Riverhounds SC kept its home unbeaten string intact by beating Old Guard Shield rivals Charleston Battery, 1-0, at Highmark Stadium on Saturday.
It may be hard to believe, by capturing the Old Guard Shield for the second consecutive season, under the leadership of USL Hall of Fame coach Bob Lilley, the Riverhounds have now ascended as the leader of the pack among the remaining long-running franchises that compete in USL’s leagues.
Charleston has always had the upper hand on Pittsburgh in the all-time series. The Riverhounds also struggled against Richmond until the last few years of its long-standing series. Pittsburgh had the upper hand on Harrisburg (who became Penn FC) toward the end of its series, winning the Keystone Derby Cup in three of the four years they competed in the all-PA Derby. The last ‘Old Guard’ team not mentioned, Rochester, had also always had edge on Pittsburgh too, with Lilley in control for much of its last decade of play. Unable to work its way out of financial problems, Rochester’s pro soccer franchise has gone dormant, and its greatest asset from its recent run of glory, Lilley, is now keeping another ‘Old Guard’ franchise going strong in the current USL Championship.
The times have changed, quickly, in a matter of the past 24 months.
Now, Richmond have moved down to USL’s League One, with Harrisburg and Rochester facing uncertain pro soccer futures.
Charleston remains a viable franchise at the second division level, but the tables have turned at the moment as they’re struggling to keep its head above water in the USL Championship’s race to earn a playoff spot.
Under the direction of Lilley, the Hounds are now in a battle to stay in the top four of the USL Championship with seven matches remaining on its schedule. The Hounds improve to 14-4-8, good for 50 points. This loss keeps Charleston below the playoff line, as they now have lots of work to do in the in final month of the season
Despite the clubs going in different directions, this was another classic tight, physical battle between two teams led by Hall of Fame coaches that know each other very well: Lilley and Charleston’s Mike Anhaeuser.
“Charleston over the years, they’re hard to break down. They’re a pretty good defensive team. They come in and they sit. We had to be patient in and around the box, try to wait for an opening, and try to get them on the counter. Just like that, we got the goal. That was the game plan all week,” Hounds veteran midfielder, Kenardo Forbes said.
Forbes had a big hand in helping break a scoreless match in the 69th minute when sending a cross into the box which Dos Santos capitalized to give Pittsburgh the game-winner — and finally score a goal at home after playing to a 0-0 draw the previous week against Louisville City FC.
“It’s always good to score. When you help the team win, it feels better. Last week, I had a couple [chances] and I couldn’t score,” Dos Santos said. “I’m happy because today I scored and helped the team get three points.”
At the top of the attack, along with Neco Brett, Dos Santos knew it would have to be a methodical approach to breaking down Charleston.
“We knew we had to press them to make them make mistakes. They did make some mistakes. Because they were so deep defending, we knew if we were just going to sit back it would be harder for us to get three points.”
After playing to a 0-0 draw earlier in the week at Swope Park, Forbes knew that Charleston would play like a desperate team.
“Charleston is fighting for playoffs as well. We knew that they would come here and try to get something today. They did defend well and gave us problems to bring them down. I’m happy because I got the end of one, and that was enough to get the three points.”
Lilley was pleased with his team’s execution, especially in response after last week’s result which left him frustrated with his team’s ability to take control of the contest, especially at home.
“It has (improved). We scored a lot of goals on them, maybe as much as most teams, but sometime deep teams, Charleston. St. Louis or some teams, drop pretty deep and they collapse into the box with a lot of numbers so its hard to find space, they defend with numbers well.”
Lilley added that it was important that his club took control of the match.
“I do want to credit our guys tonight, finding a good response after last week with a pretty disappointing in terms of our overall play. Like I said, we worked on things, I don’t think we got all the way there but I definitely think we fixed some things from last week, and we’re a lot closer now to know what we have to do going forward against Nashville.”
And the Hounds keep its impressive unbeaten streak at home going. They haven’t lost outright in the run of play and in the regular season at Highmark Stadium since the Battery took them down last July.
“This is our house. This is where we practice everyday. We just try to protect it like you do at your house. You protect your house, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Looking ahead, the Hounds must now prepare for a Tennessee swing, playing at Nashville (currently in third place), then turn-around a few days later with a make-up of a previously postponed match at Memphis.
Lilley will be counting on his full-roster for this upcoming stretch which includes five games in 14 days.
“The good this is that Anthony Velarde and Kahsai, Rovira, Noah Franke, they all started and played game,” Lilley explained. “It will help, we will have to rotate, we’ll probably lean on our center backs a lot which we have, and we will have to rotate which will require guys to step up. They have in the past, and I think we have everything to play for.”
Look for more Analysis/Player Grades from this match on Monday on Pittsburgh Soccer Now.
Ed Thompson #PITvCHS Photo Gallery