Two games, two stoppage-time goals conceded, two defeats for the Riverhounds. When was the last time Pittsburgh lost back-to-back games? A long, long time ago.
You have to go back to July 21 and 28 of 2018 to find the last time the Riverhounds lost consecutive matches.
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) July 27, 2020
Their opponent tonight is, once again, Philadelphia Union II, who the Hounds pummelled 6-0 on July 18. Philly 2 have struggled this season: after opening back in March with a nil-nil draw, the youngsters have been pounded by all comers: they followed up their defeat to the Hounds with a 5-1 loss to NYRB2 on July 22 and a 3-2 defeat to Hartford Athletic on July 25. Their 0-3-1 record and -11 goal differential has them last in Group F, USL’s Northeast regional group for this Coronavirus-truncated season.
Obviously, little has changed in the two weeks since the last time these two teams met. For the Riverhounds, Steevan Dos Santos is probably 90 minutes match-fit (hat tip to MonGoals for pointing that out to me on their fantastic show this week.) For PHI II, Issa Rayyan has been starting again at leftback, so his addition should shore up that shaky defense.
Tactically, the Riverhounds first win over Union II was pretty easy. The ball was sent into Kenardo Forbes at deep midfield, who was left with plenty of space to operate. In turn, Kenny swung perfect 40-yard diagonals to either side, forcing the defense to shift but giving the Riverhounds triangular passing brackets on either side – Griffin, Velarde, Dover on the right; Mertz, Mensah, and James on the left. Everybody I just mentioned had a goal or assist against Philly except Ryan James.
Expect that to be Plan A. But Bob Lilley has to know that the Union dissected the tape from the last match and won’t want to be humiliated the same way again. If I was Union II coach Sven Gartung, I would do two things: 1) pressure or man-mark Kenardo Forbes constantly, and 2) have the midfielders set up zones to deny passing lanes. In the last game, not only was Kenardo able to make passes with impunity, but Hounds wingers were totally free to receive those passes uncontested. Philly defenders seemed to think they’d be able to defend one-on-one in the final third – and as a result they became easy to overwhelm.
They also fell into a common trap for a chasing team – as they fell more and more behind, more of their midfielders drifted into spots where they could go on the counterattack. One uncontested duel or one sloppy pass, and the Hounds had regained the ball and had numerical advantage. Either Philly fixes these errors, or they lose again. It’s that simple.
If Philly makes adjustments, Lilley will need a Plan B, which would likely be a version of classic Lilleyball – either patient possession and careful probing, or a hard defensive grind-you-into-dust outlook with longballs in attack. Either way, this game looks like a very good chance for the Hounds to rebound from their brace of defeats this past week. And depending on what happens in the Hartford-Loudoun game on Sunday, it might also send the Hounds back to the top of the Group F table.
Note: this match is at home, while the last one was away. I’m not sure that a game played without fans is that much of an advantage for the home team. But at least the Hounds don’t have to deal with quarantined travel on a bus. The 5 1/2 drive to Philadelphia is no fun. No offense to yinz, but when each service exit’s best food offering is Subway, and the best city to pass through on your way someplace is Harrisburg, it’s not a great travel experience.
Previous Union II Scouting Report
Last Week’s Lineup
New look for the guys tonight. Here’s the starting XI presented by Sun East.
— Philadelphia Union II (@PhilaUnionII) July 25, 2020
Date: Saturday, Aug. 1
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA
Television: 22 The Point
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: pittsburghsoccernow.com; Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #PITvPHI
Image of Brenden Aaronson from match this week in Orlando C/O Philadelphia Union via twitter