On Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. a pivotal moment came at the beginning of the second half for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC to take the momentum back from Indy Eleven after being dominated for much of the first half, digging themselves into a 1-0 deficit on yet another Tyler Pasher goal.
Instead, the Hounds were denied a golden chance to level the match and dictate terms and potentially the tempo for the final 45 minutes when Robbie Mertz’s penalty kick opportunity was stopped cold by Indy’s Evan Newton.
In the previous sequence four minutes into the second half, the Hounds earned a corner kick. On the ball served in by Mertz. Hounds defender Thomas Vancaeyezeele headed it on frame, but Indy’s midfielder Ayoze used his hand to deny the goal, picking up a red card in the process, as he would be sent off for the final 40-plus minutes of the match.
It’s funny how a missed penalty kick can swing confidence and momentum back to the team that was on its heels.
The penalty kick stop allowed Indy to recollect themselves, dig down and continue to deny Pittsburgh from stealing any points on the road. It’s quite possible that a 1-1 match, things could have played out differently, and the Hounds could have carried forward with a boost.
“We’re down to ten men, we’re under pressure,” Indy’s coach, Martin Rennie, said after the match. “I thought the team did a fantastic job of limiting the chances, stayed organized and made sure that we did the job.”
The Hounds, who started off the match in the same 3-5-2 formation they’ve been using quite a bit this season, including in last week’s 4-1 win vs NY Red Bulls II, couldn’t pick themselves up after that missed penalty chance, as they struggled to crack the well-fortified Indy Eleven.
Despite the expected possession edge by being up a man, sending in a lot more crosses (by the end of the match, Pittsburgh held a 23-2 edge), passes (533-437), shots (7-4, and 4-2 on target), the Hounds lacked clear-cut chances and settled mostly for three of four shots on target coming from outside the box.
“Sometimes you’re not going to convert, but we had 40 minutes a man up. I don’t think we put enough pressure on Indy,” Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said.
“I liked the response at the beginning of the second half, but once we got the man up we needed to be more creative. I think we had a chance to turn the game in the second half and we weren’t able to take advantage of it.”
Part of the danger in playing Indy is the presence that Pasher brings when he’s lurking at the top of their formation.
In the 13th minute, Andrew Carleton, a 20-year old midfielder who had been part of the USYNT system, but fell out of favor in the Atlanta United organization and has been building more confidence after being picked up by Indy, sent an pass over the top for the USL’s leading scorer that seemed to catch the Hounds back line off guard. This time around, Lilley decided not to use a shadow or direct mark on Pasher as they did when Dani Rovira hounded the speedy forward in the previous match at Highmark Stadium in July.
Pasher slipped behind Ray Lee as Vancaeyezeele went up to challenge for a header, which he lost. This moved Skylar Thomas to move up on Carleton who quickly volleyed it over the top for Pasher, who was off to the races, beating Hounds keeper Tomas Gomez to the ball for his eight goal in eight matches to lead the USL Championship.
Tyler Pasher is having a hell of a season with our friends at @IndyEleven.
The Canadian now has 8 in 8.🔥
— FotMob (@FotMob) August 16, 2020
The Hounds back line were significantly stretched numerous times in the first 45 minutes, as Indy controlled possession on the larger field.
Even when playing from behind, the Hounds played with too much hesitation when they had a man advantage. They sent a bunch of crosses in from the width, but most lacked danger and were intended for targets who were well marked and losing battles with Indy defenders.
Much credit should go to the Eleven’s organization in the back and their ability to bottle up passing lanes and defending balls in the air — as they had 23 clearances in the match.
Pittsburgh continued to try to play through Steeven Dos Santos, its target striker, only to some degree of success.
Dos Santos, who can handle and frustrate most USL Championship defenders, was on the losing end of 9 of 13 duels against the defenders Indy was throwing at him. It also seemed as if the Hounds struggled to find the seams to get the ball to Ropapa Mensah, who for the second time against Indy’s back line was losing the physical battle. Mensah seemed rattled and wore down without getting involved. Mensah lost an overwhelming number of his duels (14 of 16!).
Even with time to initiate its attack from the back (Vanceayezeele led the team this night with 93 total passes), then playing through the deeper central midfield with less pressure, the Hounds couldn’t get much going. This was a bit surprising considering how well Kenardo Forbes has played this season in orchestrating his club’s attack with patience from the central midfield. The veteran midfielder couldn’t find too many openings in the back of the Indy’s defense on Saturday. This wasn’t the Philadelphia Union II, a club he’s feasted this year in piling up a number of assists.
Of Forbes’ 69 total passes against Indy, he tried 16 long balls, which is a lot for him. The Hounds should have been more patient, use the width more and probably worked the ball from side-to-side, switching the field of play more in this match.
Against a rock solid and experienced team like Indy, Forbes needed more help from his fellow central midfielders, Mertz and Danny Griffin (and add in Anthony Velarde who came in the match in the 71st minute). The work rate is almost always there with these young players, but with a chance to break down a team playing with 10 men, they came up short on Saturday.
The Hounds’ 82 percent passing accuracy — which on most nights would be pretty impressive — was an illusion in a match when they needed to convert in and around the box. In the opponent’s final third that number dropped down (73.2%).
Pittsburgh does not create tons of shot opportunities, even as they’ve scored 18 goals in six previous matches already this season (second best in the USL Championship). However, they’ve been consistently near the top of the league in conversion rate, by making the most of their opportunities.
Not against Indy Eleven.
In the two matches, for 180 minutes plus more than 10 minutes of stoppage time, Indy has pretty much turned away Pittsburgh’s best chances either with some luck (Tommy V’s ball off crossbar, goes down, then back off crossbar bounces quickly out of goal in 1st half of the first match between the two squads), great goalkeeping (Newton also stopped Mertz cold in the first game after a nice give-and-go) and solid play by its back line.
There were crosses coming in, as once again the Hounds had its outside backs Jordan Dover (85 touches/61 passes) and Ryan James (63 touches/49 passes) but most were cleared away. While Pittsburgh had nearly two dozen crosses and five corners, Indy, for the most part, calmly withstood the pressure — as noted by winning the physical battle and clearing a ton of balls away.
Pittsburgh instead ended the evening with more frustration than quality chances.
Just imagine for a moment — if both of Thomas Vanceayezeele’s shots from corner kicks in each game against Indy go in, things could look a bit differently for the Hounds in the win-loss-draw column.
Instead, they’re stuck at the moment with an unsettling 4-3-0 overall record.
Much like last year’s unsatisfying 2-2-7 record after 11 games, the Hounds will have to use their current position as motivation to grow as a team and for each player to get better to finish the 2020 campaign strong.
Nothing appears to be a lock. The Hounds (with 12 points) have work to do to take back the top spot in its group, as Hartford (now with 15 points) defeated the third place, but spiraling NY Red Bulls on Saturday.
While there are some folks who might be ready to sound the alarm, counting out a Bob Lilley coached team captained by Kenardo Forbes would be a bit presumptuous.
If the Hounds can fix some of these creative issues in the final third, they could very likely get their chance to finally solve the Indy Eleven this year come playoff time.
Riverhounds SC Player Grades
Tomás Gomez – 6 – had to come off his line a bit in the first half, and couldn’t get to the ball against the dynamic Pasher in his one-on-one chance, but did make one save.
Ryan James – 5 – felt like a fairly quiet game overall on the left flank for the versatile Hound who’s played in every minute of every match this year in various positions.
Ray Lee – 5.5 – solid but not spectacular
Thomas Vancaeyezeele – 6 – was part of breakdown on the Pasher goal by taking chance to come up for the header. Still had four interceptions, lead team in touches/passes, winning most of his duels and nearly had the equalizer.
Skylar Thomas – 5.5 – Thomas, who left in 71st minute with injury, was solid in his battles.
Jordan Dover – 5.5 – only one of six successful crosses. Thought he did well on his side to win his battles (2 interceptions, clearance, tackle, won 5 of 8 duels)
Danny Griffin – 4.5 – against a tougher opponent struggled a bit more in being creative link between Forbes/back line/wingers and the forwards. The work rate is there though he did concede a few fouls.
Kenardo Forbes – 6 – even on a night where he could have been, and probably by his high standards, should have been better, his quality still showed from box-to-box.
Robbie Mertz – 5 – missed PK opportunity hurt. Created a chance, made lots of passes — most accurate on the club — but most in final third couldn’t be a part of unlocking and picking apart the Indy back line.
Ropapa Mensah – 4 – 29 touches. 19 passes. No shots. No chances created. As previously mentioned, lost almost all of his duels. I suggest in the postgame show on Pittsburgh Sports Live with Matt Gajtka last night — maybe a few matches where he comes off the bench might be a nice change-up for the young forward.
Steevan Dos Santos – 5 – although the Hounds still intend to play through him a lot, his 36 touches and 21 passes, brought about three fouls earned along with three fouls called including a yellow card. The battles were intense against Indy and Duba had his hands full.
Subs – 3
Lilley used four subs, but they weren’t able to make a lot of impact in a match where the Hounds really needed to find a way to stretch out Indy and make them chase them.
Mark Lindstrom (73’) – His first appearance of the season. Lilley had a lot of confidence in him before his preseason injury. May take on bigger role, especially if Thomas is sidelined and as Hounds play two games in four days this coming week.
Anthony Velarde (71’) – the Hounds need attacking midfield and forward subs who can come in and shake things up when trailing. Velarde didn’t do that.
Lukas Fernandes (88’) – one nice sequence keeping a possession alive, but also couple of giveaways and one missed touch from a pass.
Mark Forrest (88’) – last year, he had an impact in a few matches coming off bench. Only one touch in the few late minutes he appeared.
Subs not used: Danny Vitiello, Dakota Barnathan, Dani Rovira
Indy Eleven – Evan Newton; Neveal Hackshaw, Mitchell Osmond, Karl Ouimette; Tyler Gibson, Drew Connor, Ayoze, Cameron Lindley; Tyler Pasher (Nick Moon 83’), Andrew Carleton (Matthew Watson 56′), Ilija Ilic (William Connor Antley 57’)
Subs not used: Jordan Farr, Carl Haworth, Jeremy Rafanello, Kenney Walker