Editors note –Sorry this is a little bit later than usual, but here’s the analysis/player grades for the Hounds 2-1 loss at Indy, as I was out of town, out of sight and out of touch with this match due to an out-of-town wedding.
The Riverhounds SC had a tough task on Saturday.
They had to travel to Indianapolis to take on one of the USL Championship’s most talented clubs with a deep roster, after beating the same side three days prior. And three days before, the Hounds didn’t play it’s best soccer, and Head Coach Bob Lilley‘s forewarning that if they weren’t more aggressive from the start of the match, they could be in trouble.
The Hounds asserted themselves well for much of the match, but watched another lead dissipate.
Pittsburgh came out for the second straight match with a 5-3-2 formation, that held a fairly high line and was aimed at conceding possession and keeping Indy’s attack out on the width.
Early on, with both teams trying to get into some kind of rhythm, Ryan James aptly anticipated Indy’s efforts to play the ball out of the back to the right side of midfield, intercepting a few passes in the first 10 minutes.
In the 16th minute, Uchenna Uzo was next to step up and take away a short Eleven pass attempt at midfield, and this time he made Indy pay.
The Hounds’ center back, making his first USL start with the club, took off into open space and into the final third until he ran into a few defenders near the corner of the 18. Uzo then turned back, and found Kenardo Forbes.
The Hounds were persistent in countering with numbers into the box on this sequence, allowing Forbes to connect with forward Christian Volesky in the box, who kept the ball alive with a few defenders on his back, then laid it off to Robbie Mertz who stepped just inside the 18, took a touch, then delivered a perfect strike into the back of the next.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) June 1, 2019
It was a well-organized response to an Indy giveaway at midfield. This is exactly what Lilley wanted his club to do most of its previous match in U.S. Open Cup play, but mostly failed to do so until late in that match. Just 16 minutes into Saturday’s match, the Hounds took the lead thanks to a well-executed counter-attack.
Indy were fairly active on the width, particularly former Hound Tyler Pasher who was bringing run after run on the left side. In all, Indy sent 27 crosses into the box on the night, while the Hounds only served seven balls into the box.
The Hounds back three were pretty solid all night. They handled the bulk of the team’s 29 clearances.
Indy hadn’t let up a goal all season at home, and hadn’t surrendered a goal in a league match since April, yet Pittsburgh broke through for the game’s first goal, and within a stretch of 25 minutes between two games, had beaten the Eleven twice.
On the flip side, goals were very hard for Indy to find coming into the match — and for much of this match. They hadn’t scored a goal in league play for nearly a month, and through 160 minutes of action on Wednesday and Saturday, the Hounds were keeping them at bay.
The problems for Pittsburgh were two-fold: its inability to throw the knockout second goal punch (which they showed signs) and because they conceded so much possession (and didn’t string together enough possession of its own), they didn’t have enough energy to make a solid late push when they fell behind. Editors note: Indy won the possession battle 63%-37%
Volesky had two solid efforts at the end of the first half, then the Hounds came out at the beginning of the second half generating some decent advances, but came up short.
Eventually, with Indy owning the ball for long stretches, and with the quality players on its roster, it was just a matter of time before they would score.
One of those quality players was second-half substitute Kenny Walker, a guy that Hounds fans may remember from wearing the Blue & Orange FC Cincinnati colors.
The Hounds packed the box with defenders, forcing Indy to try to create much from the width.
In this instance, in the 71st minute, the 18 was fairly well fortified, but after a cross in from Pasher on the left side eventually came out and made its way to Walker, the former FC Cincy standout buried a laser shot into the upper left side for his first goal with Indy.
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) June 2, 2019
Other than maybe having one of the back-tracking midfielders or forward close out the dangerous Walker before he took the shot, there wasn’t much the Hounds could do about that one.
Ten minutes later, Pasher gave the Eleven the lead.
The Hounds didn’t do a great job of clearing the ball.
Volesky had it, but elected to play it back to Uzo, who couldn’t quite clear the ball away from danger. Indy proceeded to ping the ball around the Hounds line of defense, from right side of the field to the left, eventually getting it to Pasher, who used a great burst of speed to get behind another first-year pro making his first USL Championship start, Dani Rovira, on the edge of the Hounds’ five-man back line.
Once behind Rovira, Pasher went top shelf to beat goalkeeper Austin Pack on a tough-angle shot to bring the score to 2-1.
First-year Forward Mark Forrest, made an inauspicious debut after subbing into the match in the 79th minute. The former Lehigh University was issued a red card in second-half stoppage time after an elbow caused Neveal Hackshaw to go down to the mat.
It was deja vu for the Hounds in Indy. For the second time in as many games played at Lucas Oil Stadium, as last year it was Ray Lee who was sent off last August, the Hounds had to finish the match a man down.
It was very tempting when I saw the result of this match to pen together a more biting analysis of this Hounds result, but considering Indy’s talent, desperation — and being at home — this one was going to be a tough match to close out.
Lilley knew it would be a challenge to come away with points in Indy.
“We knew it would be tough coming here and they would raise the tempo,” head coach Bob Lilley said. “I think we did really well the first 20-25 minutes of the second half. I think we needed to do a better job finding outlets, so we can hang on to possession. We defended for much of the second half.”
Looking on the bright side
Injuries to Mouhamad Dabo and Jordan Dover in particular, and with Joe Greenspan sitting out due to a previous red card, forced Lilley to give some additional players extended playing time in this match.
Win or lose, it was probably good that spme of these players had a chance to play in a match on the road, before more than 10,000 fans.
The emergence of Mertz as a key piece of the Hounds midfield has been a welcomed sight for Pittsburgh soccer fans. The Upper St. Clair native has continued to see significant playing time, having started every match since the U.S. Open Cup 2nd round vs Dayton.
Mertz’s run of play culminated with his goal — as he’s made the most of his chance to play for his hometown team.
The Hounds also saw Rovira get the nod in place of Dover, and he had his share of ups and downs throughout the match. There were some nice moments early in the second half, as Lilley eluded, where the Hounds were looking dangerous enough to create a two-goal lead.
You could say that Forrest was unlucky in his first-ever appearance, getting sent off for elbowing Hackshaw, a Trinidad & Tobago international, who was an irresistible force for much of the night among Indy’s three-man power backline. And now, the former two-time Patriot League Player of the Year, who didn’t start the season with the team due to finishing up his degree at Lehigh University, got an early introduction to the cruel reality of pro soccer.
While he’s no stranger to playing at this level, Uzo also was provided a chance to step into the central back-three to develop some much needed in-game experience with Vancaeyezeele, Adewole and the rest of his teammates.
When the Hounds are making a final push at the end of the regular season, some of these minutes for these players may prove to be critical.
If you said to me at the beginning of the season, the Hounds would’ve had an eight=game league unbeaten string snapped on June 1, and they also won two Open Cup matches to advance to take on a MLS club, the season would have to be an early success.
Plain and simple, at some point, this team is going to have to start picking up wins.
After 10 league matches, they only have two W’s.
A draw against Indy after winning the Open Cup match wouldn’t have been the worst result, but at some point, Pittsburgh’s going to have to start to string together some victories and build up some points to get back into playoff position.
This team has proven that it can play with some of the better (uh high payroll) sides in the Eastern Conference (i.e. Louisville, Charleston, Nashville, Indy) but also settle for draws against teams that are struggling (i.e. Charlotte Independence).
It’s still not time to panic. It is about time for the Hounds to pull together a string of wins.
In June, they’ll be at home for three of its next four league matches, starting Saturday against Ottawa Fury FC.
As the past few weeks have proven, there are no easy games in the current USL Championship.
“This is a tough place to play,” Lilley said, “I think it’s important for us to keep it in perspective and get back to work.”
They certainly have work to do.
Austin Pack – 5 – Lilley went right back to Pack, even after Kyle Morton‘s clean sheet on Wednesday in the Open Cup. Pack really had no chance on the first goal, and would’ve needed an amazing, quick reaction save to stop the game winner.
Daniel Rovira – 4 – Pasher kept Rovira very busy all night long, while the first-year pro showed some good decision making, passing and anticipation when getting forward, eventually Pasher did get behind Rovira for the game-winner.
Tobi Adewole – 6 – Without Joe Greenspan, the Hounds still provided a solid central defending unit, with Adewole doing his part well.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 5.5 – Tommy V was solid in the center of the back in terms of winning his battles, positioning and holding a high line. Even showed some impressive close down speed on a couple of occasions, but unlike previous games when he was effective in helping possess out of the back, he only had 47 percent passing accuracy and only made 19 passes.
Ucchena Uzo – 6- after all he’s been through with bad injury (broken leg in 2017), in his first league start he made an immediate impact with interception that led to Mertz goal.
Ryan James – 5 – on this night, he was a bit all over the place. Sometimes was terrific in anticipating passes (five interceptions), or too aggressive when he was the first defender to the ball. The Hounds only sent seven crosses total in this match, and it said a lot about how this match to see James not be involved in any crosses.
Robbie Mertz – 6 – first pro goal early in match. Was quiet for much of the rest of the match, mostly tucking back into his team’s overall defensive shape. Started to tire near end of match.
Kevin Kerr – 5.5 – kind of a mixed bag. Used up a lot of energy playing really high in formation between Dos Santos and Volesky for long stretches, but only had 17 total passes the entire 60 minutes he was in the match.
Kenardo Forbes – 5.5 – when he’s less assertive in the attack, the Hounds don’t create as many chances. On this night he played deeper, and probably had to do so. His 44 passes weren’t enough and much were from defending side of the field. If anyone can be the catalyst for this team, it should be Kenny Forbes.
Steeven Dos Santos – 4.5 – nearly connected on corner in 30th minute to crowded near post area, had another missed header. Still, he did his usual work to draw four fouls, but otherwise couldn’t create any dynamic moments. Case in point, right after the Walker goal, Dos Santos broke behind a few Indy players with the ball, and had Volesky making a run to his left. Instead of laying forward a ball that Volesky could’ve caught in stride in the box, elected to trudge forward, then had his ball poked away.
Christian Volesky – 6 – nice job holding up ball, then finding Mertz on assist. Also created a few dangerous moments at the end of the first half, and solid work rate for full match.
Noah Franke – 4.5 – Hounds needed his energy in the second half, but he wasn’t too involved or disruptive of Indy’s possession and wasn’t able to be part of generating a moment late in the match like he did on Wednesday.
Mark Forrest – NR – a red card for what might have been an inadvertent elbow is not exactly great pro debut.
Neco Brett – NR – came in very late