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Hobbled Hounds end preseason with scoreless draw vs TFCII

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Riverhounds SC’s coach Bob Lilley is not one to sugarcoat anything.

The veteran coach didn’t hold back when sharing his assessment of his squad as they finished the preseason with scoreless draw against Toronto FC II at Highmark Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Now the Hounds look to the season opener in Charlotte next Saturday as a hobbled club, but one that its coach likes as he begins his third regular season in Pittsburgh next week.

“We have work to do, There’s no doubt,” Lilley said after the match. “There’s 23 guys on our roster. Out of those 23, there’s nine guys who may or may not be able to give us 90 minutes (next week). Whether its injuries, fitness or visa issues, there’s still a couple of those lingering.”  

The Hounds ended this preseason with a 2-2-4 record, as they were still trying to work out the kinks, and learn how to collectively manage through games for 90 minutes.  

“I liked a lot of things today defensively,” Lilley said. “It was good to see Ropapa [Mensah] make a few contributions, he just got here. We made progress today. That was a pretty athletic team.”

The Hounds, starting ten players under contract (with the only exception being center back Hunter Ashworth), controlled possession for long stretches in the first half, but left one particular golden opportunity on the table at the very end of the first half when Anthony Velarde drove deep into the penalty box before passing back to Robbie Mertz, whose ensuing shot from just inside the 18 yard spot just went over the crossbar.

“I know Robbie got in and had a good chance there, and he usually hits the target eight out of nine times,” Lilley recalled after the match. “We have two very important players that played 90 minutes today. (Robbie) Mertz and Kenny (Forbes). We weren’t good enough today. We recovered balls. We had open space to run through. But we weren’t good enough up front. There were goals to be had. That’s not all on the forwards.” 

It was Mark Forrest who was the top man in the Hounds 5-2-3 formation, as Velarde and rookie Lukas Fernandes sat just below in the attacking trio in the starting eleven.

First half line-up vs TFCII

With Thomas Vancaeyezeele still nursing a calf injury, now having missed the past four preseason matches, Tony Walls stepped up to play in the center of the Hounds back line, between trialist Hunter Ashworth and Skylar Thomas, who played with Toronto FC II for a couple of seasons.

Lilley said would he would like to have the luxury of having Walls to be able to provide depth to his central midfield along with Mertz and Forbes, but was happy the versatile veteran could help keep things organized in the back.  

“He’s a good defender. A few times, when they needed help in the back, he help stabilized things back there,” Lilley said. “With Thomas (Vancaeyezeele) not here, he’s able to help. (Thomas and Ashworth) won a lot balls. They needed the right cover. The right talk. A few times I wanted Tony in different places, but overall, he was a big help.” 

Walls, who played for Lilley’s USL Cup winning Rochester Rhinos squad in 2015, along with Forbes and Dos Santos, knows he’ll be called on to play multiple positions this season.

“We’re pretty defensive team. On a week-to-week basis, we looking at who we’re going up against. Look at what the tactics are going to be. Who’s on form, who’s not. See who’s injured, who’s not,” Walls said. “Bob will Pencil me in where he thinks where ever I’m needed. And that’s the role I am willing to accept. Do whatever’s needed for the team.”  

In the second half, the Hounds created numerous chances, but left things more open ended going both ways toward the end of what Lilley felt was a strong defensive performance.

“We didn’t get ourselves wide open until the end of game. We limited opportunities. I feel like this group can score goals as we move forward.” Lilley explained. “The only downer today. Was letting them have opportunities late in the game, and it would have been a deflating loss.  I don’t think we gave a lot away. On defensive side, it was the best we’ve looked.”  

The line-up stayed intact through the first 68 minutes, giving the majority of the starting eleven an ample amount of minutes in preparation for next week’s opener, and a possible look at what the first starting eleven may look like in Charlotte.

“With some of the injuries. For them to play in this type of game. And cope. And win their share of battles today. Against all the (TFCII) athletes. And with all the issues going on. They managed it for 90 (minutes),” Lilley said. “And that’s a good sign. They’ll continue to get sharper. They’re passing and their ideas. When all of our attacking guys are healthy. It’s going to make a big difference. Confidence-wise and also to be able to punish teams, and play on our terms. Right now, we have to manage the game with all these injuries.”

Then Lilley brought switched his forward combinations, taking out Forrest and Fernandes for Mensah and Steevan Dos Santos.

The Hounds would also bring on Patrick Bunk-Anderson (another center back invitee) in for Ashworth. Two of the newest signees, Dakota Baranathan came in for Skylar Thomas to get some work on the back line too and Danny Griffin relieved Velarde.

The remaining players on the current roster (Thomas Vanceyezeele, Ryan James, Xhelil Asani, both goalkeepers Anthony Mwembia and Danny Vitiello, Mark Lindstrom {knee} were held out).

Second half line-ups vs TFCII

As he indicated that his roster is still in flux, mentioning 23 names, but having at least nine that he knows likely can’t start next week, Lilley, still feels pretty confident that he’ll have a solid group to go to Charlotte.

“I’m trying to get there, just as all the guys are too. Every year is different. You have to establish who you are. How to win. You don’t get anything really from last year that carries over,” Lilley added.

“Right now, we have to find the finishing touches to get over the line, and learn how to win. Hopefully our play over the preseason we’ve done enough work. It’s been better than results will indicate. Especially with some of the hardships. We won’t get the points back in the regular season. We’ll have to scrape and claw. Now, after today, we won’t get any do-overs.” 

Riverhounds SC Lineups:

First Half: Tomas Gomez – Dani Rovira, Hunter Ashworth, Tony Walls, Skylar Thomas, Jordan Dover – Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz, Anthony Velarde, Lukas Fernandes – Mark Forrest

Second Half: Tomas Gomez – Dani Rovira, Hunter Ashworth (Patrick Bunk-Anderson), Tony Walls, Skylar Thomas (Dakota Barnathan), Jordan Dover – Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz, Anthony Velarde (Danny Griffin), Lukas Fernandes (Ropapa Mensah) – Mark Forrest (Steevan Dos Santos)

Post-Match Notes: 

After the match, the club had a little get-together for season ticket holders in the packed Highmark Stadium suites. Owner Tuffy Shallenberger introduced Lilley, who surprisingly still had his voice. The veteran coach introduced his players as they revealed the team’s kits.

USL Openers

Defending Eastern Conference champions Louisville City FC had a bit of a battle with North Carolina FC, but pulled it out, 1-0.

Here are the other scores of note from the first day of action in Eastern Conference:

Indy Eleven 4 Memphis 901 FC 2

Tampa Bay 1 NY Red Bulls II 0

Loudoun United 0  Phila Union II 0

St. Louis FC 4  Miami FC 1

Charlotte opens on Sunday at Sporting KC II.

What’s Next:

With the completion of the preseason schedule, Riverhounds SC now turns its focus to the regular season. The club will open the 2020 campaign with an away match at the Charlotte Independence at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 14 at Sportsplex at Matthews.

Pittsburgh Soccer Now ramp up coverage this week to include a bit more from Lilley (imagine that!), our annual Media season predictions, more from my interview with Tony Walls, Mark Goodman’s Scouting Report on Charlotte, exclusive live coverage from Charlotte on Saturday and more.  Look for more details in the coming days!  



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).

Glory on the Grass

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Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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