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Bob Lilley Press Conference Transcript: Week 5 vs. New York

As heard during Wednesday’s media conference for Riverhounds SC manager Bob Lilley, with the team trying to win their second straight when they host New York Red Bulls II at 7 p.m. Saturday at Highmark Stadium …

On the return of outside back Ray Lee, who was signed by the team Wednesday:

“I just think he’s a steady guy. He’s a good pro. He can play as a left back, wing back or even a center back in a three-back system. Gives us a little bit of flexibility. It even allows us to look at Ryan James in some different spots. If Jordan Dover were to go down, James could go to right back and Lee could play left back. It gives us cover and he’s a good fit for our system, with how thin we’ve been. It’ll take him a little bit of time to get to his top level. Ray’s a good athlete who keeps himself fit, so I know he’ll help us sooner rather than later.”

On the potential for more squad rotation in the future:

“Xhelil Asani is out right now (due to injury). He’s had a nagging injury for a while. He’s been able to train through it and play through it in practice. He was struggling a lot last week in practice so we shut him down. Mark Lindstrom is still out. There’s a lot of guys with knocks but still able to play. With us having the full week before New York, we don’t have to have as much rotation if any at all. We’re looking at guys in practice and trying to gauge how much Ray (Lee) could help this week. We have guys who have been training in this environment and have game experience at the championship level. It’s important to create as much of that competition as possible. If it makes sense for us to sign another player or two over the next month, we’re open to it. We want to make sure we have the pieces we need to be successful this year.”

On Kenardo Forbes providing the ‘flow’ fo the team in the midfield:

“If there is a piece that’s been important all three years, it’s been Kenardo, but I think Robbie (Mertz), Dover and James and Thomas Vancaeyezeele are a big part of that. Kenny is one of the best players in the league and he’s had a good start to the season statistically. We’re hopeful that continues and he keeps the hot hand. But we’re focused on making the team better, creating more chances and defending better. In the Philadelphia game we were poor in a lot of areas. I recognize that it’s a result and it was important, but we know we’re going to have to play better this week to get all three points.”

On the approach to a rematch with the Baby Bulls:

“I think there’s familiarity. New York hasn’t changed much since I’ve been playing against them. I think the players who’ve gone against them have a good idea (of how to play them). It’s about the ability to win second balls and close the field and move as a unit. We can’t give space. They not only have quick explosive attacking players, they have a very fast tempo to their game. They are fast and they play fast. That’s what they live in. We were able in the second half to create some good attacks. I think the amount we can create will be better at home. And we can do a better job of getting some semblance of organization and play our style and not get into a wide-open track meet. If we’re able to manage the game, it tilts in our favor. We were underwhelming in some ways (in the first game), although (the result) could’ve gone either way. After losing the way we did, I think the players will be determined to get those points back.”

On what could improve about the Hounds’ attack:

“Not forcing. We lose a lot of balls forcing a low-percentage pass, and now we’re defending. You can’t play one against four, you can’t hit a cross when they have numbers in the box. You have to be able to hang onto the ball and make prudent choices about where the advantages are. If you look back to the first Philly game, we were able to create opportunities where we have an advantage and then we move it again and we’re able to walk the ball into the box. The other night against Philly, the first half we did well and were patient. In the second half, there was no passing through the middle third. We just tried to hit long balls over the top. That predictable way of playing doesn’t always work at this level. It’s not sophisticated enough. When New York is pressing and we find our outlets and we get into the attacking half, we’re not always going to be able to go on a direct line to goal. It’s not that we won’t be able to get a quick counterattack, but I think it’s important to blend in those moments where you get opportunities through the run of play and restarts. The only way to do that is to hang onto the ball and make them come back and defend. If you play wide open, you allow their attacking players to cheat. We go 4-v-4 one way and 4-v-4 the other way and Forbes and Mertz aren’t touching the ball as much as you’d like. We want to limit their moments by having the ball more and creating more chances through good possession.”

On the five-substitution rule implemented this season by the USL Championship:

“I do like it. We haven’t always used five, but you can make subs sooner. I think it’s gotten some players some opportunities. Maybe the third sub is entering the game with 25 minutes or so to go. I think it’s important and we’ll be able to take even more advantage of the rule as we get a few more guys back and we get a little healthier and get more depth on our roster. I’m happy for (the rule). Have we used five every game? No. But we’ve used three or four in most, and we’ve been able to get guys more minutes than they’re ordinarily able to get.”

On Danny Griffin’s emergence, particularly his pass that led to the first goal last Saturday:

“That through-ball, it wasn’t a simple split ball. From that distance, you have to feel the defender cheating to the run, and the weight on that ball, for Kenny to chase down, it was one of the better balls that I’ve seen in my three years here. He’s coming along nicely and he’s still learning what it takes, but he’s honest and he works hard. Defensively, we’re still cleaning some things up. He’s good off the dribble. He makes good runs out of the midfield. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s competing well. He’s doing all the work Kenny and Robbie are doing in the midfield, and I think there’s an upside and hopefully he continues to grow like Robbie did last year.”

On having assists on all but one goal scored through five games:

“We don’t have as many explosive dribblers. We have guys who have creativity, but we don’t have Cristiano François on our roster. I think it’s a good sign. Guys are identifying players in danger spots. Guys are making good runs and getting free in the box. Griffin’s pass, that would definitely warrant a second assist. It was that level of ball to break down the defense. It was a good chip ball from Kenardo to Steevan (Dos Santos), but Griffin set that play up for us. I’d like to see a few more unassisted goals on loose balls in the box, rebounds. Some goals are good goals even if you don’t get credited with an assists. I’d like to see the other team have some own goals, because we’ve made some good runs. It’s an interesting stat and hopefully we can continue to find each other, but we’ll take goals any way we can get them.”

On the standard he holds his players to:

“If you see the quality of the play against Indy and measure it against Philly, there was a lack of execution. The passing was poor. We weren’t defending well. The energy wasn’t there. They were running through us at times. If a player gets beat, there should be someone there closing the space behind. They know, generally, when they’re at their best, and we as coaches see their level every day in practice. If they’re not ticking those boxes at the level they’re capable of, we’re going to pay for it at some point. We have to get better through these games. Yeah, I’m pretty demanding. For me we were pretty sloppy in the second half and didn’t create enough chances. We’re always looking to get better. We’ve talked about it this year, that it’s important to grow every game, because in a couple more games we’re going to be at the midpoint. Every point is going to matter coming in. Hartford and New York both have extra games against Philly and Loudoun. They’re going to rack up a lot of points. Only two teams get through the playoffs, so the details are going to matter. I try to share as much as I can with you guys in terms of things we’re looking to do. I can’t always quantify them like a stat. Some of that is recognizing passing percentages and turnovers in attacking areas; some are quantifiable. But if we’re working all week on something like tightening our lines, then that’s something we need to see in the game. We show it to them on video. There are better attacking players and 1-v-1 dribblers than what we saw the other night, and if we don’t clean these things up, they’ll peek out later.”

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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