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Bob Lilley Press Conference: Week 7 vs. Loudoun, Saint Louis

Head coach Bob Lilley (left) and top assistant Dan Visser deliver instruction at Monday's training. (RIVERHOUNDS SC)

As heard during Monday’s media conference for Riverhounds SC manager Bob Lilley, with the team preparing for matches at Loudoun United on Wednesday and against Saint Louis FC on Saturday at Highmark Stadium …

On last Saturday’s defeat at East leader Indy Eleven, which dropped the Hounds to 4-3 on the season:

“Listen, it’s disappointing. We have three losses at this point. I think all three games we were really, really close. It’s finding ways to win those type of games. I’m optimistic with this group because I think all three were not just tie-able, they were winnable. I don’t think we’ve played our best soccer yet. I think we started a little slow at Indy. Not just conceding the goal, but we sat a little deeper. I don’t think we put enough pressure (on). I don’t think we took enough risk going forward. Our passing wasn’t good enough. We had a substandard first half and we were only down 1-0. I know we had the one good chance with Skyler Thomas on the free kick, loose ball in the box, but we just didn’t take enough opportunity to go forward.

“We started the second half well, got the penalty chance. Disappointing that we didn’t convert, but to me, the response afterwards … we worked (Monday) on if a team bunkers, we need to move the ball a lot quicker. We got service, but when a team drops a lot of players in, you’ve got to have more dynamic runs to move defenders and the goalkeeper. You’ve got to challenge. We had a lot of service but you’ve got to fight to get on those first balls and do a better job on the second balls.

“We didn’t play overall particularly great in Indy and I think there’s an opportunity to play much better. Those games are winnable if we continue to raise our level. That’ll be important. We obviously have Loudoun and Saint Louis coming up, that are pretty important. We’re going to have to rotate the squad with three games this week. We have a tough game in Loudoun and then we’ll come home and play a rested Saint Louis, so we’re going to see the depth of our squad. We’ve won some big games, at Louisville and against New York here, and we’ve lost a couple of tight ones. Ultimately handling those types of games better will serve us well in the back half of the season. It’s disappointing but I also see growth in the group. We have a whole other level that we haven’t reached yet, and we’re going to continue to try to move in that direction.”

On what specifically was the issue with the attack, which mustered just seven shots at Indy:

“The quality is there. At times it’s our choices. I know the first ball of the game is played into Steevan Dos Santos, and it went under his foot. We had wide-open men and we missed the mark by 10 yards. It was shared, it wasn’t just one or two guys. We forced some turnovers. I don’t think we played as well defensively as we could’ve, but we recovered some balls and Indy created very few opportunities. They definitely kept the ball better and made us chase in the first half. But we got the ball and there was room to play. They’re easier to play against than the Red Bulls’ pressure. We have to be willing to give options and circulate the ball quicker. That’s for everyone, not just our midfielders. We were guilty of dribbling and playing too slow. It shouldn’t take five or six touches to make the pass.

“In the second half against 10 men, you’re either getting around the edge, or that ball needs to be switched. They dropped deep, we played the ball wide … and it seemed like we were playing a 10-yard pass, three touches, a 10-yard pass, three touches. You’re not going to stretch a team if that ball’s not zipping around at a faster tempo. We were a bit more cautious and played in front of them because they dropped back. We needed to force the issue. In the first half, I felt like there was space to play and get at them, but we had some needless turnovers.

“For me, the first half, we’re down 1-0 pretty early, 13 minutes in. We had 32 minutes to create chances and move forward. I don’t think we got enough out of our wingbacks, Ryan James and Jordan Dover. We didn’t get enough numbers into the attack. We talk about being aggressive and willing to go forward; I would want that if we were 0-0 or winning 1-0, even more so if you’re down a goal. I don’t think you wait until the second half. We needed to be more aggressive as a team. Indy’s not easy to break down. They’re a good defensive team, similar to us. But that decisiveness, that energy to get forward, when we get in trouble we don’t bring that to the table. In the second half, there needs to be dynamic movement in the box to force mistakes, to create little gaps. We were pretty pedestrian in our approach. You’re not going to break down an experienced team when you’re not dynamic in those areas.”

On what positives he can take into the second half of this shortened season:

“We’re getting some players back, which is a good sign. Patrick Bunk-Anderson will be training soon. He arrived (Sunday). Albert Dikwa is getting his passport Thursday. We’re hoping to have him here this weekend. These guys will need a couple of weeks. They’ll have to pass some (COVID-19) tests and get some training.

“We’ve definitely gotten better defensively as a group. Some of the younger players are getting a better grasp of how to play as a group. It was good to get Ray Lee more minutes; it was good to give Mark Lindstrom some minutes, he did a good job with some situations he had to deal with. Our depth is getting better, which is good with Loudoun and Saint Louis to go this week. We have another busy week coming up shortly as well.

“It’s tough to go into Indy and limit their chances the way we did. That’s a positive to me. That’s always good, but my concern would be that we’ve been inconsistent this year in creating chances. Some games we’re created a boatload and in others not so much. I think we need to apply ourselves more consistently at the offensive end. When we work on it in practice, we’re getting the results we want, but it’s kind of about bringing it from the driving range to the golf course. We were a bit off the other night. I think if we were better at the attacking end, there were goals in it for us.

“I’m excited that we’re getting healthier and getting some players back. I expect the performances and the results to follow.”

On the challenge of facing Loudoun United on the road on short rest:

“I’m hopeful we can manage the game and hold onto the ball, even though it’s a road game. I think Loudoun has some danger players who are unpredictable, which a lot of times younger players are. But I think with our experience we should be able to get ahold of the ball and chances should come more easily than in Indy. I want to make sure we have possession as well, so we have the energy to defend.

“We can’t put 11 fresh guys (out there). We’re going to have players like Kenardo Forbes and Robbie Mertz playing again, so it’s important that we have enough of the ball. We want to have a game where we’re able to take care of the ball, limit their chances. We don’t want it to be a wide-open game. Hopefully we can use our experience to dictate how the game is played.”

On what the team is doing to keep players fresh when the playing schedule gets heavier:

“It’s difficult and, they’re so critical that, if (some veteran players) are healthy, they’re going to play a lot of minutes through this stretch. Those guys have the fitness base and they’re important to have on the field at these moments. There’s a possibility those players may come off the bench against Saint Louis. I think with some players it makes sense to rest them because they’re fresh, and you have guys coming back for Saint Louis who are 100 percent fresh and fit.

“I think introducing some players against Loudoun is important because they’ll be fresh. There are some guys who are champing at the bit for opportunities. You’ll have a fair amount of players who played at Indy who will play in this game, but we’ve always done well in managing these heavy weeks. Get some momentum back so we can have an opportunity to reevaluate after that and see who has the legs to go out and do the job on Saturday.”

On what he’s doing to stay sharp and fresh during the stress of a condensed season:

“I mean, I’m getting my workouts in and I’m trying to make sure that I’m setting the right tone for our guys. Even if we didn’t have the pandemic, we’re needing to take care of ourselves (as a staff) and stay safe so the group stays safe. Just trying to eat right and get the workouts in, helps relieve some of the stress. Obviously during the season it’s pretty stressful for me. Some players seem to be relaxed all the time, but there’s a lot (of stress). You want to do well, put urgency into the game and the training.

“As much as we push them, though, we’re trying to not overtrain them. Some days are recovery days, but this is the season. Everything’s going at warp speed right now, usually it’s more stretched. Preseason was so long, because we had the hiatus. We’re playing 16 games and the 34-game schedule is more demanding on a player’s body, but it’s still a long stretch to focus. We started way back in February and now it’s the back end of August, and there’s the travel and the hot days.

“The importance of each moment puts stress on the players. But I think we have the right group and a plan in place. Obviously it helps to have all the pieces. I would much rather be talking to you guys after a big win in Indy and being at 5-2. We’re in OK position. We want to try to win our division and Hartford is not making it easy; they continue to get results. We have some games against them where we have some say in the matter, but we’ve got to take care of the other games as well. That’s the ultimate goal: To win the division and get into the playoffs in as good a position as possible.

“I’d love to be golfing regularly. That’s not really happening, but the workouts help relieve some stress. I appreciate your concern.”

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.

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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