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Analysis & Player Grades: Hounds ‘off the mark’ as Louisville dictates tempo

Photo by Ed Thompson

In his game report, Mark Goodman got right to the meat and potatoes of the Riverhounds SC’s scoreless draw against Louisville City FC.

FT: 0-0. Hounds and Lou City draw a tense nail-biter

Tactically, as Goodman points out, Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley felt it was Louisville, the USL’s defending champions, who controlled the game and the tempo throughout the match.

“They’re experienced. They stretched the field, and we didn’t have the patience to keep the ball. We could have dictated the game. We’re fortunate to get out with a draw.”

Coming out in a 4-2-3-1 — with Mouhamad Dabo and Kenardo Forbes lined up in front of the back line that was playing without Thomas Vancaeyezeele, who was on call-up duty with French Guiana, Pittsburgh looked sharp a few times, kept Louisville at a distance while playing to a fairly even first half with Louisville City FC.

Walking around Highmark Stadium for much of the first half, seeing the action from many different angles (see our Instagram account) — it was a very lively atmosphere with the Hounds pressing at times but unable to put any effective final touches in the final third. Possession was even (50/50 at halftime), and all that was needed was a big second half push.


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Steevan Dos Santos apparently doesn’t like a call. #pitvlou #uslchampionship

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Easier said than done.

It was Louisville who adjusted better in the match’s final 45 minutes.

“With the chances we created in the first half, had we come out and played a better game of soccer in the second half, I think those chances would’ve continued. We could’ve found something and gotten the three points.”

It was in the second half, when the Hounds found themselves chasing and in uncomfortable positions.

It’s ironic that in this five-year series, Louisville has always been able to control the tempo of matches played on smooth, faster artificial surface at Highmark Stadium, while the Hounds, especially in two games under Bob Lilley, have controlled play on the choppy Slugger Field tundra (check out those two, ugly 1-0 wins the past two seasons).

What Louisville did in the second half was play keep away, connecting passes regularly to the tune of more than 70 percent of possession and kept Pittsburgh chasing the game. What the Hounds did well enough though, was make Louisville work extra hard to make the extra pass. What Louisville couldn’t do, with big bodied Luke Spencer battling Tobi Adewole and Joe Greenspan at the top, and its often effective one-two-touch passing navigating through the open spaces, was get that one big moment as the Hounds’ resilient back four and Mo Dabo scrambled and did a lot of dirty work to produce the club’s 11th clean sheet of the season.

“I thought we did really well in emergency defending,” said Morton. “We did really well in blocking shots inside the box. The back four played maybe their best game … (the game against) Ottawa may be number one, this may be number two.”

The one moment Louisville really broke through the Hounds back line came in the 64th minute.

With Pittsburgh on its heels, Morton came up big with the one save he needed to make to keep his team’s home unbeaten streak in the regular season that goes all the way back to last July intact.

While the Hounds poured twice as many shots into it’s attacking efforts than Louisville, and had four shots on target (Hounds held 4-1 edge in shots on frame), they were lacking quality in the final third most of the night.

Lilley had some issues with the lack of creativity and movement from his ‘dynamic duo’ at the top of the attack, Steevan Dos Santos and Neco Brett — and even didn’t like where his captain, Forbes, was at time. He also mentioned that Ryan James didn’t need to be caught up as high as we was numerous times.

“Those guys (Dos Santos and Brett) were standing around. We made it easy for them to defend,” Lilley said. “Kenardo’s all the way by the corner at time, and leaving us exposed.”

Lilley also pointed out how easy Louisville was able to get the ball out to wider spots, control the tempo and work with more space then he felt they should have been able to operate on the narrow Highmark Stadium surface.

When Goodman asked Lilley about the impact of losing Vancaeyezeele for this match due to international duty, the gaffer (taking a note out of Kevin Kerr’s dictionary), was more concerned about his team’s overall focus.

“We weren’t short one or two players, we were off the mark. It’s disappointing,” Lilley said. “I think this was very similar to the Loudoun game (1-0 win on August 29). I have to look at why in the last two home games are we just kicking the ball forward and letting the spaces become gigantic.”

As a frustrated yet philosophical Lilley said post-match, the Hounds were fortunate to come away with a tie on a night where Louisville dictated terms.

Lilley’s frustrations boiled over when DK Pittsburgh SportsMatt Sunday (intentionally?) pushed his buttons by asking him if he felt that with North Carolina FC also settling for a draw, would that leave him satisfied with the result.

“No!” Lilly emphatically responded. “I didn’t see this one coming. We have to get back to work. Why are we chasing North Carolina? We dropped points. We should be chasing (first-place) New York Red Bulls (II).”

Just look back to last week’s Riverhounds SC notebook leading up to this match, and even back to the off season after Lilley spoke in the aftermath of watching Louisville City FC separate themselves from the Hounds a year ago when they captured its second consecutive USL Cup.

The comment that sticks out is hearing Lilley talk about how Louisville “kept throwing up threes” — while his Hounds “kept settling for draws”.

It’s getting to be crunch time.

The Hounds are good. They’ll make the playoffs.

We’ll address the playoff race later in the week in more detail in our weekly Notebook.

It’s pretty clear that Bob Lilley’s not too worried about the standings at the moment. Instead, he’s trying to figure out how he can get his team to put up threes every week from here on out.

That’s what Louisville did last year (and the previous year) to separate themselves from what is one of the most competitive races for the top four spots we’ve seen at this level, ever.

Pittsburgh soccer fans can forget about the euphoria of reaching and winning a USL Cup if the Hounds continue to put up uneven and inconsistent performances.


Kyle Morton – 6.5 – that double save in 62nd minute could very well have saved a point.

Jordan Dover – 5.5 –  was busy on this side, but Lilley’s assessment that there were open spaces along the width.

Tobi Adewole – 6.5 – maybe more long passes (14) than we usually see from him. Won majority of his duels (9/13) and tackles (4) — and worked well with Greenspan manning the central defense.  Without Tommy V in there, he had as many passes (60) as Kenny Forbes (63).

Joe Greenspan – 7 –  had a pretty nice open field slide tackle on Luke Spencer as he was moving into the box on a dangerous run. Won 7 of 9 duels and again solid with ball at his feet under pressure.

Ryan James – 6 –  Lilley pointed out that he may have been pushing too far up at times, leaving too much open space behind him. Created two chances, won his share of duels (5/7) and had four interceptions. Seems more suited to play higher up when Tommy V sits between back line.

Kenardo Forbes – 6 – His coach had some issues with leaving too much space behind him. When everything’s clicking well in the attack and the Hounds are controlling tempo of match, it’s usually because Forbes is orchestrating things well. He was good on Saturday, but even with 90 plus percent passing accuracy, rushed a few shots and possessions in crucial moments.

Mo Dabo – 6 – had four interceptions and two tackles, and was often left in situations where he was covering lots of space — more than his coach wanted.

Robbie Mertz -4.5 – work rate was there, but conceded three fouls, won only three of 14 duels and had two unsuccessful crosses — and despite starting and playing 60 plus minutes — only had 22 passes. Was subbed off for Anthony Velarde

Kevin Kerr – 5 – put a few balls into the box that were into dangerous positions, but overall pretty quiet night for the long-time Hound. He’s had more of those of late.

Steevan Dos Santos – 5.5 – getting this out of the way first, won 11 of 11 aerial duels, and three of six shots were on target but not nearly enough touches (only had 18 passes) as Lilley wanted him to be more active off the ball.

Neco Brett – 5.5 – despite being involved in creating numerous chances, wasn’t involved in any shots on frame and much like Dos Santos, didn’t do enough in his coach’s view to be more dynamic when they needed him to be.

Anthony Velarde (62′) – 5 – first sub in for Mertz. Was on short end of most of his duels (won only one of eight). Had one nice sequence where he won ball after a giveaway in midfield. He quickly poked it to Forbes, who found Neco Brett who made a run into box where he was knocked down on a shoulder-to-shoulder collision.

Christian Volesky (83′) – N/R – had one decent opportunity when he broke behind defender on long vertical ball, but was closed down before he could create a dangerous shot attempt.

Dani Rovira (84′) – N/R – was used as outside midfielder late, was pretty active in short time in winning 50/50 balls and connecting passes

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for 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 US. 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).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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