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Analysis & Player Grades: Taking the (Red) Bulls by the horns

Photo courtesy NY Red Bulls II

Analysis & Player Grades: Taking the (Red) Bulls by the horns

In a battle of two teams riding hot streaks, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC rallied to defeat New York Red Bulls II, 2-1, at Montclair State University on Wednesday night. 

With this win, the Hounds (now 11-3-8, 41 pts) get their statement win on the road against the Eastern Conference’s front-running team, and surge into top four position in the standings, coming back from an early 1-0 deficit, with a goal by Joe Greenspan in the 36th minute, then Neco Brett added his team-leading eight goal of the season for the game winner. 

“I think the goal woke us up,” head coach Bob Lilley said. “The last 15 minutes of the first half we were more positive. In the second half, we got more runners in front of the ball. When we went forward, we closed the field up.

Things started out on the wrong foot for Pittsburgh when goalkeeper Kyle Morton‘s poor clearance was scooped upby New York’s captain, Vincent Bezecourt, who quickly passed to Tom Barlow. The New York forward took advantage of the blunder and the open space to move into the box for a clinical finish that put the home side up 1-0.

Pittsburgh did everything it could to keep the Red Bulls from working through the middle of field, as they implored a narrow 3-4-2-1 formation, but just like the first meeting between the two teams in June (a 3-0 Pittsburgh win), they needed to get past the half hour mark before they started to apply some pressure into the attacking third. 

 

It took until the 37th minute for Pittsburgh to finally get a shot on target — and they took advantage after setting up three corner kicks in a two minute span.

Kenardo Forbes‘ in-swinging delivery found an unmarked Greenspan in the far post area. 

It was a redirected header for Greenspan, his second goal of the season, that leveled the contest.

Despite the Red Bulls owning a significant possession edge (59% of the ball) for much of the 1st half, and out shooting Pittsburgh 6-2, the Hounds came out in the second half as the more confident side.

Pittsburgh stayed on the front foot, creating more corner kick opportunities and doing a solid job defensively to limit most of the Red Bulls chances to balls played over the top, and from the width — which is not really their forte. 

After bringing on three substitutions (Anthony Velarde in the 68′ and Christian Volesky/Mo Dabo in 75′) — Pittsburgh finally broke the 1-1 tie as the game began to open up a bit.

On a counter opportunity, Velarde played a clever forward ball to the open space on the left side, just outside the box for Brett to touch it in stride.

From there — Brett navigated his way into the box, beat his man — and slid a well-placed shot to the left side of the goal, beating Red Bulls II goalkeeper Evan Louro for the game-winner. 

Aside from the mistake that led to the giveaway, Pittsburgh’s team defensive performance was solid — as were composed, withstood the early Red Bull pressure, blocked five shots, kept the USL’s highest scoring outfit to one goal on nine total shot attempts, and only three in the second half when they really clamped down. Going into the match, the Red Bulls were averaging more than 18 shots per game. 

In sweeping the season series with the Red Bulls II, it’s noteworthy that both matches saw the tide of each match switch after the 30th minute, with Pittsburgh dictating tempo that led to closing down the middle of the field where the Red Bulls are so effective for long stretches. 

“There were two good teams. It was a tight game,” Lilley added. “Fortunately, we got the winning goal in the second half. We did a good job closing the game once we got the lead as well.”

The loss for New York was their first at home this season, while Pittsburgh extended their unbeaten run to six games. It was also the first-ever win for Pittsburgh on the road in against the Red Bulls II since the teams began playing each other in 2015.

Up next for the Hounds, they travel to North Carolina for a Saturday match in Cary against North Carolina FC, who they jumped ahead in the standings with Wednesday’s win.

For the moment though, this is a victory to savor for Pittsburgh as they took the Red Bulls by the horns to keep climbing upwards in the league table.

Soccer Scribe’s Player Grades 

Goalkeeper  

Kyle Morton – 5.5 – made a couple of big saves in the second half that made up for his poor, rushed clearance that led to the opening goal. 

Defenders 

Joe Greenspan – 7 –  added his second goal of season with nice header flick, and was solid in the back as usual — with three interceptions, three clearances and won three of his four duels.   

Tobi Adewole – 7 – also strong night for Tobi, winning six of his seven duels — four tackles, two clearances and three interceptions — and while his passing accuracy wasn’t as high as usual, he was composed, playing like a veteran.  

Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 7 – on a night when the Hounds needed top notch passing accuracy out of the back, they relied heavily on Tommy V’s 81 percent rate. 

Midfielders 

Ryan James – 5.5 – quieter night for James. Won half his duels (4/8) and passing accuracy was mere 54 percent with only three unsuccessful crosses. 

Jordan Dover – 6.5 – the Hounds played a lot more through the right side on this night. Dover put in a workmanlike effort — creating a few chances and pushing up high at time applying pressure and getting four interceptions. 

Kenardo Forbes – 8 – made up for his poor service on his first corner for a few terrific ones — and commanding the central midfield on a night they needed his ‘A’ game. He created four chances — had five successful crosses (of 10), while his passing accuracy against the high pressing Red Bulls was bit subpar (66%) for his standards. 

Robbie Mertz – 6 – even after starting on Saturday, Mertz delivered a solid performance. Picked up yellow for reckless challenge. Had two of the Hounds’ five blocked shots and two interceptions. He was working hard on both sides of the ball. While he wasn’t as involved in attack (only 19 passes), he still was tops on the club in passing accuracy. 

Anthony Velarde (68′) – 7 – starting to come into his own, knowing his role now in getting spot starts and important second half minutes off the bench — delivers well played ball into space for Brett on the game winner. 

Kevin Kerr – 5 –  struggled in his battles (0/5) in duels, had his only shot attempt blocked and created one chance. 

Mouhamed Dabo (76′) – 5 – when closing out a match, Dabo provides that work-rate and toughness of the bench. With the emergence of Mertz, it appears that this will be Dabo’s role for the remainder of this season. 

Forwards 

Steevan Dos Santos – 6 – everything truly goes through Dos Santos when the Hounds get the ball and start looking forward. Had three fouls and was  Was involved in 28 duels — winning 15 of them — and was subbed out in the 78th minute. 

Christian Volesky (76′) – 6 – nearly scored as soon as he came in. Provided the work rate needed late in match to keep pressure on Red Bulls II.. 

Neco Brett – 7.5 – nearly scored on another multiple move effort early in second half — but then when had another chance to break the tie, he came through in a big way — beating his man and delivering yet another game winner. 

Subs not used: Austin Pack, Noah Franke, Sammy Kahsai, Uchenna Uzo

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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