FINAL – Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 0, Charlotte Independence 0
STARTING ON THE FRONT FOOT
The first 24 minutes of Saturday’s match between the Riverhounds SC and Charlotte Independence played out with Pittsburgh dominating in most areas. The Hounds out-possessed the Independence 59%-41%, posted 4-0 (1-0 on target) shots and 7-0 crosses advantages, and were knocking on the door numerous times.
Then the sky darkened, lightning struck and then the hard rain followed. The teams would have to sit through a one-hour and six minute weather delay. For the Hounds, it was the second consecutive week they’ve sat through a long delay. This delay began at 7:33 p.m.
“It’s a credit to the players, they were very good at the beginning of the game. We try to stay prepared in these delays, we had Memphis and never had a chance to go back,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds head coach, said. “Typically that’s the mentality you want from your players.”
Finally, around 8:39 p.m., the teams resumed play. The Hounds continued to press, and were the better side.
Lilley came out with a familiar formation (5-4-1), but always looking to come up with tactical adjustments, tweaked things a bit. He moved Greenspan into the middle of the back line, with Thomas Vancaeyezeele to his right, and Tobi Adewole to his left.
“In wide areas, they are much more explosive in one-v-one areas. Very good servers of the ball, to keep Joe a little more central for those header moments, although they didn’t generate a lot today. Also, to cover out flank areas, that’s a little bit more Thomas’ and Tobi’s alley,” Lilley explained after the match.
Also of note, making third straight starts (although the one last week in Memphis didn’t count) were two guys who’ve certainly shown they can play at this level, and help this team: Robbie Mertz in central midfield and Austin Pack in goal.
In the first 36 minutes of the match, the Hounds were in complete control of the match, only allowing a few Charlotte advances into the final third, and very few, if any, touches anywhere near the box.
DOUBLE YELLOW = RED
Sometimes, all it takes is one play to turn the complexion of a match, especially one which neither team has scored.
Ten minutes after the match resumed, Hounds center back Joe Greenspan was sent off in the 36th minute after a second yellow card, when he slipped at midfield — then had an intentional handball to prevent a Charlotte breakaway.
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) May 26, 2019
Red card to Greenspan on Memorial Day.
— Steel Army (@SteelArmy) May 26, 2019
The replay clearly showed that after Greenspan reached out with his arm after he had fallen, and redirected the ball away.
It was a deserved second yellow. His first, earlier in the match set up Charlotte’s lone threat to that point, when he clipped the ever-dangerous” two-time USL MVP award finalist Enzo Martinez about 35 yards from goal.
“He could have been playing in the center, or in another spot, and it could have happened,” Lilley said when asked about his tactical change to move Greenspan into the middle of the back three.
Greenspan will sit out next Saturday’s match vs Indy, but ironically, can play in the U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday, against, that’s right — you guessed it — Indy.
BEING A MAN DOWN DOES NOT MEAN SITTING BACK
A closer look at the game’s final result, conventional wisdom might be that the Hounds would have been content to sit back after Greenspan was sent off.
“It is not easy when you go a man down especially when it is Joe. He is so keen on the backline,” Vancaeyezeele said “I feel like the energy of the team went up and stayed focused on the ball. We had a lot of energy because we were pressing super high. I felt like we didn’t feel like we were a man down. We had a lot of chances and opportunities to score. I think we should have won the game. I think it is still a decent result to tie the game.”
To Vancaeyezeele’s point, the Hounds brought continued pressure.
At the end of the match they held significant edges in crosses (17-7), corners (11-3) and shots (15-6, 3-1 on target), although they naturally conceded the overall possession (52/48) as the match wore on.
Post match with @RiverhoundsSC Thomas Vancaeyezeele on what it was like playing a man down…
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) May 26, 2019
Kenardo Forbes dropped deeper, and for stretches, dropped into the middle of the back line, while the Hounds asked the remaining midfielders to cover a lot of space.
Veteran midfielders Kevin Kerr and Neco Brett playing above Mertz and Forbes tucked a bit tighter into formation, but the group’s movement and rotations off the ball was excellent throughout the match, and they stayed very well organized, fortifying the middle, but showed patience in building possession and were taking chances. They particularly deferred to Kerr and Forbes — and even Vancaeyezeele (team highs: 87 touches and 69 total passes) to start a lot of the possession to build the ball out of the back. Kerr was pretty sharp (85% passing accuracy) and created three chances.
Though he had less touches (per minute) than Kerr and Forbes, Mertz was really solid. He had the team’s highest passing accuracy (92%), showing fantastic stamina playing the full 90.
“We asked the midfielders to cover a lot of ground — and to their credit — they kept playing hard, kept possessions and were on the front foot,” Lilley said,as the Hounds morphed into a proactive 5-3-1 for the remainder of the match.
Another sign of the Hounds aggressiveness in this match, especially in the first half, pointed to total fouls.
In addition to Greenspan’s deserved infractions, this officiating crew, headed up by Alejandro Mariscal, dished out 11 foul calls against Pittsburgh in the first half (Charlotte only had four). The teams would be a more even 8-7 in the second half, but the Hounds didn’t back down at any point in this match.
The hosts continued to push the envelope despite playing a man down as efforts by Forbes (a few dangerous free kicks including one in the 48th minute that nearly went in) and substitute Steevan Dos Santos were both saved by the 18-year-old Charlotte keeper Curtis Anderson, who kept his first clean sheet of the season in the draw.
As the match approached the 90th minute, outside back Jordan Dover took a boot in the head from Charlotte’s forward Niki Jackson. Dover remained on the ground as he needed medical attention, and eventually came off the field on his own, but was walking gingerly. Uchenna Uzo replaced Dover.
In the closing seconds of stoppage time, the Hounds earned a corner kick opportunity. Robbie Mertz took the honors, but lofted a ball just over the head of Ryan James and it sailed out of play right before the final whistle.
“We generated a lot of good moments in the 2nd half and probably had seven or eight corners,” said Head Coach Bob Lilley. “It shows we’re getting better, it shows we’re not happy with draws. I know it ended in a draw, but we certainly weren’t playing for a draw and that’s the mindset we want going forward.”
Still, as outlined in Matt Harkins’ post-game reaction feature, Riverhounds SC’s (2-1-6, 12 points) sixth draw of the season left players and coaches feeling pretty unfulfilled despite being the better team.
When asked in the post-game meet-up with the media, if he would look at this as a moral victory for the Hounds, Lilley elaborated on his team’s valiant effort, but didn’t mince his words.
“I think they’ll probably be disappointed. I’m only disappointed because I thought we did enough that we could have won tonight. I’m certainly not disappointed in how we played or the effort of the guys,” Lilley added. “It’s not morals, it’s progress.”
Riverhounds SC takes on Indy Eleven in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Highmark Stadium, then will have a return match with the Eleven in Indianapolis on Saturday in USL Championship league match.
#PITvCLT PLAYER GRADES
Austin Pack – 7 – his first-ever USL Championship clean sheet. Came off the line quickly when he needed to, and made a solid save.
Joe Greenspan – 3 – getting sent off in 36 minute means some deductions here, though even his coach acknowledged that he had to do something to prevent a possible easy breakaway attempt.
Tobi Adewole – 6 – solid night. Not put into too many dangerous spots, but did his job.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 7 – solid night for Tommy V. He was very confident playing out of the back, and seemed better on the right side of the middle three and as previously noted, very involved in helping play the ball out from the back.
Jordan Dover – 7 – incredibly active on the right side — as he also had a lot of touches (76). Was instrumental in winning balls (four winning tackles) and solid in defending. Injured in 89th minute though may be a concern.
Ryan James – 7 – maybe his best game defending. Won numerous 50/50 balls, had three tackles and still delivered a few crosses — with one chance created.
Uchenna Uzo – NR – came in 90th minute for Dover
Kevin Kerr – 7 – solid start for the veteran as noted above.
Kenardo Forbes – 8 – in games like this, we can see how valuable Forbes is — where he can display his versatility and ability to lead a club on the field when playing down a man.
Robbie Mertz – 7 – while not getting tons of touches, he’s quickly showing he can be a solid two-way central midfielder at this level.
Neco Brett– 5 – mostly quiet night for Neco (only 27 touches), but had one shot from side and was busy tucking back and staying organized.
Anthony Velarde – 5.5 – thought he looked a little shaky in first few minutes, but then asserted himself well, as one of the fresher bodied Hounds, helped keep some possessions alive and generate chances late in match.
Christian Volesky – 5.5 – won three free kicks, only two shots that missed. Played the full 90 and was covering a lot of ground, and was struggling late in match.
Steevan Dos Santos – 6 – came in later in match but made his energy and presence felt in final third. Had a solid shot attempt on frame, but his coach pointed out after that he took shot near post side which made it easier for the keeper to make the save. It was a helluva blast thought. Header attempt from one of corners also went over bar. Let the team in shots (3) even though only played 14 minutes.
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) May 26, 2019