Although it was a match between two of the best defensive teams in the USL Championship, Riverhounds SC prevailed 3-0 against Indy Eleven on Saturday night in a weather delayed match at Highmark Stadium featuring three highlight reel goals for the home side.
The three wonder goals, one from Neco Brett on a free kick and two more tremendous individual efforts by Kenardo Forbes put quite an exclamation point on a contest which both teams created lots of quality play and numerous scoring chances.
The terrific goals may have overshadowed the continuing impressive feat that the Hounds have now reached: a shutout record streak of seven games, and a whopping 646 minutes without giving up a goal.
The win elevated the Hounds into the top of the USL’s Eastern Conference standings with Nashville SC (both now have 58 points), while three other teams (NY Red Bulls II, Tampa Bay both with 57 points and Indy, with 56) all remain in the thick of things.
The Hounds though, still have a game in hand against all those clubs except for Indy, as both have now played 30 matches, while the others have played 31.
After the match, Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley may have summed best how this match played out.
“Sometimes games will have an ebb and flow, and when we hit our good spells we looked dangerous and aggressive. There were probably six to eight really good chances for both teams and a couple of all-mosts. We got a break on the mistake early and were really fortunate not to be down 1-0.”
That early chance for Indy came in the opening minutes. Just as the match began, so the sky opened up as well, bringing a hard, pouring rain.
Navigating the ball out of the back, Hounds defender Joe Greenspan headed a ball back toward goal, but wasn’t on the same page as his goal keeper Kyle Morton, as they were both moving to the same spot to play the ball.
Indy’s Dane Kelly (#17) nearly gave his side the lead.
Let me rephrase that — the USL’s all-time leading goal scorer should have been able to wrap it, put a bow on it and gently place it into the open goal.
Stunningly, after taking a touch with both Morton and Greenspan behind him, Kelly banged his shot off the bar and the Hounds swiftly moved in to clear the ball.
Ed Thompson got a few good images of this sequence…
The Hounds didn’t look very good in the opening moments, and they were fortunate that lightning strikes in the area prompted what would be an hour and 18 minute weather delay.
“We started the game really well, but it was a little frustrating starting the game when we did because there was lightning right above us. You could hear the thunder, so it was obvious that the game was going to get stopped when it did,” Indy coach Martin Rennie said. “When we came back, it took us a little bit to get going, but we were doing okay.
The weather delay was welcomed by Lilley.
Sometimes, when a team is on a shut out streak that goes this long, it helps to have a few breaks go their way. Of course, they’re good enough to quickly regain its composure — and get back to playing at a high level.
“It was good to get the rain delay. I thought we started well in then first three minutes, and then we already seemed to be on our heels. They get in behind us once already, so it was good to get them in the locker room and re-focused because I’m not sure we were all there right at the start. We came out with a lot more energy and re-committed and re-focused.”
Neco Brett sensed his team’s energy level and focus changed when they came out to play the rest of the game after the delay.
“We just decided to focus a little bit more, bring some more energy, because we already knew the game plan we were just a little bit slow on our movements so we did that and we got the result we needed.”
The Hounds came out in the first few minutes and looked laser sharp. They began connecting passes better than they have all year.
In the 15th minute, Dani Rovira took a few touches after his teammates broke down Indy to get the ball into the final third. Rovira was fouled about 28 yards from goal.
That was all Neco Brett needed.
Brett and his captain Kenardo Forbes both line-up on the ball, and the captain, who usually takes the majority of the team’s free kicks deferred to his club’s leading scorer.
“As a striker you should be able to hit the target from that distance,” Brett said. “I felt confident, so I told Kenny let me have this one and he was like go for it.”
Brett’s shot was an absolute blast, and no-doubt about it strike that Indy goalkeeper Evan Newton had no chance to stop.
The Hounds then dodged a big bullet when a ball played to the back post found Kelly behind two defenders still able to get a solid header on frame. Goal keeper Morton reacted quickly to close it down inside the post to knock the ball away.
That was Morton’s best save of the night.
Then the captain decided to take matters into his own.
Forbes found some space in the 40th minute into the final third, and right around the same spot where he drilled a shot that beat Indy Eleven earlier this season in U.S. Open Cup third round, and not far from where Brett had scored 24 minutes earlier, Forbes unleashed a drive that found the upper 90 on the left side of goal.
“I mean that’s my spot,” Forbes explained.” Remember that one last time, that’s my spot, so I always try to leave a bit of room to my right before I shoot.”
Here’s Ed Thompson’s images from that sequence…
The second half brought more possession for Indy — and a few dangerous moments with former Riverhound Tyler Pasher wrecking some havoc — forcing Morton into a couple more saves.
Still, the Hounds veteran captain wasn’t done. Usually setting up his teammates as he is the team’s assist leader, Forbes made some more magic in the 71st minute to put the match out of reach.
Brett was facing goal just inside the left edge of the box. He moved in a bit toward the center, then flicked a clever, spinning ball back toward Forbes who was making an overlapping run to the left side of the box.
Forbes took a touch or two, then ran into a defensive wall and a one-on-one situation with Indy’s Karl Ouimette, one of the best defenders in the league for the past four or five years.
Forbes went into his bag of tricks, and went to a move he’s used for nearly 20 years.
“I had a different view, he’s not letting me go on my right so I had to go on my left, so I go to my left and I try to shoot it that’s how we practice and it went it so it was good for the team,” Forbes described his drag swerve move but was most concerned about the result. “It was nice to get a victory plus a clean sheet. Indy is a really good team so for us to get a 3-0 win and a clean sheet, moving in the right direction.”
“That goal, that’s one of his favorite high school moves. He’s been doing it since high school,” Brett said of his fellow Jamaican teammate. “So in the moment he pulls it off like 99 percent of the time he’s gonna pull off that trick you know what I mean and he did it really well he got a brilliant goal.”
“Not much to be said we just need those goals,” Forbes added. “It was a big game and I feel like I need to step up, it was my turn to step up. Luckily, I scored my first brace in the USL, in five years.”
While Lilley probably really did enjoy the goals that propelled his team into the top of the table, he held back from singing too many post-match praises, and even added little bit of sarcasm.
“I’m more interested in the execution. And what we do when we get behind the defense,” Lilley explained. “To me, they were great strikes. We picked a good night to bring that offense out. But I’m more interested in the final pass, and getting into the final position to have clear cut opportunities to score.”
And Lilley added a little jab at his goal scorers.
“Although, I am happy for them. They’ll have something for their highlight collection.”
Rennie was philosophical after the match, but did take his hat off to complement the goals that beat his team.
“The scoreline was a really hard reflection on how the game was,” Rennie said. “Pittsburgh actually scored two great goals, both probably from about 30 yards out. It was one of those nights where what they had went in, and we had lots of chances and we didn’t take them. In the second half, when you’re chasing the game sometimes it was open, but I really feel like three-nil was a really harsh reflection of the game. We can take a lot from that game. We’ve
got four games to go now and if we get playing to that standard and improve on some key details, we’ll be in a great position at the end.”
Maybe the most telling quote of the night about the Riverhounds and where they are at the moment, came at the very end of the post-match interview session with Brett. Even playing through a stretch of five games in 14 days, using squad rotation and still surging to the top of the table and picking up results, Brett senses that they’re coming together at the right time and have utmost of faith in their veteran coach who’s already won championships at this level.
“We have a really good coach, and he understands all of us, and he selects really good teams,” Brett explained. “Whenever we need someone to step up, they do. Just like Dani Rovira, who hasn’t played a lot, came in tonight, and did a pretty good job.”
Confidence is high and these Hounds have their eyes on the big prize, and not just adding to their highlight collections.
“Everyone knows what’s at stake, what’s on the table and knows what it’s going to take,” Brett added. “And everyone’s willing to put in the work to continue to get batter.”
The Hounds will have a short turn-around, and an opportunity to keep this impressive run going when visiting Loudoun United on Tuesday night, then they return home for Atlanta United 2 next Saturday night.
POST-MATCH INTERVIEWS WITH BOB LILLEY, KENARDO FORBES & NECO BRETT