After a four-game win streak pushed the Riverhounds SC out of the bottom half of the standings and back into contention, they were dealt a stern reminder of how difficult it is to win five games in a row and navigate through a grueling 34-game regular season on Sunday, when the Hounds streak ended in Charlotte with a 1-0 loss.
The Hounds will have to wait until next year (or maybe in the playoffs?) to finally beat the Independence, a franchise they have never beaten in 11 tries.
Squad rotation provides mixed results
Roster management through an eight month campaign provides challenges for any club and coaching staff.
With two games in a four-game span last week, Riverhounds SC head coach Bob Lilley opted to spread minutes out as evenly as he possibly could between Thursday’s home match (1-0 win vs Bethlehem Steel FC), and Sunday’s road match at Charlotte.
Let’s take a closer look at Lilley’s line-up selections in these matches:
vs Bethlehem Steel (7/4/19)
GK – Kyle Morton; D – Joe Greenspan, Tobi Adewole, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Dani Rovira, Jordan Dover;, MF – Sammy Kahsai, Kevin Kerr, Kenardo Forbes; F – Steevan Dos Santos, Christian Volesky. Subs used: Ryan James, Mark Forrest & Robbie Mertz.
vs Charlotte (7/7/19)
GK – Austin Pack, D – Joe Greenspan, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Uchenna Uzo, Noah Franke, Ryan James; MF – Robbie Mertz, Anthony Velarde, Kenardo Forbes; F – Mark Forrest, Neco Brett. Subs used: Jordan Dover, Kevin Kerr, Steevan Dos Santos
When asked after the Bethlehem win about his line-up selections, he clearly stated he wanted to spread out the minutes as much is he could, breaking up the same line-up that has been used through its previous three wins. That line-up — especially at the top of the attack — included a top five featuring Steevan Dos Santos and Neco Brett as forwards, with Robbie Mertz, Kevin Kerr and Kenardo Forbes as three midfielders.
For Thursday’s match, Lilley kept Dos Santo, Kerr and Forbes in the line-up, but added Christian Volesky alongside Dos Santos, and put Sammy Kahsai with Kerr and Forbes in the midfield.
“We’ve had some injuries earlier in the year. Steven (Dos Santos) and Neco (Brett) have had a good thing going. We put Christian (Volesky) in there tonight. Maybe he’s the best we have getting behind defenses. But, we didn’t quite have the synergy tonight when we went forward,” Lilley explained after the win over Steel FC as Pittsburgh’s fireworks show was still crackling in the background.
“Look, I think these guys can all play with each other. We have another 19 games or so. We have to have the ability to play all of our guys. We brought Mark Forrest on too. He’s a big body. Strong up top. We rested enough guys that we should put a strong line-up out on Sunday. We took some educated risks to get the points tonight, but still have enough for Sunday. Part I is done, but hopefully the guys we put out on Sunday against a good Charlotte team.”
At Charlotte, with a different line-up, playing the same formation they’ve been using much of the season, a 5-3-2, the Hounds couldn’t duplicate the same effort it did three nights earlier in Pittsburgh despite Lilley’s ‘educated risks’ with his line-up selections. This time, looking at the top five, Brett started alongside Forrest, with Forbes and Mertz joined by Anthony Velarde in the midfield.
Pittsburgh failed to generate a shot on frame.
The most concerning thing that might have come from these back-to-back games may have been seeing its attack fizzle in the final third. This was after a three-game stretch when the Hounds scored a combined 12 goals. Its first shot on target against Bethlehem didn’t come until the match’s lone goal, a Forbes free kick in the 57th minute. They would still hold a 14-5 edge in shots on Thursday, and Lilley was pleased with how his team remained aggressive against their cross-state rivals.
On Sunday, it was different story altogether at Charlotte. The Hounds were out shot 8-6 (2-0 on target) and only sent seven crosses despite carrying equal possession (50%)
“We didn’t start the game with intensity,” Lilley said. “We were reacting to the game. We let them play whatever they wanted in our end. When we do that, we’re ordinary and we get ourselves in trouble.”
“It’s disappointing because I think it could have been a better performance if we competed out of the gate.,” Lilley added. “After the goal, we played more on even terms.”
Winning a second game in four days, on the road, is never easy.
Lilley spoke extensively in the off season about the importance of building roster depth and not overloading playing minutes to a limited number of players. Last season, down the stretch, the Hounds appeared to be a team that lost something. This year, thus far, they’ve been pretty fortunate they’ve been a healthy group with the exception of Mohammad Dabo‘s lingering leg injury, along with first year pros Prosper Figbe and Caleb Smith with what appears longer term leg injuries.
Come September and October, the Hounds will want to be clicking at a high level as a team, with a deep roster ready for a playoff run. One way to do that is to spread out minutes played now.
To this point, only Thomas Vancaeyezeele and Forbes have played and started in each of the Hounds’ 16 league matches. Vancaeyezeele, has logged every minute of every league match thus far (1440), with Forbes a close season (1432). The only other players to appear in all 16 matches are Kerr (14 starts), Dos Santos (13 starts), Tobi Adewole (15 starts) and Ryan James (15 starts). Joe Greenspan has started 15 matches, and probably would have been 16 if it weren’t for a red card. Brett has appeared in 15 matches, starting 12 of them.
This time around, taking ‘educated risks’ didn’t work out for the Hounds in picking up a result on the road.
By season’s end, we’ll see if things pay off in the long run.
Forbes makes Team of Week, again
Midfielder Kenardo Forbes — one of the few players who started in both games over the Fourth of July weekend – continues to shine in his second season with the Riverhounds SC.
Once again, he was named to USL Championship Team of the Week after posting a game-winning goal in the team’s 1-0 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC on July 4 at Highmark Stadium. Forbes blasted home a pinpoint accurate shot in the 57th minute off a free kick from the top of the 18-yard box. His efforts placed him on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays (No. 10).
This season, the Kingston, Jamaica native has two goals and four assists. His four helpers is tied for the team lead. Even more importantly, as the team’s primary table setter, he’s tops on the club with 37 chances created.
This is the third time Forbes has been named to Team of the Week this season. Halfway through the season, Forbes is once again making a case to be included as an All-USL Team selection once again. Last year, Forbes was honored on All-USL Second Team.
Next up: top of the table Tampa
Now, the focus for Pittsburgh will be on front-running Tampa Bay Rowdies, one of the three teams Pittsburgh has lost to this season. What a turn-around season it’s been for the Rowdies, who beat the Hounds pretty impressively in March, 2-1. The Rowdies (11-1-6) boast a league best goal differential of +18, with just one loss this season.
While the Hounds have struggled all-time against the Rowdies on the road (0-2-1), they have a solid home record against a franchise which roots go back to the 1970s North American Soccer League.
The Rowdies are currently on a three-game winning streak, defeating Swope Park Rangers, 3-1, in their previous matchup last Sunday in Kansas City, Kansas. The Rowdies defeated the Riverhounds, 2-0, in Pittsburgh’s season opener earlier this season.
This certainly feels like a potential statement game for the Hounds, who’ve entered into the top 10 spot in the standings, above the playoff line. Now, they’re eager to move up a lot higher as the first half of the season is nearly complete.
Hounds first-ever Hall of Fame class set to be inducted in ceremony on Friday
PSN Coverge this week
Our starters and reserves are all out of action this week with vacations and obligations, but we’re bringing back a true friend of the site, and one of our collaborators from Pittsburgh Sports Now, Alan Saunders, who will provide on site coverage Saturday’s match vs Tampa Bay. Joining Alan, will be Brad Oskowski, with photography. We’ve used Brad’s photos from his coverage of Pittsburgh Hotspurs NPSL action this season.
Look for a game preview and an updated scouting report from Mark Goodman on Tampa Bay Rowdies since the last we’ve seen the Rowdies, it was opening night.