Pittsburgh Soccer Now contributor and Riverhounds SC play-by-play man Matt Gajtka stopped by Riverhounds training earlier this week, and caught up with Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley, who shared quite a bit as his team heads into its seventh match of the season, and its final game of three-game home stand.
The two discussed a number of topics. I’ve highlighted a few, primarily the Hounds lack of scoring last week and seeing one player a bit out of position.
But, putting ‘wrinkles’ into each week’s line-up are part of Lilley’s coaching DNA. He’s going to change things up tactically from game-to-game, and last Saturday was no exception.
DABBLING WITH DABO
Among the things that caught the attention of Hounds observers and fans in last week’s game, was where Mouhamad Dabo was in the Hounds formation, playing a bit higher up the pitch rather than his usual holding midfield position.
“All my career, I’ve just played as a holding (midfielder). Right now, I’m playing a little bit higher,” Dabo told Gajtka. “But we are professional. We have to do what the coach asks. Maybe he sees something, so you have to respect it. We know how good he is tactically, so maybe he sees something. We just have to respect it and be a professional.”
Lilley’s instincts, which will often lead to line-ups that are designed to take away what opponents do best, led him to use Dabo in this role to be a disruptive force that took away Saint Louis’ ability to get any kind of attack going from the back.
“Here’s a few reasons for it. His (Dabo’s) energy’s high, he can make runs and win balls and get behind defenders. He’s able to recover from high positions when he needs to. Kenny (Forbes) can play high, deep, sometimes out of the back,” Lilley explained. “We’re comfortable with (Forbes) in possession. I would expect each week to see many different wrinkles. I don’t think you can read much into it, other than that’s how we chose to play. I put him up higher a few times. It’s had some success in Louisville, and it’s had some games where it hasn’t.”
Dabo, 23-year old from Senegal, has been a reliable and yet another versatile player for the Hounds since they signed him last year. Often, he’ll do the dirty work (he’s conceded 11 fouls this year, while only getting one shot attempt). He can also be an accurate passer out of the pack, and his ability to recover and win balls back is probably one of his greatest assets.
Ultimately,above all, Dabo has bought into Lilley’s concepts of playing as a part of an 11-man unit, that has surrendered only one goal in the past three games.
“Last three games, we look more solid than the beginning of the season. We are closing the field as a team and we’re working together as a team,” Dabo said. “For now, that is the biggest thing. Everyone is working and helping. We feel better these last few games.”
‘WE DON’T WANT TO HAVE A SHOT TOTAL OF SEVEN – EVER’
Lilley liked his team’s competitive spirit of his team’s play on Saturday in its 0-0 draw vs current front-running Saint Louis, but what happened in the final third left the veteran coach wanting more.
“When we get into the final third, be more dynamic to get in behind with our runs and our service. I think we got in the final third, but a lot of times it was picking up second balls. It wasn’t like we played our way in that often, and I think we have the ability to play our way in and break down defenses with good movement. We were a bit more static than we would’ve liked,” Lilley said. “I know a draw against Saint Louis is a pretty good result, I know the stats were even, but it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we don’t want to have a shot total of seven, ever. We need to be busier in front of goal, and that’s us taking the initiative to get behind and make hard runs and get on the end of stuff. In my opinion, we played a little too cautiously. Some of it was them being hard to break down, but some of it was us not being active enough.”
Lilley explained why the Hounds sent so many crosses (33) against Saint Louis, and that he would really like to see the Hounds try to break down opponents a bit more.
“I think when we turn Ryan (James) and Jordan (Dover) loose, they’re going to get around the edge. That’s positive. But I think if you froze all those moments on the tape, defenders are always going to drop into the best positions,” Lilley explained. “Our players have to make hard runs to move them. If they’re clearing balls from static positions, defenders will destroy everything. If they’re being dragged and having to contest with movement, they will mis-clear balls, they will miss balls, you will have guys in gaps. Things will happen. To me, I’m OK with the cross number. I think one of the reasons the cross number was high is that we weren’t finding any seams in the middle, and really all we had was Ryan James getting around the left side. So I’m glad we at least did that. I think we needed to fight to get on the end of his crosses and the crosses from the right side and Kevin Kerr and Jordan Dover. We needed to get runs through the channel and central from Neco (Brett), Kevin, Steevan (Dos Santos) and even Kenardo (Forbes) and (Mohamed) Dabo. When we have possession inside 30 yards, we need multiple runs at their back line. There were times we didn’t have any runs. With players facing forward under no pressure, that’s generally a great time to make runs behind. That’s a focus of ours this week.”
NASHVILLE LOOKS TO REBOUND FROM HICCUP IN CHARLESTON
Going into the season, Nashville SC were looked at as the team that could potentially replicate what FC Cincinnati accomplished last season in the USL Championship.
FC Cincinnati, who were preparing to transition to MLS, built a powerhouse team that rolled through the USL regular season.
Preparing for its own jump to MLS, Nashville SC have a very good team this year, but they’ve hit a few bumps, most notably at Charleston last Saturday, losing 3-1. They currently sit in seventh place overall, with 10 points.
Nashville Head Coach Gary Smith was thoroughly unhappy with the team’s showing in its second loss of the season.
In particular, he was disappointed in the defensive effort from what has been a top notch back line.
“I thought the two center backs struggled all evening against a young center forward, coupled with the fact they played a slightly different shape,” Smith said. “That first goal was borne out of a slow start and getting to grips with the 3-4-3 they played which looked uncomfortable for the team. We were utterly embarrassed with the performance tonight defensively.”
That performance will have Smith to re-evaluating his line-up choices and tactics, putting his roster depth to the test in Pittsburgh.
The team the Hounds face this week could look a bit different than the one that got beaten at Charleston.
“I think looking at the opponent next week, it’s going to be a particular type of game,” Smith said after last week’s loss. “I expect a reaction from whoever is going to be out there. I would expect as a player anyone that played today should be concerned about their place in the team. There is no way a team of this caliber should be conceding three goals. I have to say I am bitterly disappointed with the way we conducted ourselves.”
Look for more on Nashville from Mark Goodman in this week’s upcoming Scouting Report.
RETURN OF WASHINGTON & MOLOTO
Two players that were essential parts of recent past Riverhounds teams, Lebo Moloto and Taylor Washington, will be returning to Highmark Stadium once again on Saturday in their second seasons with Nashville.
Moloto had a very strong first campaign in Nashville in 2018, scoring seven goals andearning second-team All-League status, even as he missed the final six games due to an injury.
When he was in Pittsburgh, in his first pro season in 2015, Moloto was part of the Hounds attacking midfield line that included Kevin Kerr and Rob Vincent. Moloto had a breakthrough campaign that season, registering seven goals and eight assists. He’s gone on to become one of the most dynamic attacking central midfielders in the USL over the course of the past five years with Swope Park Rangers and now in Nashville.
“Lebo has consistently shown that he is one of the top creative talents in USL,” said Smith. “His exciting and effective displays have been a catalyst for the team and an immediate connection for the fans.”
Thus far this season, Moloto has started every game, dishing out a pair of assists, but he’s still searching for his first goal.
Much a like Jose Angulo a few weeks ago, Moloto is another former Hound who’s scored his share of goals at Highmark, and can very well do it again.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) April 25, 2019
Washington, a speedy left winger who can also play at left back, has played three games this season, starting twice. The former first-round SuperDraft selection of Bethlehem Steel FC started 27 games a year ago, with 33 total appearances, one goal, and like when he was in Pittsburgh, was among team leaders in minutes played (2,382).
We’ll look forward to catching up with Moloto and Washington either before and/or after Saturday’s match.
DON’T BLAME IT ON THE RAIN
While it’s not expected to rain much of the night like it did in last week’s match, there’s a 70 percent chance we may see raindrops again at Highmark on Saturday.
And that’s fine with Dabo, who didn’t make the weather an excuse after last week’s 0-0 draw.
“Usually I don’t like excuses, you know? If it’s raining, it’s not only for us; it’s for both teams, you know?” Dabo explained. “We’re used to practicing here, so it’s the same thing. It wasn’t a bad game, but we can do better. Always better.
MORE CONTENT / COVERAGE OF NASHVILLE SC-HOUNDS
Just in case you missed Gajtka’s ‘View From the Booth’ this week, it’s a nice feature on Jordan Dover.
Rachael McKriger will be sharing a short feature on the Riverhounds’ first year pros. Look for that to drop sometime Friday.
Mark Goodman will be filing his weekly scouting report and game preview — and of course — we’ll be providing a live gameday blog.
I had an opportunity to provide my thoughts on the Hounds for Nashville-based ForClubandCounty.com.
I will be joining Gajtka in the booth on Saturday, and the two of us may also be popping up with a pregame segment on Pittsburgh Soccer Now’s Facebook page on Saturday before the game.
DON’T FORGET – 20th ANNIVERSARY OF HOUNDS FIRST-EVER GAME IS WEDNESDAY
Earlier this week, we announced that Pittsburgh Soccer Now contributor Patrick McCarthy digitized copy of the first-ever Riverhounds game will be shown at Piper’s Pub on Wednesday, May 1.
Some former Riverhounds will be on hand. We invite you to join us for a Meet and Greet and watch the game on the screens at Piper’s on Wednesday.