Through 75 minutes last Saturday in South Carolina, all was going according to plan for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
I’m sure most of the Hounds had that thought on the long ride home from the Palmetto State, considering how welcomed a road victory would’ve been prior to their second and final off week of the long USL Championship regular season.
We all know what happened in the final 15 minutes at MUSC Health Stadium. For the first time in 46 matches under Bob Lilley, — counting regular season, USL Cup playoffs and U.S. Open Cup — the Hounds were unable to convert a multi-goal lead into a win.
As a result, they’ll carry a two-sided body of work into a two-game week, with Open Cup play returning next Tuesday (vs. an old foe) before another road trip to face expansion Memphis 901 FC.
On one hand, Pittsburgh (2-1-5, 11 points) hasn’t lost since the opener nearly two months ago, carrying a seven-game unbeaten run that’s currently the second-longest in the 36-team league.
On the other hand, the Hounds haven’t won in three — since that entertaining home-opening defeat of Hartford — and 12 teams in the Eastern Conference hold more victories than they do.
More to the point, nearly a quarter of the way through the season, the Hounds sit in 11th place in the East. Due to continued expansion of the league, 10 teams now make the postseason in each conference. The situation is far from dire, and it’s early.
But it’s unmistakeable that the team has left some points on the table, a feeling only enhanced by the Battery’s two-goal comeback a few days ago.
Chew on this: In 37 games last season, the Hounds allowed the opposing team to equalize 10 times. Factor out the USL Cup game against Bethlehem and that number was eight equalizers conceded in 36 matches. Either way we slice it, the bad guys pulled even on the 2018 Hounds in one out of every four outings, roughly.
This season, Pittsburgh has given up four game-tying goals in eight matches. If math isn’t your thing, that’s one in every two games. To look at it another way, Lilley’s men have built six different leads this season, but have converted just two of those into wins.
(Note: The Hounds led on two separate occasions vs. Hartford, losing the first one on José Angulo’s thunderbolt before preserving the second advantage on Kevin Kerr’s thread-the-needle strike.)
With these facts in mind, it’s understandable if the Hounds are feeling the frustration at this juncture. The team will return to training Thursday morning at Highmark Stadium, hopefully with a refreshed mindset after four days away from the field.
If they’re looking for positives, there are certainly a few upon which to draw.
For one, they’ve led in four of the five road matches this season. For another, they’ve only been shut out twice in eight tries, and one of those was a rain-soaked draw against stingy Saint Louis FC. Overall, they’ve scored 1.5 goals per game, ahead of last year’s pace by about a quarter of a goal.
And seriously, how about that Kenardo Forbes volley in Charleston? That’s a play befitting a king … or a captain.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 4, 2019
But as the quartet of 2-2 draws would indicate, there’s been almost as much giveback on the back end as there has been success on the front end.
Specifically, the frantic way last Saturday’s match ended had to leave the Hounds scratching their heads, shaking them, or both. Especially for a team that prided itself in organization and team defense last summer, this has been an odd opening two months.
“I’m trying to get the best out of them,” Lilley told me after a training session last week. “I don’t think we’ve done that yet, so I think as a staff we have to push the right buttons.”
The Hounds aren’t out of it, not by any means. But they’re not really in it yet, either.
Sounds like a good time for a reboot.