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Bob Lilley Press Conference: Week 8 at Hartford Athletic

Rookie keeper Danny Vitiello was named to the USL Championship's Team of the Week after a shutout at Loudoun. (RIVERHOUNDS SC)

Bob Lilley Press Conference: Week 8 at Hartford Athletic

As heard during this week’s media conference for Riverhounds SC manager Bob Lilley, with the team preparing for a pivotal Friday match at Hartford Athletic, which is tied with the Hounds for the top of Group F …

On what it’ll take to win at Hartford, which is 5-1-1 in its second season in the USL Championship:

“A good performance. Hartford is having a good season. I think they’ve been scoring goals and pretty stingy defensively. I think we have the personnel to go there and get a result, but we’ve got to take care of the ball and slow them down. Typical stuff, but we want to be on the front foot. It’s a road game. We have three games left against them, but this one is critical for us. We need to go there and put some pressure on them by getting a win in Hartford.”

On whether the staff is emphasizing the importance of the match to the players:

“It’s being stressed. It’s being brought up. Because when you win your division, you play at home in the first round of the playoffs. Right there, it’s significant. Depending on your points, it’ll affect other aspects of the playoffs, whether you’re home or away. When you’re playing other teams in the playoff picture, results matter. It’s a big moment for us. We’ve put ourselves in a decent position in our group, but I still feel like if we have a good week, we’ll be in position to win the group. We’re trying to end the season strongly, not just make the playoffs. Playing Hartford in three of the last seven are going to be important games for us.”

On how to look at the 2-2 draw with Saint Louis last Saturday, which capped a three-match week:

“I don’t think you can totally drop it, because we let in a goal right before half, and that’s a critical time. The two games we lost earlier, we gave up goals in stoppage time. As disheartening as it was to be up 2-0 and not get all three points, I actually thought for the most part we played quite well on the night, especially considering the two games we had previously and only having a day to prepare. Happy with how we started the game. We were able to disrupt their rhythm and create some chances. I don’t like how we started the second half. We were passive and sat in our end. I think our response to that was good. We created a number of good chances from the 60th minute on.

“But we have to address the start of the second half after the rain delay. I think we gave them hope that they could get back level. We can’t let it go; we didn’t maximize our performance. Having said that, as I said earlier, I think there were a lot of positives. We asked a lot of Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Ryan James, Jordan Dover, we stretched them quite a bit. We want to win every game, but a draw sometimes is the result that’s earned because of the way the game played out. A 2-2 draw when you’re up 2-0 does leave a bad taste in your mouth. We maybe dropped our intensity level for about 25 minutes out of 90. We weren’t aggressive enough (then), either with our defending or wanting to go forward. The tying goal happened and we couldn’t fix it.

“It’s a tough question. I have to go on what they gave. We knew Saint Louis would be talented and they had a lot of time to prepare. There was a lot of familiarity there and they had the sense that it was a big game. I think we did a good job neutralizing them for the most part. I liked some of the things we did to create chances and get at them. Just couldn’t quite do enough in the second half to get it over the line, but I don’t think it was a poor performance. We gave what we could on the night, it’s just that the ball didn’t fall our way. We can’t completely let it go, but I think we have to see the positives in that game as well.”

On the keys to finishing the season strongly:

“Hopefully we can keep our guys healthy. We’re going to have to rotate guys. We try to get our squad healthy though these next three games. We’ve made strides and I think the schedule sets up well for us after this weekend. Now it’s just the games in our division. We’ve done well in our division and we have a chance to move up. We want our guys thinking about how we can catch Hartford. Hopefully we can take care of these games in front of us and build momentum going into the playoffs.”

On what impresses him about Hartford’s start:

“I think they’ve done a good job this year in getting an identity, compared to last year. They’re playing a three-centerback system for the most part, which is similar to us, and they’ve stayed consistent with it. Alex Dixon, who played for me in Rochester, is quick and can score goals. Not the biggest forward, but he’s dynamic. He’s got a lot of experience. They have Danny Barrera, they have Éver Guzmán. These guys are talented players who will generate chances, and can set up goals as well as score them. They have a good shape and they’re defending much better than last year. They’re off to a good start, but they’re going to play Philly an extra game, Loudoun an extra game. They played Indy, but all of their other games are against our division. They’ve had a bit of an easier schedule, but they’ve taken care of business. They’ve gotten better as the year goes along and they’ve gotten more confidence. They have a clear way of playing and we’re going to have to disrupt some of that, and get some of our quality players into areas we can exploit.”

On the offense being among the most productive in the USL Championship:

“We’ve done a good job hitting the target. We lead the league in conversion rate. I would like to create more chances. I still think better passing and better choices in the attacking areas (will lead) to creating more chances. But look, the guys have done a good job getting shots on frame and going after their rebounds. For the most part, we’re doing a better job being active in the box. We’ve been pretty active in and around the box. I think that’s where most goals are scored. We all love the 30-yard blasts into the upper corner but most goals are ‘garbage’ goals. We’ve done a good job on those chances.”

On the state of his goalkeeping duo — Tomás Gómez and Danny Vitiello — after nine matches:

“I like when keepers are aggressive. I was a bit nervous when Gómez was chasing out a bit (vs. Saint Louis) in the second half and wasn’t close to getting to it. That was a mistake. I’ve been pretty happy with Tomás and Danny. They’ve been solid, in their understanding of what we want in terms of cutting out crosses and covering for the back four. They’re only going to get better with the group as we go forward. Pretty happy we have two guys who we feel can play right now and they’re both ready. Hoping to get Danny another game at some point here as well, because he’s done well with his two chances. For us, it’s continuing to work on the relationship between the goalkeeper and the back four and the holding midfielders. They need to have an understanding of how they’re going to defend certain spaces. It feels better after a shutout, than it does at 2-2 (score), but I think the performance (vs. Saint Louis) was pretty good. It’s important for Tomas and the keepers to push their lines out at times, making sure that we’re stepping out and playing instead of sitting deep. For me, we get ourselves in trouble when we just park ourselves. It’s one thing in the last 10 minutes of the game and there have been some times that we’ve taken our foot off the pedal. I think you’re asking for trouble and sometimes that catches up to you and you pay the price. I like our keepers to say, ‘Let’s keep playing, asserting ourselves and getting pressure on the ball.’ “

Considering it’s the first of three matchups vs. Hartford, can the Hounds afford to hold anything back Friday:

“It’s a good question. I think it’s hard to look too far past the first one, but we’re talking about it as a staff. What’s our best lineup? Tactically what’s best to attack them? How do we want to defend? There will naturally be adjustments for the three games. Will we show everything? No, we won’t, but this first game is a lot more important to us right now, based on where we are in the standings. We’ve got to be aggressive and assertive. And if we’ve got to go to the well early and show certain cards, there are always other cards that are available as you go forward. We’re not at a shortage of ideas as a staff, so I think it’s best to see what gets us through this game. Sometimes you’ve got money in the bank and you’ve gotta spend it. You can’t always save it for a rainy day. It may not rain for a while.”

On what the newly-arrived forward Albert Dikwa can bring to the team:

“Hopefully we get him in training and with the right test results we see him Tuesday (vs. Loudoun) or the next Saturday at New York. Hopefully we get him in soon and get him ready for the back end of the season. He’s a little bit more of a movement guy. Steevan Dos Santos runs well for a big guy, so does Ropapa Mensah, but they’re target players. They want balls at their feet. I think having another player that knows how to get in behind and unbalances defenses with their movement, it opens spaces for others. I think it gives us a lot more flexibility in our attack. Even in terms of our ability to press, he’s got a good engine and he’s active. He’s a busy player, and I think that fits really well. You look at Mertz and Danny Griffin, we’re looking for them to create a lot and it worked well against Saint Louis. But having another player who’s more of a forward type will only open up more space for our midfielders. The more you stretch another team’s backs, the more danger you have to get in behind, the more space you create in the midfield. I think there’s a lot of areas where he will help once we get him fit and playing for us.”

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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