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Bob Lilley Press Conference Transcript: Week 4 vs. Philadelphia

Lukas Fernandes takes a shot on Danny Vitiello during a Riverhounds training session. (RIVERHOUNDS)

As heard during Wednesday’s media conference for Riverhounds SC manager Bob Lilley, with the team trying to rebound from a rare set of consecutive losses. They’ll host Philadelphia Union II at 7 p.m. Saturday at Highmark Stadium …

On the impact of Steevan Dos Santos gradually playing more minutes:

“He did well last week. We played him about 10-15 (minutes) in Philly and then 30 and stoppage time versus Indy, 45 minutes-plus at New York. He handled the minutes in New York well. Handled a lot of balls and linked play. It was a demanding game and it was very hot. That’ll take some of the weight off of Ropapa (Mensah). He’s done well, but we haven’t created that many chances over the past couple of games. We want to create more at that end of the field. Sometimes we’ve been guilty of not stringing enough passes together. In the first half at New York, we got a goal and got balls into good areas and then forced passes and crosses. We did a lot of extra running in the first half. We were probably fortunate to be 1-1 at halftime. Felt like we did a better job managing the game in the second half, but the quality in the final third with runs and passes wasn’t good enough. It’ll be nice to get (Dos Santos) on the field for what he can do offensively, but also experience and leadership will get the midfielders into the game a little more. Kenny (Forbes) and Robbie (Mertz) need to see the ball more than they did in the New York game.”

On whether rookie defender Hunter Ashworth might get more opportunity:

“He’s good in the air. He started three games and he’s struggled in those games. A young player is going to have a learning curve and some anxious moments. We’re trying to help him through that. As a team we’re collectively trying to get better and find the right mix of players in our lineup. We’re 2-2, we could be 4-0, we could be 1-3. It’s still early. I think we had a demanding week this week. I’d like to see us get fitter through 90 minutes, but I think that’s going to require us to hold onto the ball better. It’s important how we learn. We said from the beginning we’ve got to grind for every point and learn quickly. We’ve got to be able to grow quickly. I don’t expect Philadelphia is going to be as easy as the first time. They’re still going to have that quickness and they’re going to tighten up some things. We’ve got to tighten some things up in the back ourselves after the Red Bulls game. It’s giving all these guys chances and helping them grow. Do I anticipate (Ashworth) in the starting lineup Saturday? No. All these guys are going to get opportunities.”

On whether a 2-2 record is a fair approximation of how the team has played: 

“It’s probably fair on the whole, but it’s disappointing when you’re 2-0 and you have chances to win the next two games. But good teams find a way to win, if you hope to have success in the latter stages of the season. I don’t think we were brilliant against Louisville. They gave us a couple of gifts there. I expected us to be fighting to be in position to win some games, and we have. We’re competing well, but our execution has to get better. Our game management has to get better, especially in late stages. What we learned in the first four is going to make us better for the last 12. It starts this weekend. We know Philly and they know us, and we’re at home. We have a chance to get a result at home and put ourselves one up in the win column and go to the next game. There’s going to be other tough games on our schedule. We’re at a point now where it’s not Game 1. As a staff we know the players a little better, but the players are also learning what it takes to win. We’re all about taking steps forward as quickly as we can, because other teams are trying to ramp up. Before we know it, we’re going to be at the midpoint. It’s what you do in the first half of the season that puts you in a position.”

On the challenges of playing in front of no fans, both home and away:

“It’s not easy. We’d love to have our fans there (at home) and have a little bit of energy. The Indy game, the fact it was on ESPN2, it was a competitive game with a lot of intensity. Almost a playoff-type of feel and that was nice to see. I think they responded well to Louisville and stayed on track. I thought we were flat the other day in New York. That could be a little bit of travel after Indy. New York can always pose problems in how they play. I wish they had fans there because the energy from us was really low. Sometimes even as a visiting team, having people yelling at the ref or your team, that’s what you’re used to in a pro environment. I don’t think we were quite there with our intensity in the first half of that game, and I think that gave them belief. This week, we want to protect our home field, and it’s on us to create that energy. It’s a challenge we’ve talked to the players about. I see it as a slight disadvantage, but not one that can’t be overcome. Some teams, whenever they play at home, have their crowd behind them, but our guys are happy playing in front of fans whether we’re home or away, and doing the things that are necessary to win the game.”

On how Philadelphia Union II might change after losing 6-0 to the Hounds:

“Once you get through that first early stage of both halves, it’ll be important for us to get on the ball. I think they’ll be more organized and a little bit more prepared, but I think if we execute we’ll have our share of the ball. I know they had a couple of chances to get behind us last time. If they get an early goal, their confidence is going to soar. We need to tighten some things up in the back, even if we haven’t given up a ton of goals. We’ve been erratic with our passing, too. I know we scored a boatload of goals in the first two games, but scoring goals is going to require contributions from Forbes and Mertz. It can’t just be dump it to the forwards and watch them score. It’s getting Jordan Dover and Ryan James into the attack. I don’t think we’re set up to be a team that bangs it long to the forwards in the hopes they’ll score goals. We’re trying to be a team that hangs onto the ball and dictates play.”

On the status of Tony Walls, Patrick Bunk-Anderson, Albert Dikwa and Mark Lindstrom:

“Tony is dealing with personal stuff. He’s back in Milwaukee. We’ve given him some time to deal with some personal things. That’s his priority right now. Those players overseas, we’ve been working on it for four weeks. (Operations head) Jon Rotz, the league, immigration attorneys have gotten involved. The paperwork’s been filed. It would be nice (to have them). I feel thankful that we’ve been relatively healthy over the first four games. Lindstrom had a step backwards in training yesterday. Didn’t train today. We’re actually a plus-one since Louisville (with Dos Santos coming back). Hopefully we’ll be able to unlock some of these deadbolts and open the doors for guys to come back. I’m a believer in, that you have a group and you just have to win games. No one’s going to write about that you’ve had injuries or some guys weren’t there. We’re probably where we are (fairly), but I think with a 2-0 start, we’ve let some points get away. Some of those points we’ve let out of grasp that we have to get back.”

On having any anxieties about traveling and playing during the pandemic:

“The protocols have been helpful. The players are isolated. Even when we played New York, we had to go by their locker room to get to our locker room, but they had barriers to funnel it off. I think every team has tried to separate the (team) areas so there’s no cross-contamination. Obviously when we’re on the field, they’re in close proximity, but we’re not coming in close contact with fans anywhere. When we leave, we go straight to the bus. With the testing, we’re hoping we can keep our players safe, knock on wood. With five weeks of testing, we haven’t had any positive tests yet. Guys have their masks on when they’re in the common areas of the hotel and heading to the bus.”

On how to use the negative emotions of two straight late losses as motivation:

“The Indy game, to me, was heartbreaking because we’d worked so hard and we deserved something out of that game. I didn’t think New York was, because I don’t think we played well enough, and we made mistakes on that goal. Not enough back-pressure and guys weren’t recovering into good areas. For me, there’s a difference. It was tough to lose the way we did against Indy. New York, I’m trying to use that as a motivator. I feel like we owe the city something, we owe the owner, we owe the organization. We didn’t play well that day. The standard wasn’t good enough. We’re not going to win every game, but we need to put ourselves in a position to win and give ourselves the best chance. I hope our players understand that you’re going to drop points if you’re not locked in right away. We made countless mistakes in bad areas and were lucky to be in the game at halftime. It happens and we have to learn from it. Louisville, they could’ve kept playing. They got frustrated and banged long balls. They helped us get a result that game, and I felt like we gave New York some help. It was a wide-open game and that benefited more them than us. You drop a couple of games and some players are ready to move on and make things right. Sometimes it can be a mental block and guys think we’re snakebit. For me, that’s over. We’ve been successful in turning the page (for the past two years) and good teams are able to do that.”

On whether he’s been disappointed by officiating, especially missed calls on plays that could get players hurt:

“It’s disappointing. There’s some challenges right now for the refs. Some refs are confined to the bubble in Florida for MLS games. They aren’t being rotated in (to USL Championship games). They haven’t had a preseason. The games mean more because it’s a shorter season. The intensity is ramping up and they’re trying to find their form. Sometimes refs have bad days, too. We have to hope that gets better, but we as a team have to look at what we need to do. I don’t believe that one call (on the goal line) against Indy is why we lost the game. I think it’s still there to be won. If we played better in the attacking third, there were goals to be had. It’s tough to control the refereeing you’re going to get, so I try to convince the players to control what we can control. Some spotty reffing may not have impact on that result of the game. I spent my first three years yelling at the refs constantly. It is concerning to see some of the tackles that have been overlooked, that put player safety in jeopardy. The league reviews these things and hopefully they get tightened up as we as a team try to improve our performance.”

Matt Gajtka (pronounced GITE-kah) is a columnist, analyst and reporter for Pittsburgh Soccer Now. In addition to his four-year role as play-by-play broadcaster for Riverhounds SC, he has experience covering pro and amateur sports for over a decade. Matt got his start in soccer while calling games for the Marshall University men's and women's Division I teams. He fondly remembers attending Hounds matches at Bethel Park High School, although he lapsed during the Moon and Chartiers Valley years. Like many, the construction of Highmark Stadium in 2013 rekindled his passion for the club and local soccer in general.

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