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Takeaways/Player Grades: High-pressing Hounds crash Louisville’s new stadium party

Photo courtesy Louisville City FC / USL Championship

They might have waited until the end of the first half, but the Riverhounds SC crashed Louisville City FC’s stadium opening party with a three-goal outburst in a short span between the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to hand the hosts a 3-1 defeat.

Jordan Dover, Robbie Mertz and Anthony Velarde each scored as Pittsburgh overcame an early deficit when former Robert Morris University standout Devon “Speedy” Williams scored the first-ever goal in Lynn Family Stadium history.  Starting forward Ropapa Mensah contributed two assists and Hounds captain Kenardo Forbes added his first assist of the season.

“We have things to work on this week to get better, but it was a gutsy performance and a collective performance,” Bob Lilley, Riverhounds Head Coach, said.

Louisville held the possession edge throughout the match, but it was the Riverhounds who made an impressive string of passes to create the first goal when Kenardo Forbes initiated the attack, then received the ball back. Forbes then laid forward a perfectly placed ball to Jordan Dover, who made a perfectly timed move on the ball into the box.

Dover took a touch, and delivered a perfect strike for the equalizer.

At the start of the second half, Pittsburgh came out of the gates strong, capitalizing on Louisville’s mistakes in playing it out of the back.

“At halftime we were able to clean some stuff up,” Lilley explained.

“I think we started the second half really well with the attitude that we’re here to win the game and we’re going to make it hard. There were two great goals. We made the extra passes. Ropapa [Mensah] held on to the ball and found the right runners going forward in Robbie and Anthony. We knew if we could win the ball there is definitely space.”

Robbie Mertz scored just seconds into the half, when Mensah won the ball when pressing high into the box and found the Upper St. Clair native making a run forward.

Just five minutes later, Anthony Velarde was the recipient of another Mensah takeaway in the 50th minute.

Mensah won the ball on the left side, and instead of rushing through and taking a shot, he waited a few seconds and found Velarde on the back post for the easy one-time volley finish.

Once they build the two-goal lead, and seemingly taking the air out of the new stadium, Pittsburgh locked down Louisville’s attack with a clinic on defending with the lead.

“I thought we did an effective job managing the game once we got the two-goal lead. We didn’t give a ton of clear-cut chances and we made it hard for them. In the second half, I’m really proud of how they responded to get in front and bring home the three points,” Lilley said.


Riverhounds SC – Tomas Gomez; Dani Rovira (Dakota Barnathan 63′), Hunter Ashworth (Danny Griffin 67′), Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Skylar Thomas, Jordan Dover; Ryan James, Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz, Anthony Velarde (Lukas Fernandes 90’+5); Ropapa Mensah (Mark Forrest 67′)

Subs not used: Anthony Mwembia, Danny Vitiello, Xhelil Asani

Louisville City FC – Ben Lundt; Oscar Jimenez, Jimmy Ockford (Luke Spencer 55′), Alexis Souahy, Akil Watts; Corben Bone (Niall McCabe 64′), Paolo DelPiccolo (Napo Matsoso 55′), Speedy Williams; Brian Ownby (Jonathan Gomez 84′), Cameron Lancaster, Abdou Mbacke Thiam (Antoine Hoppenot 64′)


Bob Lilley knew at some point his club was going to have to pick its spots, and press high against a Louisville club that is traditionally very good at playing the ball out of the back.

In the first five minutes, Louisville City FC seemed content to allow the Hounds to start to build possession, but Pittsburgh did so without any sense of urgency. Then from the 5th minute on, the hosts started to bring its attack forward, particularly down the right flank, where the Hounds were conceding too much space.

This led to a few dangerous balls played into the box.

In the 18th minute, Lou City maintained possession after a corner kick, and the ball found its way back out to the top of the 18. That’s when Williams found room to deliver a terrific, low shot that made its way into the left side of the net to give the home side a 1-0 edge.

The Hounds were rattled and disorganized at that point. They had to find a way to keep their composure.

Louisville would own possession for the match (65/35 edge), made 241 more passes (541-300) and would out shoot the Hounds (11-6), had 34 crosses (to the Hounds 7).

The only positive thing that was keeping Louisville City’s back line at bay, was the work rate of Ropapa Mensah, who was making his first start as a Hound after three previous USL seasons in Harrisburg and Nashville where he scored 11 goals, mostly off the bench. The 22-year old has been given the opportunity to be the man here in Pittsburgh, and especially with Steevan Dos Santos sitting out due to an injury, Mensah got the start and was the lone topman.  Mensah was working hard, found a few early shot opportunities and drew a few fouls.

Here’s the Hounds formation/line-up used on Sunday:

After the 30th minute hydration break, the Hounds midfield started to slowly piece things together. Kenardo Forbes remained calm in the storm, and started to stretch possession opportunities for his teammates.

As Louisville City began to play the ball out of the back, Mensah continued to harass them. What he needed was more support from the line of attacking midfielders that included Robbie Mertz and Anthony Velarde. Forbes wanted to push up, but remained a bit deeper especially early in the match.

As the match neared the 45th minute, that’s when the Hounds finally strung together an extended possession, and led to the first goal. They showed tremendous patience, and the ball found its way back to Forbes who connected perfectly with Dover.  At first, it appeared Dover might have made his move too soon because he was so wide open in the middle of the box, but it was perfectly timed.

Once the Hounds got to the locker room, there was no doubt Lilley seized the moment to tell his players that in this first game back from a long layoff, even a team as good as Louisville City is not going to be sharp playing the ball out of the back. He wanted them to press, and press hard especially at the outset of the second half when the Hounds had all the moment.

Sure enough, Mensah led the charge, had two takeaways that led to goals.

Louisville never recovered.  The Hounds locked things down — as one of the commentators during the ESPN 2 broadcast said, Pittsburgh put on a clinic in defending with a lead.

The Hounds conceded shots and possession, and probably too many chances deeper than they would have liked, but Lilley had prepared his team to make sure that they would have to be aggressive. It was in those moments where they were outstanding. The high press led to three goals and stunned Louisville and its fans that were at Lynn Family Stadium opener.

This was all the more impressive that the Hounds did this on the road with a limited roster. The players and coaching staff have said for months now that they really like the depth of this year’s squad. Last year, that was a major question mark, especially in the playoff loss against Louisville at Highmark last November when Lilley didn’t go to his bench, while Lou City brought in seasoned veterans to help tilt that match in its favor.

The Hounds, and every team in the USL Championship, are simply surviving on a week-to-week basis. It’s going to be a hectic grind, They have to turn around, and travel to Philadelphia at week’s end, then have to play just a few days after that at home.

But boy, this was a great way for them to start an unprecedented season.



Tomas Gomez – 6.5 – the veteran keeper weathered the early storm, kept his composure and as the match went on worked better with the back line. Made two saves.


Dani Rovira – 5.5 – I thought he struggled early on, as he seemed to get caught out of position a few times, and Louisville exploited the space on the left side he was defending plus he was really unable to get forward much. But he settled down and was pretty solid in the second half before coming out in the 66th minute.

Dakota Barnathan (63′) – 6 – picked up yellow card in 90th minute. Was a key sub for Lilley in this match who got valuable minutes filling in defending with the lead as the Hounds were without Walls, Bunk-Andersen and Lindstrom in the gameday 18.

Hunter Ashworth – 5 – Shaky in the beginning for his pro debut, picked up a questionable yellow card in 1st half, but continued to play aggressively and like most of his teammates, settled down more in the late 1st half and into second half.

Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 7 – steadying force along the back line who works well with connecting passes with the midfield and winning his duels (7 of 10). Now in this third-year in the league, he’s showing how valuable and versatile he is.

Skylar Thomas – 6.5 – thought he was solid there in the middle., winning most of his battles. You could see him at times talking with and encouraging his teammates, particularly the rookie, Ashworth, when under pressure.

Jordan Dover– 7 – brings exactly what you need from a veteran outside back. Thought he dealt with the energizer bunny Brian Ownby very well on his side, worked hard defensively in first half that he didn’t have as many chances to get forward. His patience and connection with Forbes paid off on the late first half goal which changed the complexion of the match.


Danny Griffin (67′) – 6 – with the five sub rule, Griffin can get his share of time like he did in this match, coming in to keep the energy high along the attacking midfield line.

Ryan James – 6.5 – James who usually would be found flying up and down the left flank, did the dirty work on Sunday, allowing Forbes to have more freedom. He was a bit disconnected at first, but closed down defenders as the match wore on, won some balls back and did well in this role.  Have to think he’ll be back in the left outside spot if/when Tony Walls returns, but he said he likes to play in the middle, and showed off his versatility on Sunday.

Kenardo Forbes – 8 – Even when the rest of the squad seemed unsettled, Forbes remained calm on the ball and helped lead the way in turning the tide and tempo of the match as they leaned on him and played through their captain. His ability to extend possession in the middle, gave his teammates more confidence to push forward. Then, late in the match, he was sitting in front of the back line clearing away balls played into the box. Great start for the veteran All-USL Championship midfielder.

Robbie Mertz – 6.5 – early in the first half, Mertz and Rovira were struggling close down space, and he was having trouble getting forward. Still, Mertz’s work rate was there, and he started to get more confidence like the rest of his teammates by the end of the first half.  Made a terrific run, and had a nice finish on his first goal of the season.

Anthony Velarde – 6 – he was the most accurate passer of the midfielders (79%), but while he was working hard defensively and keeping the shape on his side, he still struggled in his duels (won only one of eight). Like Mertz though, he stuck with it, and got to where he needed to be and had a solid finish on the goal that sealed the Hounds win.

Lukas Fernandes (90’+5) – N/G – nice to see him get some valuable minutes in closing out the Hounds win.


Ropapa Mensah – 9 – couldn’t script a debut any better than this. He gave it everything in 67 minutes, and produced a handful of shot chances, takeways that led to goal, drew fouls to set up free kicks. He even defended well on set pieces when needed (two clearances). The only thing he didn’t do was score.

Mark Forrest (67′) – 6 – nothing spectacular, but again, with the five sub rule, I could very well see Lilley using four or even five forward this year in matches, simply because they’re going to be expending a lot of energy pushing forward and pressing high a lot.

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).

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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