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Riverhounds SC Notebook: Lilley looking to fix ‘edgy and uneven’ defending

Riverhounds SC Notebook: Lilley looking to fix ‘edgy and uneven’ defending

On Saturday in Hartford, Riverhounds SC raced out to a commanding lead, with three-first half goals: One by Steevan Dos Santos, another by Anthony Velarde and an own goal on Dos Santos’ attempted pass to Velarde.

With a 3-0 lead at the half, things could only go downhill from there, right?

Indeed, the Hounds limped its way through the rest of the match, especially with a sloppy final 45 minutes, with the match ending in a 4-2 Pittsburgh victory.

With the win, Pittsburgh improved to 8-3-8, good for 32 points. With Ottawa Fury FC’s loss in Memphis, the Hounds pushed further up the table to sixth place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference. If you read last week’s notebook, a sixth place or higher finish would be best for Pittsburgh to avoid being put into play-in games when the playoffs begin in late October. 

It appears that the Hounds are right on track, and will be taking aim to climb even higher.

Lilley really wasn’t focused on the playoffs immediately after what he saw on Saturday though.  The longtime, successful coach was a bit disgusted by his club’s overall performance.

“We didn’t defend well at any point, for me. Don’t think we worked very hard collectively,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds SC coach said after the match. “They had a few chances early on. It could have been 1-0 them. We were lucky we got the first goal.”

On the other side, Hartford coach Jimmy Nielson was encouraged by his team’s start, but experienced something he’s been dealing with a lot with an expansion team, an inability to put it all together.

“First 20 minutes it was a very even game. Both teams created good chances,” Nielson said. “After the score was 1-0, we were just like a deck of cards… completely fell apart for 25 minutes and made it very difficult for ourselves and way too easy for them.”

It did come easier for the Hounds in racing to the 3-0 lead, but asking them to further put the stranglehold on a team that was reeling for the remainder of the match apparently was too tall of a task for the Hounds.

“That 3-0 could have been a lot more,” Lilley added. “We got goals we needed. We did good to stay composed and on the ball. Got good performances. At times we defended well.”

But?

“We always looked edgy. Because I don’t think we set the standard to defend. Hartford wanted it to be an open game. So, we let it be an open game. That’s not going to serve us against the tough teams. I think we fall into that trap where we let the game get stretched. It didn’t cost us tonight, but it will if we don’t fix it.”

As he’s been known to do, Lilley kept his squad huddled in the middle of the field at Dillon Stadium for a good ten minutes or so to make sure they got the message that he wasn’t happy with what he called ‘lack of execution, especially in defending as a unit. For the Hounds, using a line-up with numerous players who haven’t started a ton of games this year, including Anthony Velarde, Noah Franke, Sammy Kahsai and Christian Volesky, came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation

“We scored some good goals. There were some good performances, especially on the attacking side of the ball,” Lilley said. “We gave a few guys a chance to get starts, and I thought they did reasonably well.”

Execution on the offensive end, particularly after Hartford appeared to get stretched when defending Pittsburgh’s counter attacks, wasn’t really the problem for the Hounds.

Despite Hartford carrying the possession edge, even after the first goal coming from Velarde’s ball in to Dos Santos, the Hounds waited patiently to strike as Hartford fell apart as Nielson described, “like a deck of cards”  First, it was Velarde in the 36th minute, pouncing on a second chance in the box after Christian Volesky‘s pass was tipped. Not even a minute later, Dos Santos streaked to goal after getting a nice feed from captain Kenardo Forbes. Hartford defender Kyle Curinga inadvertently booted Dos Santos’ attempted cutback to Velarde into the net for a 3-0 score.

Playing before 4,606 fans, Hartford didn’t quit, putting up a fight early in the second half as the match opened up in the home side favor.  

Former Hound Jose Angulo  returned back to the top of the attack, after he started as a left wide spot. Angulo explained after the match that reasoning came in that they were having some success recently with him coming in from deeper on the field, and with his service from the left side.

Hartford would try to create an open-ended tempo in the second half to create chaos. Still, the Hounds head coach didn’t care for how his players executed as a group in defending, pointing out that some of the guys that haven’t been playing as much, were ‘uneven at times’ in getting back into a solid defensive shape.

“In the second half, we came out with a different mentality, and we were chipping away,” Angulo said. “Once I got the ball more in the second half, things opened up a little bit. We had a few chances.”

A solid advance to the edge of the box, and a costly foul by the Hounds set up a free kick in the 47th minute for Hartford.

The home side took advantage of the set piece opportunity, courtesy of Mads Jörgensen, cutting the lead to 3-1. 

“That free kick, they came right through the middle of the field, with no resistance. They pick up the free kick, and score,” Lilley pointed out. 

After coming on as a sub in the 72nd minute, Neco Brett made a few moves to shake off a defender in the box, then found room to slide his first shot attempt past Hartford goalkeeper Fredrick Due to give the Hounds a 4-1 lead in the 77th minute. Brett’s sixth of the season gave him the team lead by himself.

Hartford came back again moments later, when Sebastian Dalgaard volleyed a shot under the bar — and past Hounds goalkeeper Kyle Morton, after a ball in from Curinga. 

“If we hadn’t given up that fourth goal, we would have been right there, 3-2,” Angulo, who put a dangerous shot on frame that forced Morton into making a dynamic save earlier in the second half. Earlier in the season, Angulo scored a spectacular goal at Highmark Stadium from distance catching Hounds keeper in that match, Ben Lundgaard, off his line.

This time around, Morton came up the with save.

“He got me!” Angulo quipped after the match. “As a striker, you’re always sniffing around.”

“Again, they came right up the middle, no resistance, then got behind us,” Lilley explained. “Free service. No marking up in the back. Those are mistakes that will cost us, and have cost us this year.  I don’t know how many times we have to go back and fix this, but apparently it’s not been enough.”  

Greenspan misses training during the week — still plays in second half

The Hounds may have surprised some folks when Joe Greenspan wasn’t in the starting line-up on Saturday. Thus far this season, the only match Greenspan’s missed was due to a one-game suspension after picking up a red card in the May 27 match vs Charlotte.

Lilley pointed out after Saturday’s match that the Hounds’ venerable center back was busy last week fulfilling his continuing military duties with the United States Naval Reserves.

“He was with the Navy last week,” Lilley said. “It’s tough. He came on in the second half, and helped us close it out.”

Ensign Joe has been with the Reserves again this week. His status for Saturday vs Memphis is uncertain.

Greenspan entered the Hartford match at the start of the second half, with 35 touches, four clearances he made his presence felt, but it wasn’t a commanding performance.  Greenspan only won three of seven duels.

Velarde earns honorable mention on USL Championship’s Team of the Week

One of those individual performances that Lilley was pleased with came from Anthony Velarde, who took advantage of his first start in a while to get on the score sheet with a goal and assist. For his effort, the first-year pro earned a spot as an honorable mention on the USL Championship’s Team of the Week.

In addition, Velarde posted a game-high six chances created, playing mostly on the left attacking midfield spot. Velarde had one of his best performances in keeping possessions going, and his passing accuracy was a much improved 86 percent overall.

Keeping up with Hounds goal scoring leaders

For a few minutes on Saturday, it appeared that Dos Santos had climbed into the lead with what appeared to be a second goal of the match, but a closer look showed Kyle Curinga inadvertently booted Dos Santos’ attempted cutback into goal. After it was announced in the press box as a goal from Dos Santos, it was later changed to an own goal.

“I guess it’s good to be lucky sometimes too,” Dos Santos said after the match. “All the credit to Kenardo (Forbes) for a great pass there.”

Brett didn’t need any luck, but used fantastic skill and ability to hold off defender (again!), to score his sixth of the season in the second half which pulled him into the lead for team goals.

Neco Brett became just the 11th player all-time to reach at least 50 career points with the club.

Here’s what the Hounds goal scoring chart looks like:

  • Neco Brett – 6
  • Kevin Kerr -5
  • Robbie Mertz – 5
  • Steevan Dos Santos – 5
  • Kenardo Forbes – 2
  • Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 2
  • Christian Volesky – 2
  • Anthony Velarde – 2
  • Joe Greenspan- 1
  • Tobi Adewole – 1

News from USL midseason meetings Orlando?  USL Championship gets names straight for postseason.

This week, the USL is hosting its mid season meetings in Florida that coincide with MLS All-Star festivities. If you’re looking for big news items, it’s been mostly quiet. Hounds owner Tuffy Shallenberger is representing the club at the meetings

There has been one announcement of note relating to the Riverhounds: The USL Championship Playoffs will lead into the USL Championship Final in November.

The 36-team chase in the regular season will finish with 10 teams per conference reaching the playoff stage in October, with opening match ups between seeds Nos. 7 & 10 and Nos. 8 & 9 taking place in the Play-In Round.

The higher advancing seed from the Play-In Round will face the No. 2 seed, and the lower advancing seed will face the No. 1 seed in the Eastern and Western Conference Quarterfinals, with the postseason then proceeding in a fixed bracket that will see the higher seed host through the Conference Semifinals and Conference Final. The Eastern and Western Conference champions will then meet in the 2019 USL Championship Final, which will air on an ESPN Network between November 14-18.

Another announcement that came Thursday from USL was a follow up to the news of the inaugural USL Academy Cup in May, today they unveiled a model for future USL Academies and their participation in the USL Academy League, a first-of-its-kind competition designed to create the clearest path possible to professional soccer.

“As the youth development landscape continues to evolve in this country, it makes sense for the USL to explore new innovative ideas,” said Louisville City FC Head Coach John Hackworth, formerly Head Coach of the United States U-17 National Team. “The idea of combining the top talent at the U15-U19 age groups into one team for USL markets would help create a challenging environment and a pathway for youth players who are interested in pursuing a professional soccer career.”

We’ll definitely will be looking forward to see how this impacts the Hounds Academy moving forward.

Dillon Stadium: A work in progress

Typically I’ll get to a few Riverhounds road games each season, but this year,  I really didn’t know where I would end up going. Without the annual Harrisburg trip, with Cincinnati now moving up to MLS, with Louisville’s new stadium being a year away, there really wasn’t a clear-cut nearby road match to cover. I had a conflict, so I couldn’t go to Columbus (Matt Gajtka was there for the Open Cup match).  It appeared halfway through the Summer I was running out of options.

It worked out that I was offered an assignment to assist the broadcast team at the International Champions Cup match at Foxboro on Sunday. With the Hounds playing in Hartford on Saturday, I had a chance to finally catch a road game this season.

Dillon Stadium is still very much in the renovation phases but I found it to be a decent venue even if it’s still very much a work in progress. The match had to start at 5 p.m. as the lights have not been installed yet, and its pretty transparent when walking beneath the stands that work is still taking place.

They’re still missing a modern scoreboard, as this is what will do for now.  I was going to ask someone if they could change the inning to half, but didn’t bother.

As for luxury suites, they’re going with the tents for now.

While the backdrop can’t compare to Highmark Stadium (in the background, Interstate 84 sits with cars buzzing by), this stadium provides a simple and straightforward intimate venue for soccer fans. The press box and locker room areas were among the first to be completed with the renovations.  The press box provided a decent amount of space.

There’s a lot of potential, plenty of space and seating. The Athletic also has a supporters group that took up residence on the East end of the sideline on the far stand that elevated the atmosphere.  In its third game in the renovated stadium, they announced a decent crowd of 4,606.

In some ways, seeing Hartford embrace pro soccer, provides a little bit of deja vu for one former Hound, Angulo, who scored the first goal in Highmark Stadium history.

Angulo also scored the first goal at Dillon Stadium for the Athletic a few weeks ago in a 2-1 win vs Indy Eleven.

“We get a lot of support here. It reminds me of Pittsburgh, in our first year at Highmark when we opened up the stadium — and I got the first one,” Angulo recalled with a smile. “There’s a lot of potential. A lot of support.  It’s a new team. It takes time. We’re chipping away. We started eight games away. I’ve never seen that. We’re still recovering from that.

Ranking Hounds’ road venues

Driving from Hartford to Foxboro, talking with my 21-year old, provided for some time for us to pick-apart the match we just watched, but also to talk about some of the USL venues we’ve been to in the past decade.

I’ve now visited a number of road venues, and thought I would put together a quick list with some quick, immediate thoughts of venues I’ve been to where the Hounds have played road matches.  In the coming weeks, we may get feedback from current and former Hounds on their favorites, and maybe a few experiences/stories to share.

  1. NY Red Bull Arena – major points will come off for playing USL matches in an empty stadium, but still, this is the ideal venue (once you’re inside) for a Major League soccer club and fan viewing experience. For a USL playoff match, it was really lacking in atmosphere, but made up for it with fantastic pitch, incredible outdoor viewing position for media (behind both benches, but elevated enough to see everything)
  2. Exploria Stadium (Orlando) – the Hounds played in Downtown Orlando in 2017, and I was there the same year, but for an MLS match. This venue checks all the boxes for the fan experience. Supporters group section includes handrails so fans can stand the entire time.
  3. Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati) – for three seasons, as a USL side, FC Cincinnati created one of the best soccer culture and stadium experiences that the second division in the United States will probably ever see using University of Cincinnati’s on-campus venue. Kind of reminds me of Pitt Stadium if they they built around it and upgraded it instead of tearing it down.
  4. Dillon Stadium (Hartford) – potential to be a terrific second division venue once all renovations are completed. Food, rest rooms and sight lines are just fine.
  5. City Stadium (Richmond) – An old stadium in the old South. This venue that was built in the 1920s, and feels like it when you walk in and around it. They’ve done an admirable job in keeping up with the wide, grass playing surface. They’re in the process of renovations.
  6. Modern NFL Stadium venues: Nissan Stadium (Nashville); Heinz Field (Pittsburgh); Gillette Stadium (Foxboro) – the modern NFL stadiums are weird places for smaller division soccer matches, and even MLS contests sometimes. In my experience, with 20,000 fans filling up the lower bowl, bringing an electric atmosphere provides a positive experience, even if the upper bowls are mostly empty.  Being in state-of-the-art press box is always a plus. The Hounds have never played at Foxboro or Heinz Field, but I just wanted to throw those in there because I’ve been soccer matches at both.
  7. MAPFRE Stadium (Columbus) – have not watched the Hounds play here, but have covered USMNT and Crew matches. It was one of the first MLS soccer only venues, but has been in need of upgrades in recent years. For USMNT games, they move the larger media contingent out behind the American Outlaws in temporary press box on the ‘stage’ end of the venue. Not ideal, but it was for a USMNT match, so I wasn’t complaining.
  8. Marina Auto Stadium (Rochester) – This was one of the saddest venues to me. It was enhanced and built in the mid-1990s to facilitate nearly 12,000 to 15,000 fans a match, with really nice facilities and sight lines — and a decent backdrop with the Rochester skyline (not quite Highmark Stadium, but there’s a view of the City). At one time, this venue was packed regularly and was the place to be. It was sad to me because when I finally made it there, it was an empty shell of itself, even during the season it was home to a USL Cup winning team (2015). By 2018, the Rochester Rhinos had shut down operations. in My only game there, as many in Steel Army may remember, was during a torrential downpour and the field was in terrible condition with major drainage issues.
  9. Skyline Soccer Complex (Harrisburg) – I will put this above the baseball venues. City Island can be a fun place to visit. This also had some charm to it, very intimate venue, with the entire ‘Island’ theme going, with a minor league party atmosphere that probably distracted fans from actually watching the game.  The field conditions often included very high, thick grass and uneven playing surface. The trailer that made up the press box provided a very low-level minor league feel to the experience. I often sat on the steps at the midfield line between the two benches.
  10. Slugger Field (Louisville) – baseball fields/stadiums don’t mix well as soccer venues – period. This is a perfect example. Fantastic baseball park, great location, but just awkward sight lines being way up and terrible spot in a baseball press box. Can’t wait for Lou City’s new digs to open in Butchertown!
  11. FNB Field (Harrisburg) – See Louisville. The fact that I was locked into the stadium (long story) after a match, only adds to nightmare experience.

Honorable mention (Open Cup locations)

Gannon University McConnell Family Stadium (Erie) – a stand alone press box, that is very high up, on the other side of the stands.  Credit to the local supporters for facilitating some fun soccer culture experience for people that attend matches.  Still, this is Gannon’s football field, so the football lines make it a bit troublesome for the die-hard soccer fans.

Woehrle Athletic Complex (Jeffersonville, Indiana) – if you want an intimate soccer experience for a fourth division US club, this suburban Louisville complex works. Bottom line is having a decent press box (check), a few food trucks on hand (check), nice locker facilities for the teams (check) and a soccer-only field (check).

Dillon Stadium photo gallery

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PSN Coverage Updates

First of all, it was great to have Matt Gajtka and Matt Grubba get together to share their postgame thoughts on the Hounds 4-2 in at Hartford on Pittsburgh Postgame.

If you missed it, have a listen below:

The Hounds play Memphis 901 — officially for the first time this year on Saturday at Highmark Stadium (7:05 p.m. kickoff). That’s right– the match in Memphis in May that was postponed due to severe weather, has been wiped away from the records — and our memory banks.

On Saturday, I’ll be at Highmark along with Brad Oskowski, who will provide photos.

We’ll have the usual home game coverage (game day blog, recap) and we’ll provide an updated version of Mark Goodman’s preview/scouting report of Memphis from his original post in May.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the United States. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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