Final: Pittsburgh 5, Atlanta United 2 0 (#ATLvPIT Analysis & Player Grades)
Shortly after the Riverhounds SC lost to Columbus Crew, 1-0, last Tuesday, I was asked by Matt Gajtka on Pittsburgh Postgame podcast where I thought the club was trending at that moment.
Not having won in league play since April 13, my assessment heading into Saturday’s meeting with Atlanta United 2, was that the Hounds were a team stuck in the mud. Blown second half leads and settling for seven draws in its first 11 matches put this team behind the eight ball, sitting down in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings a little less than halfway through the season.
It was clear to me that the Hounds needed to get a lead — and hold it. It would be imperative to play a complete match where they were in control from start to finish.
Sure enough, on Saturday night in Kennesaw Georgia, the Hounds took the first step toward getting out of the mud and finally delivered an impressive win, thumping ATLUTD2 by a 5-0 scoreline.
Starting out with three goals in the first 14 minutes, then putting the clamps on the rest of the way, the Hounds finally bucked its trend of inconsistent performances and inability to close out games.
Oh sure, Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley could point to a few moments of displeasure against a team full of talented, but not very cohesive MLS reserve players, but ultimately the Hounds scored early, and did more than enough to frustrate ATL’s young players into making numerous mistakes leading to the dominant Pittsburgh win.
“It helps when you get the early goal,” Lilley said. “I think we were energized by that and got a couple other goals. We looked hungry to go forward. I don’t think we played the last 25 minutes of the first half very well. Fortunately, we didn’t give up a goal or it could have changed the dynamic of the game.”
“I think overall it is a great result. It is never easy to get three points on the road.”
Tactically, technically and physically, Hounds outclassed Atlanta UTD2
Once again, the Hounds came out in a familiar 5-3-2 formation that they’ve employed especially since Robbie Mertz has entered as a regular starter, and Mouhamed Dabo‘s been out with an injury.
While going into the match, the Hounds were willing to concede possession, which they did by a 59%-41% margin.
Actually, this was a fascinating box score to review after the match. Atlanta ended the match with 86% passing accuracy, ending up with just nine shots, and only two on target.
The Hounds dominated the match in most every other area.
But most importantly, they were extremely sharp and efficient when they did have the ball. The Hounds completed 81% of its passes, which was one of its better efforts in keeping the ball.
What a terrific performance from the midfield trio of Mertz, Kevin Kerr (96% passing accuracy!) and Kenardo Forbes (94% passing accuracy!) masterfully making a lot of nice decisions with pinpoint passing as they dissected the ATLUTD2 midfield, they were extremely dangerous on the counter and took advantage of a few breaks against team that struggled to tighten things up.
With just 41% possession, the Hounds still managed 17 shots — with six on target. While he didn’t score a goal, Forbes was the table setter, creating seven chances and team leading 83 touches and 66 passes.
Within 15 minutes, Pittsburgh found itself in unfamiliar territory in 2019 — with a 3-0 lead.
Mertz fired a dangerous ball that redirected into goal. Steevan Dos Santos pounced quickly enough on a loose ball in front of goal after a Neco Brett shot was denied by Dylan Castanheira, but wasn’t secured. Atlanta’s defense was still a wreck and reeling, and they left the wrong guy, Brett, with too much time and space to put forth a hard finish from close range.
On the defensive side, the Hounds were extremely effective in limiting ATLUTD2’s chances as they stayed well-organized and for the first time this year did something that’s synonymous with Lilley coached teams over the years – they used physical play to force its will in this match. (62% duels success rate, and even more lopsided in aerial duels – 79% and twice as many tackles 18-9 with tackles success rate of 78%).
Atlanta’s young play makers didn’t exert enough patience. Playing out of the back, ATLUTD seemed fine, with precise passing they neutralized a lighter than usual Hounds press. Once getting near the attacking third, they got sucked into trying to penetrate past Hounds midfielders and defenders mostly off the dribble numerous times, and were stopped cold time-after-time. Atlanta pretty much ignored using the width, sending in only four crosses all game.
The second half, the Hounds scored twice more in the later stages, as Thomas Vancaeyezeele‘s nifty flick got just inside the goal — as the official, without the benefit of goal line technology, immediately awarded the goal to Pittsburgh. The Hounds scored its final goal thanks to substitute Christian Volesky‘s cross, which was redirected into goal by an ATLUTD2 defender.
It was that kind of night for the Hounds.
I’m sure they’ll take it. They needed it. Yes, they got some breaks, but the Hounds looked like a veteran team playing with a sense of urgency to pick up a much needed three points.
Could this be the beginning of things to come, or was it a matter of feasting and dominating an inferior opponent?
The latter was definitely the case, but if a struggling team is going to turn its season around, this is a great way to get started.
For those of you who choose to look at the standings at this point in the season, maybe the one thing to really follow closely is goal differential. The ‘stuck in the mud’ Hounds were teetering right at a big fat, mediocre zero prior to this win. Now, they’ve jumped into seventh overall in the Eastern Conference with a plus-5. In addition, with just 12 games played, they have numerous games at hand, while many teams have already played 14 or 15 games.
Next up, they’ll face a tougher MLS ‘reserve’ team, NY Red Bulls II, that knows how to win at this level and will provide an entirely different challenge. The second place Red Bulls II (28 points) have outscored opponents 8-1 in its last three games — and are tops in the Eastern Conference in that all important goal differential (plus-16).
If the Hounds (16 points, now good for 11th place, just one spot below playoff line) can shut down the Baby Bulls, then, I’ll say the Hounds will be back on the right track and trending back in a direction where they want to be. In the top half of the standings before mid-season arrives.
With that, we have lots of positive stickers to hand out on this week’s report card.
Kyle Morton – 7 – couple of saves in making his second straight start.
Ryan James – 7 – even though wasn’t involved in any goals, had second most touches working ball up on left side and took care of his defensive responsibilities, with a team leading four tackles and
Tobi Adewole – 7 – plays ball so well out of back with his feet. Added four clearances and three interceptions.
Joe Greenspan – 7 – solid night defending, and even picked up an assist
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 7 – strong and mistake free in the back. Nice bounce back after his last start.
Noah Franke – 7 – solid start, defending and getting forward on right side (3 tackles, 3 fouls won in transition).
Robbie Mertz – 7 – another goal for the Pittsburgh kid. His chemistry with two veterans, Kerr and Forbes is getting better and better.
Kenardo Forbes – 9 – pretty much had his way all night vs inexperienced Atlanta United midfield. His stats as noted above tell how much he was having his way.
Kevin Kerr – 7 – not in the scoring column, but like Forbes, was out-classing ATLUTD2’s defenders/midfield all match long.
Sammy Kahsai -(85′) – N/R – came in mop up time, giving Kerr a well-earned rest
Neco Brett – 8 – making the most of his chances and touches. Only touched the ball 16 times, had four shots, three on target. One resulted in a goal, other was well-taken and Dos Santos finished off. Showed again why he’s the Hounds most reliable clinical finisher.
Christian Volesky (74′) – 7.5 – if there’s a statistic for most goals (or penalties) created without getting credit in a season and for having positive impact between minutes 75-90 this season, Volesky would corner that prize. This time around it was a dangerous cross into box that resulted in an own goal.
Steevan Dos Santos – 7 – as the second forward, did a lot of the dirty work, drawing fouls along with a goal and an assist. Finished off the second goal by cleaning up the garbage, provided the pass into Brett on the third goal. Work rate was strong. Only one of four shots were on target — and a few failed headers in particular stood out. Getting back into defensive shape, keeping up with trend of one or two unnecessary fouls per game.
Anthony Velarde (74′) – 6.5 – provided 15 plus solid minutes, created a chance and stayed on par with the rest of the team’s high level passing accuracy.
Subs not used: Ben Lundgaard, Mark Forrest, Dani Rovira, Uchenna Uzo