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Takeaways/Grades: Weary Hounds can’t keep lead

Takeaways/Grades: Weary Hounds can’t keep lead

It was a long night for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and Saint Louis FC on Saturday at Highmark Stadium, as the USL Championship sides played to a 2-2 draw in a weather-delayed match that finally ended close to midnight.

Ultimately, it provided an unsatisfying result for the home side, which held a 2-0 lead late in the first half. but now carry a 5-3-1 overall record.

Final: Riverhounds SC 2, Saint Louis FC 2

Takeaways

Wild Weather Delays

These marathon matches are nothing new to Hounds fans. In recent years, we’ve had our share of weather-delayed hold-ups.

Two years in a row, we celebrated the 4th of July with weather delays but the night the lights went out, in 2016, was probably the worst.

The Night The Lights Went Out at Highmark

This was the second match delayed by bad weather at Highmark Stadium this short season, but the previous one was already an official match when the Hounds and Philly Union II halted play in the 78th minute in early August with the Hounds holding a commanding lead.

On this night, Pittsburgh went into the locker room with 2-1 lead, but lost the momentum  when surrendering a goal at the end of the first half.

With the shortened season, the clubs and the USL Championship were intent on sitting it out as long as possible to make sure they wouldn’t have to replay the match in its entirety.

It was Saint Louis who played the second half with a sense of urgency, and nearly completed a comeback win, as they were the more ambitious of the two sides after the break.

TACTICS & FORMATION 

The Hounds went with a lineup that might have been emblematic of its opening day roster in March if everything went according to plan, with one exception — with a rested Ray Lee in for Ryan James in the left wing spot.

The addition of Lee to the roster now allows Hounds head coach Bob Lilley to create some ongoing squad rotation with his flank positions, giving James and Jordan Dover to get some rest at different points during the abbreviated season.

With Mark Lindstrom back healthy, he lined up as part of the center back trio with Thomas Vanacaeyezeele and Skylar Thomas.

As he mentioned earlier in the week, prior to the Hounds 2-0 road win vs Loudoun United FC, Lilley said he was confident in rolling out his central midfield duo of Robbie Mertz and Kenardo Forbes, as each still hasn’t missed a start this season. Danny Griffin joined them in the middle of the formation.

Lilley opted to start the second half with the same 11 men who started the match and didn’t go to his bench until the 81st minute.

Saint Louis, a solid possession team, made one substitution at the outset of the second half as Richard Bryan came out, while Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé was added.

While it was a bit more evenly played in the first half, Saint Louis grew more comfortable, and owned the possession for large bunches of the second half, making the Hounds chase them. They started to manage the ball better to beat Pittsburgh’s high press, switching the field with ease.

“I told the guys, they have good forwards and many talented guys,” Lillley said after the match.

“I told them they were going to come out tough in the second half, and they did.”

PRESSURE CREATES CHANCES

Going into this match, I couldn’t have predicted the weather, but I did go out on the limb to pick a 1-1 draw, simply because I thought the Hounds were playing on the end of three games in eight day swing. They would have to do something really special to put together a full-90 minute effort against a quality side that had all week prepare.

The first 40 minutes of the first half went according to plan for Pittsburgh. They were in control and took the lead thanks a well-organized, team effort that included solid work at the top by Ropapa Menash and Robbie Mertz in capping off chances. Each help from Steevan Dos Santos, Kenardo Forbes and Jordan Dover.

The Hounds struggled to string together creative moments in the final third leading up to this match in the two previous matches when they were playing up a man. Creativity is not always the missing ingredient to creating more chances in the final third though. Lilley has said he would like to see more goals come from making opponents feel uncomfortable and bringing waves of pressure.

Two of those waves brought goals on Saturday.

In the 16th minute. Jordan Dover initiated the goal-scoring sequence when he made a well-timed sliding tackle to poke the ball free near midfield. Mertz took possession, then turned on the jets on to move the edge of the box, where he played a ball off his outside right foot to Steevan Dos Santos, who was on the right side of the box with some space.  Dos Santos played a low ball that skimmed through to the goal box area for Mertz, who continued on, making a run to the near post. The ball deflected off a few players, but Ropapa Mensah was there to clean it up and make sure it went in as it  bounced on the goal line.

The Hounds second goal provided to be another situation where a little bit of heat in the box created some chaos resulting in another opportunistic goal.

This time, in the 40th minute, it began from the right side with Jordan Dover again.

Forbes’ initial shot after receiving a pass from Dover was deflected. Mensah then took a few touches in traffic, but he could never control it, but the ball found its way through to Mertz, who was,making a run through the box.  Going against his body, Mertz delivered a clever finish with his left foot with a low shot into the right side of goal, past his former teammate, Kyle Morton.

Mertz, as he usually is — was in the right place at the right time but also made the most of his chance with a solid job of finishing.

Now with four goals on the season, Mertz continues to bring a level of confidence and non-stop energy that helps fuel the Riverhounds SC attack. Mensah tapped in his third goal of the season in a match where he was a lot more active and involved than his previous start against Indy Eleven.

The Hounds were bringing bodies into the box in the run of play — and created two goals.

Dover continued to have room on the right width to get forward a few more times as the first half came to a close, but the Hounds couldn’t add to the lead.

Altogether, the Hounds created six scoring chances, with Mertz, Dover and Forbes involved in all six.

LOSING THE LEAD 

Lilley pointed to the last five minutes of the first half, and the early portions of the second half where his team lost control of the match.  The Hounds inability to score the third goal, then its carelessness in the last moments of the first half that led to the first Saint Louis goal from a long ball played into the box created a momentum swing in the match for Saint Louis.

In allowing that goal at the end of the half, the Hounds back line had a clear breakdown — as too many players converged on the ball — and didn’t focus on the second ball which was won by Saint Louis’ Kyle Greig.

The bad weather rolled in at halftime, and the teams would not step back on the field until around 10:30 p.m. for warm-ups as viewers on 22 The Point were treated to a bunch of Greatest Sports Legends and infomercials.

The Hounds couldn’t seize the match back in the second half.  Saint Louis took advantage, controlling the tempo for the rest of the match.

In the 55th minute, Lindstrom was called for a foul near the box, resulting in a yellow card — and an opportunity for a former Rochester Rhino, Wal Fall, to score on his free kick opportunity against his former coach and teammates that are now with the Hounds.

The Hounds continued to look stretched out at times, and Saint Louis nearly made the comeback complete in the 78th minute when Russ Cicerone had a golden chance eight yards on the far post side with plenty of room to shoot. His shot attempt banged off the top crossbar.

Pittsburgh nearly took the lead back in the 73rd minute when Mertz got deep into the right side of the box, then found Forbes who somehow unleashed a shot in a crowd of defenders that forced Morton to make a top-notch save.  Dover had another decent opportunity in the 82nd minute.

There were some additional dangerous moments as this opened up a bit toward the end of the match, but the teams would have to settle for a draw.

Mertz and Forbes both had passing accuracy under 80%, as that could be from weary legs, especially as Saint Louis seized the possession edge (536-359 difference in total passes).  It appears that Lilley doesn’t have enough confidence in playing many games or minutes without either in the lineup.

For the Riverhounds SC, they’ve played three of the four teams in Group E, the same group that will produce its playoff opponent if they can earn a spot in the post-season tournament.  The Hounds went 1-2-1 against those teams, with both losses coming to Indy and the lone win at Louisville City FC.

The next time they face a team from Group E, it will be with the season on the line, most likely with a little more rest and hopefully the weather will be nice.

Next up, the Hounds will travel to Dillon Stadium for a match against Hartford Athletic (5-1-0) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 28. The match can be streamed on ESPN+.

Riverhounds SC Player Grades 

Player / Position
Grade
Comments
Key Stats
Goalkeeper(s)
Tomas Gomez 5 Made the initial save on the first goal, but couldn’t corral it. Five saves, one punch, two goals
Center Backs
Thomas Vancaeyezeele 6 getting beat on ball in air late in 1st half was mix-up in communication 84% passing, 4 tackles, 2 interceptions
Mark Lindstrom 4.5 probably would like to have that foul back that set up the Wal Fall free kick 5 clearances, 1 interception, conceded two fouls
Skylar Thomas  6 He’s so good in the air. Quietly having solid campaign 8 clearances, 2 int’s, 2 fouls won, 3 fouls conceded
Wings/Outside Backs
Jordan Dover (43′) 6 Only had 39 passes, but they continue to have success when playing from the right width and he did his part to create chances 2 chances created, 1 shot on goal, 4 clearances, 2 int’s, 2 fouls conceded
Ray Lee while Dover pushed up more, Lee hung back and stayed tucked in. 2 clearances, 2 int’s, won 4 of 4 duels
,
Midfielders      
Kenardo Forbes 7 was the workhorse in middle, playing third game in eight days. Made team high 53 passes and had 81 touches. Created 2 chances, took 3 shots, and had team high 5 tackles
Robbie Mertz 6.5 brought lot of positives in first half — making solid decisions, key runs, but was stretched a lot, especially in second half when he won only 2 of 13 duels.  The 67% passing was low for him (tired legs after playing all three matches in 8 days?) GOAL, 1 shot on target, 2 chances created, 1 foul conceded
Danny Griffin 4 was pretty quiet — while Mertz/Forbes accounted for 84 passes from central midfield, he only had 22. 3 tackles, 72% passing accuracy, won 3 of 6 duels (0 shots, 0 crosses, 0 chances created)
Forwards      
Steevan Dos Santos More in a supporting role on this night, and came back to help MF more. 2 shots on target, won 8 of 15 duels
Ropapa Mensah 7 Vast improvement compared to previous start. GOAL, 3 shots, won 7 of 17 dues, 82% passing
Subs Entered
1. Ryan James 81′ First non-start of the season for James
2. Lukas Ferandes 86′
3. Anthony Velarde  86′     
Players not used
Danny Vitiello GK
Hunter Ashworth Def
Mark Forrest F

 

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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