The Riverhounds have now played eight matches this season, and have come away with four 2-2 draws.
And each has been very different.
After a back-and-forth affair at Swope Park, after they took a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute, the Hounds surrendered two goals in a short span, then rallied for a late goal in the 90th minute of a wild match in late March.
A week later, against Bethlehem Steel FC, the Hounds took 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first half, but again, it wasn’t enough, as they conceded a goal in the second half.
Last week, trailing 2-0, the Hounds rallied for two goals in the 87th and 91st minutes to salvage a point after what appeared to be certain defeat.
On Saturday, they flipped the script, and found a new way to end things with a 2-2 scoreline. This time they held a 2-0 lead but allowed the home team, Charleston Battery, back into the match after a penalty in the box in the 78th minute.
Look, these have been entertaining games to watch, that’s for sure, but if you’re Hounds head coach Bob Lilley, or a loyal supporter, it has to be frustrating to watch.
“I think it’s a game we’re going to regret right now, but we need to move forward,” Lilley said. “It’s typically a good result in Charleston. I thought we battled well. I thought we were ready to play. I thought we executed the game plan really well. In the second half, we lost our way a bit and they had the momentum when they got the penalty.”
Until the Hounds can put together more complete performances week in and week out, this year’s they’re going to be known as a Jeykll and Hyde outfit, truly worthy of a place in the middle to lower part of the standings where they currently sit.
KENARDO THE PLAY MAKER AWAKENS
This time around, the Hounds took the match to Charleston in the early going, with Kenardo Forbes stepping up into beast mode early in the match.
Despite last week’s valiant come-from-behind effort against Nashville, Forbes wasn’t very involved, playing in a deep holding spot in the central midfield for much of that match.
On Saturday, he was unleashed at the top of the attack as the Hounds came out with a pretty aggressive mindset to play it forward quickly out of a 5-4-1 formation.
With injuries to four players, namely Mouhamad Dabo, who’s started six of the first seven matches, and Steevan Dos Santos needing some rest after seven straight starts, Head Coach Bob Lilley made some changes to the Hounds starting eleven.
Lilley gave first-year pro Sammy Kahsai, who played collegiately at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), his first start, while he also inserted Christian Volesky into the starting line-up in place of Dos Santos.
After a clearance came forward into space for Forbes, the Hounds veteran midfielder delivered a terrific through ball for Kevin Kerr in the fifth minute for the early 1-0 lead.
It almost looked as if Kerr and Volesky would run into each other, but Forbes thread the needle on the pass that was intended for Kerr. Lilley wanted to see more from his attacking midfielders to make runs to get into the box on the end of things — and early in this match — it worked out.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 4, 2019
Instead of relying wholly on possession using the width, the Hounds were working through the middle gaps a bit more and were playing more narrow as a unit. Overall, they only attempted seven crosses in the match, which was a bit of a change from the 33 they attempted the week before.
With Kahsai sitting in front of the central back three of Vanceyezeele, Joe Greenspan and Tobi Adewole, Forbes had more room to roam higher up where he sat between Kerr and Anthony Velarde.
Only seven minutes later, Forbes scored his first goal of the season, on only his third shot attempt, flicking a neatly played Ryan James bending forward cross over Charleston goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky and into goal for the 2-0 lead.
It was a similarly played ball that the Hounds scored on last week when Volesky redirected a sharp, forward bending ball in from Dover.
This ball from James though, was lofted a little higher, then took a bounce and came toward Forbes making a run to the left side of the box. It looked like Forbes might overrun the ball, but the Jamaican used his instincts to put the outside of his right foot onto the bouncing ball, and redirect it into a spot where Kuzminsky didn’t have a chance.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 4, 2019
There’s only one player I’ve seen in my time covering the Hounds that has been as clever and dangerous from the left wide spot in the same way — and that was Matt Dallman, who led the USL with a then league-record 12 assists in the Hounds inaugural season at Highmark Stadium in 2013.
It’s no coincidence that James and Forbes are tied with the team lead in assists, with three each after Saturday.
And just like that, the Hounds were up 2-0 only 12 minutes into the match.
Kahsai showed lots of good things in the first half too, particularly his ability to cover ground, and win balls in the middle, and quickly redistribute to those aforementioned play makers: Forbes and James.
Volesky’s work rate was solid, and while he didn’t have as many touches as we’ve seen from Dos Santos, he was drawing a lot of attention from Charleston’s back line, which opened things up for Kerr to get in on the first goal.
If you look at the stats, the first half was fairly evenly played, but the difference was the Hounds ability to generate and capitalize on its chances in the box.
1st half key stats:
Even carrying a two-goal lead, and with a frustrated Charleston side accumulating yellow cards at a rapid pace, the Hounds couldn’t put the game out of reach.
The best opportunity to extend the lead came when Volesky was on the end of a nice Forbes ball in the 62nd minute, but his header went wide. There were a few more services into the box that the Hounds failed to convert, and instead of taking a commanding lead, they let Charleston hang around.
As usual, James was very active in possession and build-up on the left flank most of the game. Instead of settling for longer passes forward, James made 49 short passes, second to Forbes (55) in the match.
When the Hounds had to take out Kahsai, who looked to tire, and was struggling to connect passes midway through the second half, Lilley opted to slide James into the central midfield, and put Uchenna Uzo in the left back spot that James had occupied.
DEFENSIVE LETDOWNS — AGAIN
After taking a 2-0 lead, the Hounds did a pretty good job in bottling up the Charleston attack through the next 60 minutes or so.
The game plan, as Lilley pointed out, was going well.
What happened in the final 20 minutes left a lot to be desired.
While Charleston wasn’t creating much in getting into the final third, what they started to do with energy from a few new subs, was start to press the Hounds back line a bit more, and send a few more cross attempts from the width after the 60th minute that would start to make the Hound back line and goalkeeper Kyle Morton feel a bit uneasy and scramble on some plays.
In the 75th minute, with the Hounds surrounding the box with reinforcements, the Battery attempted a simple build-up from the right side. The ball made its way just inside the right edge, where Vancaeyezeele inexplicably got tangled up with Nicque Daley — and was called — correctly for a foul in the box.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) May 5, 2019
Zeiko Lewis buried the penalty — and suddenly the entire momentum of the match swung to the home side.
Charleston kept bringing pressure.
The Hounds responded by bringing on a few attacking players, Neco Brett and Steevan Dos Santos to replace Volesky and Velarde, who had covered a lot of ground.
They moved into the final third on one sequence, and after Forbes went in hard for 50/50 ball, and fell to the ground, Charleston quickly mounted a counter-attack along the left side.
Again it was Daley at the end of it. James got caught behind Daley as he worked his way from the far left side, then cutting between Vancaeyezeele and Greenspan without too much resistance.
Daley then lifted a shot past Morton, and the match was tied.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) May 5, 2019
The Hounds were still rattled after surrendering the PK goal, and this time they allowed a late game sub get deep into the box. There appeared to be some indecision between Vancaeyezeele and Greenspan.
Give Daley credit, his burst of speed appeared to take both Tommy V and Big Joe by surprise.
Vancaeyezeele had just been called for a foul in the box, so he was probably a bit gun shy about challenging, and Greenspan just left room too much room to his right instead of cutting off Daley’s angle — and then couldn’t react quick enough.
Adewole was sitting there in the center of the box too, but there wasn’t much he or goalkeeper Morton could do at that point, especially with a nice finish from Daley.
There are no easy explanations for the Hounds continued defensive lapses. As a group for long stretches they defend together very well, but continued lapses are coming in different ways. Last week it was on set pieces, and this time around it was late in the match
All it takes is one or two moments.
That’s all that Charleston needed to salvage a point, and for the Hounds to be left continuing to look up in the early season standings and wondering how they can get better.
On the bright side, they’ve only lost one game all season, but they’ve only won twice with five of eight matches ending level. In the preseason, I did predict 16 draws for the Hounds this season, but that was anticipated more 0-0 and 1-1 results.
I didn’t expect four 2-2 draws. I don’t think anyone did.
Once again, it’s back to the drawing board with a lot of work to do.
Kyle Morton – 5 – kept up with his goals against average of two per game. Though, the goals in this one weren’t his fault.
Ryan James – 7 – past few games, he’s starting to emerge and get real comfortable in his role with this team. I am just wondering though, if he would be more suited as a winger in a 3-4-3 or a 4-4-2.
Tobi Adewole – 5.5 – pretty steady throughout along back line, plus his 83 percent passing accuracy is nearly 20 points higher than anyone in the back line.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 3.5 – just like Greenspan, Vancaeyezeele fills all the boxes with solid work most of the night (four clearances and team high four interceptions), but committed an unnecessary foul that set up the penalty, then wasn’t able to close down Daley on the equalizer. Tough night for Tommy V.
Joe Greenspan – 4 – on paper, contributions are invaluable (8 clearances, two interceptions and won majority of duels). But…. one bad clearance was blocked by Arthur Bosua near end of first half, almost resulting in breakaway chance for Charleston. Greenspan hustled back after Bosua beat him to the ball, and he fouled the Charleston attacker. Was also beaten by Daley on the second goal.
Jordan Dover – 6 – again, steady at the wheel.
Kevin Kerr – 6 – Keeps climbing up in the record books. Nice job on the goal to make the run, then quickly get shot away with defender on his back and almost running into Volesky.
Kenardo Forbes – 8 – was in top form early in the match — and nearly assisted on another goal or two. Good things happen when he’s inaggressive play making mode.
Sammy Kahsai – 6 – decent debut for the rookie. Kept things simple, mostly short passes, and made a few clearances.
Uchenna Uzo (70′) – 5 – filled in on left back side, as James moved to central midfield.
Anthony Velarde – 5 – seems to disappear for long stretches as right side attacking midfielder underneath Volesky. Maybe partially because he wasn’t winning his battles to keep the ball (won 4 of 18 duels).
Neco Brett (80′) – NR – quiet, very few touches, opportunities in final ten minutes because Hounds were mostly chasing the Battery at that point.
Christian Volesky – 5.5 – missed header chance wide and had two other shots off target. Did a solid work in high press and doing dirty work for 80 minutes.
Steevan Dos Santos (79’) – NR – was brought in before second goal to relieve Volesky.
There will be no league match next weekend for Pittsburgh, and with a U.S. Open Cup match on Tuesday, May 14 looming, the injured players (Dabo, Caleb Smith, Ben Lundgaard and Prosper Figbe) will have a chance to get healthy and Lilley can provide opportunities to those players who have not had a lot of time on the field thus far.
Depending on the winner of the first round match between Erie Commodores FC and Dayton Dutch Lion on Tuesday, the squad will either travel to Erie or stay home at Highmark Stadium to battle Dayton. The next league match will be Saturday, May 18, at Memphis 901.