As heard during Monday’s media conference for Riverhounds SC manager Bob Lilley, with the team preparing for its first two-match week of 2020: Versus unbeaten Indy Eleven at home Wednesday on ESPN2 and on the road Sunday at New York Red Bulls II …
On taking opportunities to develop young players, like during the 6-0 win in Philadelphia on Saturday:
“It’s tricky right now. We want to win the games and certain (veteran) guys are going to get starts, but there’s some good young players that are going to get starts. Lukas (Fernandes), we wanted to play him more in Louisville. We think he’ll score goals; he did in preseason. We were anxious to get him on. (Danny) Griffin just is a bundle of energy. He’s strong. He’s well put-together and he scraps. He’s got some of Robbie (Mertz’s) attributes. He’s a two-way guy who can get forward and generate chances for himself and others. We were excited to start him against Philly. We hope to get some other guys starts against Indy and New York. Even a Mark Forrest, he’s going to get a start here and there because of the things he brings. Fernandes was lively. Good to see him get a goal. He’s very attack-minded. For a first pro start, Griffin handled it very well. I didn’t pull him because he was tired. Ropapa (Mensah), Anthony (Velarde) and Danny were good with their movement and caused Philly a lot of problems. We thought there would be space, and as the game went on, the patience from Robbie and Kenardo (Forbes), we did a good job making them chase. Good to get Dakota (Barnathan) in the game. He can come into the middle of the field and manage it. He’s physical and gets into the right spots.”
On improving from Week 1’s performance at Louisville:
“There’s a belief in the group right now that we’ve got to do it together with all these games. Hopefully there’s not a lot of forced changes. From the Philly game, there will be some changes and tweaks. With New York we’ll reassess after the Indy game and try to put forward our best lineup. Some of the new players have handled it pretty well. I’ve been talking about, regardless of results, improving from game to game. We did a better job, rather than just closing the game out at Philly, we closed the game beyond the shadow of a doubt. Philly was pressing, but we were able to get through those first 15 minutes and the game opened up and we were clinical. Early in the second half, we had to weather that. The good thing was once the space was there, we weren’t moving 100 miles an hour. We were patient, but the ball was moving quickly. We got more guys in the box and improved in that area. We’ll need to play better against Indy to get a result. We weren’t all there today (at training), still tired from Philly and the travel, but we went over some stuff and hopefully tomorrow there’s some more spring in our step. We were fortunate to not pick up any injuries in Philadelphia. At least we have this roster intact going into Indy.
“We took care of two road games. It’s a big game (vs. Indy), so I think they’d be up for it, home or away. It’s disappointing with no fans, but we know if we keep winning, we’re going to create a buzz. This group wants to be successful and it wants to win. Some of the goals in Philly weren’t just one pass after a mistake. Some of the goals were multiple passes, attractive goals. The level of soccer definitely got better from the first week. This group wants to be aggressive and attack, but also keep the identity as a stingy team on the defensive side. There’s a level of excitement that we got off to a good start. I expect us to be ready for Wednesday.”
On the skills of Kenardo Forbes, now just two assists behind Maikel Chang for first all-time in the USL Championship:
“Kenny is just a special player. He feels the game. He’s got experience but in Louisville we knew, being shorthanded with attacking options, he’d have to get higher up the pitch at the right times. But we started him high more as a ’10’ behind Ropapa. Our thoughts were if we start him high and we win a ball, he’s a lot higher to begin with. But we started to establish in the first half (at Louisville) that if he wants to come deeper, he can create some space. Sometimes he’ll go out wide to unbalance the team, or find the soft spots. Early in his career with Rochester, his assist totals were four and five, I think. Last year he had nine and maybe one in the Birmingham (playoff) game. He’s definitely become more of a factor from a playmaking standpoint, but I think he’s always had that adaptability to the game. The last 30 minutes in Louisville he played center back. Just with the injuries and he understands the game, and he’s got the quality to deliver the right ball at the right time.
“A lot of it is (Forbes) growing as a player. But make no mistake, he’s talented. Maybe I’m just figuring out how to use him. He’s talented, but he puts in the work. He’s an outlet for guys, and sometimes you’ll see him making more vertical runs if he feels like we’re not getting forward. He’s making the right decisions at the right time. His awareness of space and where we’re going to be effective, a lot of times he’s making those decisions. A lot of times he does it with feel. I trust him as a player to solve problems on the field. I’m really proud of his development as a leader. Guys have always followed him and respected him. Around the league he’s held in high regard. Now I see him talking more on the field, vocalizing certain things that need to be done with players around him. It’s a big help, especially when you have a lot of turnover on your roster. He’s able to make those players around him better, because he’s playing well and also giving other players the information to be successful. He’s a good passer and he gets better every year.”
On the Hounds becoming the first Pittsburgh team to play a regular-season game on home soil since March:
“I think we’re all aware of it. We’re all in a bubble a little bit, so you want to stay within that bubble to some extent. They have enough on their mind. You just want to keep them focused and safe. I think we’re aware that we’re in the spotlight, whether in Pittsburgh or getting to play on ESPN2. But it’s a great opportunity to play a team like Indy in a big game. If you’re trying to be on the top of the table, these are big games. At the end of the year, they’re going to seed people for playoffs. We’re aware of that, but I think some of it, with our group and with my teams, we just want to win the game. We know not to jump too far ahead. You have to get results on a consistent basis. We’ll have to be good on the night to get a result. I want to think about that and not the parade at the end of the year. I’m aware that people are talking about us, we have to keep getting better and narrow our focus. I think if you start talking about how it’s a big game as a coach, you almost add pressure to the players. The other stuff happens organically. What I want more than any of the other stuff is to win the game.”
On the goalkeeper hierarchy, after Tomas Gomez started the first two games:
“Danny (Vitiello) is the No. 2 right now. In a 34-game season, it’s easier to get your No. 2 8-10 starts. I believe in developing the entire roster. Danny is capable, but in a 16-game season it’s not easy. He’s capable, and he’s going to get a start here in the near future. If you get an injury, I want to know the No. 2 is ready to play and comfortable, and the ‘D’ is comfortable playing in front of him. Maybe the backup only gets 4-5 games this year. Tomas has been OK. He’s had some mistakes we want him to clean up. Nothing glaring, but there’s some crosses we think he could’ve dealt with. Some loose balls he was indecisive with that we can clean up. A lot of players are having these ’senior moments’ that we need to tighten up against Indy. He’s probably going to have to do more against Indy than he was in the first two games. Let’s hope he’s ready. He’s had a couple of dress rehearsals. But I also want to get Danny in. I like our third keeper, Anthony (Mwembia), too, but I don’t think anyone expects us to play our third keeper (barring injury).”
On how to control the dynamic Indy attacker Tyler Pasher, a former Riverhound:
“That’s the million-dollar question. Since the Philly game was over, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. He really stretches the field on you. You want to score, you want to attack. You don’t really want a wide-open game when you have a player like him, and (attacker) Nick Moon. He’s super-fast too, from the tape I’ve seen on Indy. He’s playing up top with Pasher and they’re quick. They’re dangerous. Moon’s doing a lot of damage right now. One of the challenges is, if you’re going to attack, you have to get forward and that opens space behind you. But if you don’t get forward, you’re not going to score, and we want to win every game. It’s about trying to find that balance. If we sit deep, they’ll play through your lines. If you try to play a high line and your defenders are caught, Pasher’s off to the races. We’re mindful of that. What’s that old saying, ‘You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him?’ I think he had nine or 10 shots in the last game.”
On the status of international free agents Albert Dikwa and Patrick Bunk-Anderson:
“We’ve applied for emergency appointments for their visas. It’s frustrating. We haven’t been told ‘no,’ either. That’s in the works and I’m hopeful. Both have the ability to contribute. Bunk-Anderson was here in preseason so he’ll be able to fit in. We hope Dikwa with his fitness base, he’s going to take less time than Ropapa because he’s a naturally-fit athlete. It’s just, when he gets here, our guys will be game fit, game sharp. We hope to have him available for playoffs. We just don’t know exactly when that will happen. Our guys have done a good job taking responsibility for these first two games. Did I see progress? Yes. Are we healthy enough to put up a fight against Indy? Yes. Hopefully we can take some momentum into New York. We could be in a great spot, or we could be 2-2 trying to get our legs back underneath us.”
On whether he categorizes preparation for veteran teams like Indy and Louisville in the same ‘box’:
“Indy has experience, but they’re going to press you at times. They’ll pick moments and they’ll be effective. Philly was very predictable, they wanted to press and get behind you and we were able to train for that. Indy can keep the ball when they want and they can speed the game up. Some of the things we do will be familiar to our guys, because we’ve already used some of these tactics for Louisville or Philly. When we play New York, they’re going to play narrow and do a lot of things similar to Philly tactically. Everything we do is to make them flexible and versatile and learn how to play different systems and get them to understand different tactics, so when we make changes they’re not freaking out. We’re still trying to follow that model even if it’s a 16-game season. We’re not going to play the same hand two times in a row. We’re always going to be authentic to ourselves, but we know we have the personnel and the ability to tweak things. The players who play here, it’s pretty normal for them. It’s not a big thing for me to communicate changes in a game plan. If it’s completely foreign, sometimes they don’t pick it up right away. But if you can tie it to an anchor and you’re adding on, they seem to be pretty good at that.
“We definitely changed some things from Louisville into Philly, and I think the guys did a good job. We’re going to have to do some things that are specific to the personnel. There’s enough experienced guys in our group. Even Skylar Thomas, he’s got Dover to one side and Tommy (Vancaeyezeele) to the other, and he’s an experienced guy, too, so he’ll be able to make changes. If you look at the tape last year against Saint Louis late and then against Birmingham, you’ll see some consistent themes, but the games were different. Hopefully by the end (of this season) we’ll have that flexibility. All those big games we won last season, I think a big part of it was being able to move some things around. The players deserve a lot of credit, and it helps when you have a core. I would’ve liked to bring back more, but we have a group that’s used to it. The concern was if we had enough in the preseason.
“We definitely made strides from Louisville to Philly but we need to not have a false sense of security. This is a completely different game. We may not be able to hold the ball as much as we’d like, although I think we’re improving in that area. We need to be able to hurt them and slow them down. If we don’t deal with their attacking pieces, they’re going to be very dangerous. You can’t let them get comfortable in their game. They have danger on restarts, free kicks, multiple runners, wingbacks in the box. Their personnel is very good and we have our work cut out for us. Right now, my guess is that Indy should be a measuring stick in the East.”