the season, Dover is first on the Hounds in tackles, second in crosses and fourth in total passes. He’s not on the scoresheet yet, but he’s playing the kind of high-event soccer the team needs to maximize its potential.
Dover also mixes it up in other ways. He’s chirped James on at least one occasion about hogging the spotlight with two early assists, and he confessed to giving former Rochester and Pittsburgh teammate Ray Lee a hard time when he paid a visit with expansion Hartford Athletic two Saturdays ago.
“Oh, I wish I was miked up,” Dover said, grinning. “If you guys heard the things I said to Ray. … That was a lot of fun.”
When it comes to getting the job done, though, Dover is all business. Which lines up well with his coach’s no-frills mentality.
“Bob (Lilley) is very particular with what he wants, so I just try to do what he wants specifically to the best of my ability,” Dover told me. “Once I proved to him that I could do that, we’ve had a good relationship ever since. As long as you prove to him that you can execute what he wants, you’ll be on the field.”
With six starts in six matches and just one minute of 540 on the bench, it seems like Pittsburgh’s No. 5 will continue to be a fixture as the season progresses.
JORDAN DOVER GOAL (April 2018 vs FC Cincinnati)
JORDAN DOVER PHOTO GALLERY (Ed Thompson photos)