On a rare Tuesday night game at Highmark Stadium, with a full, orange moon sitting in the backdrop, strange things were bound to happen in the match between the Riverhounds SC and Loudoun United.
How strange were things on this night…
A cat spotted in the Paul Child Stand?
We have confirmed reports of a cat underneath the Paul Child Stand.
The chance of a cat on the pitch is greater than 0%.
— Steel Army (@SteelArmy) September 1, 2020
Wondering if it was a black cat?
Sure enough, in the first 16 minutes the Hounds scored twice on penalty kicks, then goalkeeper Danny Vitiello denied Loudoun United on its chance from the spot, in the 16th minute.
When the early wackiness subsided, Pittsburgh showed its true mettle by taking command and, for the most part, controlled the tempo of the match on its way to a 3-0 victory, to improve to 7-3-1 and in the drivers seat in the USL Championship’s Group F standings.
When weird things happen, the good teams generally rise above it — and find ways to win. The Hounds did that on Tuesday.
POST MATCH REACTION
Matt Gajtka and I provided our post-match thoughts at Highmark afterwards.
LINEUP SELECTION / TACTICS / FORMATION
Pittsburgh came out with a different look, in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with just two center backs in the line-up for the first time this year (Thomas Vancaeyezeele and Mark Lindstrom). After earning USL Championship Player of the Week and Team of the Week honors respectively earlier in the day, Ryan James and Jordan Dover completed the four-man back line, which Hounds Coach Bob Lilley spoke after the match was intended for tactical purposes but also with a mid-week match, also helped ‘save the legs’ of some of his players who have already played a lot of minutes.
In the 4-2-3-1, Robbie Mertz and Danny Griffin played the two-deeper holding midfield spots, while Anthony Velarde was in the center between Ropapa Mensah and Lukas Fernandes. At the top of the attack, making his second start of the season was Mark Forrest.
Hounds coach Bob Lilley unloaded his bench in the second half.
In addition to Albert Dikwa coming on in the 46th minute, Patrick Bunk-Andersen, Steevan Dos Santos, Skylar Thomas and Dakota Barnathan came on to contribute in the victory.
CRAZY START WITH THREE KICKS FROM THE SPOT
Pittsburgh had its way in the early going, as Forrest drew a foul for his PK opportunity by showing his quickness to beat former Pitt defender Shane Wiedt to the ball and getting nicked at the same time. Forrest showed zero hesitation in his right-footed PK blast to the left side of goal to give the Hounds an early 1-0 lead.
Before we could blink — another penalty kick was awarded. Velarde’s attempted one-time shot bounced to the ground, then back up to smack Elvis Amoh’s extended arm as the Loudoun midfielder committed a cardinal sin in the box.
Velarde put more finesse on his finish than Forrest, as Loudoun’s keeper Simon Lefebrve guessed to his left, and Velarde slotted the ball in the other direction.
For the second time in a few weeks, the Hounds held a 2-0 lead against Loudoun, but couldn’t really put the hammer down for a convincing win.
Loudoun’s Jacob Greene made a nifty move, and nutmegged Jordan Dover in the 16th minute. The match’s third penalty kick was awarded as Greene was tripped as he tried to get around the Hounds’ defender.
It was golden chance for the visitors to cut the lead in half.
In his third start of the season, Riverhounds SC keeper Danny Vitiello came up big, diving to his left to deny Joshua Fawole’s chance from the spot.
“I personally do a lot of research to see where guys usually go on penalty kicks,” Vitiello said. “I hadn’t done much on Fawole, but I read it well and was able to make the save.”
After the third penalty, things calmed down a bit.
Thomas Vancaeyezeele said things quieted down after that.
“After we saw the first few penalties, we wanted to play a little more conservative because we knew we could get called for a penalty if we weren’t careful,” Vancaeyezeele said.
FIFTH MIDFIELDER & ADJUSTMENTS ON BACK LINE
For the second time in as many matches, the Hounds relied mostly on short passes through the midfield, and played a lot more side-to-side, just as they did in their victory against Hartfod, to carve their way forward and maintaining a decent but not dominating possession edge (they would end up the match with 54/46 advantage).
The Hounds only attempted 69 long passes out of more than 550 passes.
Lilley was counting on this group of mostly younger players to pick up the slack in the absence of injured captain Kenardo Forbes. As a group, the midfield did a pretty good job of executing this game plan. The three most central midfielders (Mertz, Griffin and Velarde) was knocking around short passes with incredible efficiency (each were over 90% passing accuracy!), although they were fairly conservative for much of the match once they had the 2-0 lead.
Later in the match, after additional substitutions were made, the Hounds went back to the three center back alignment, which tightened things up a lot more and made it even more difficult for Loudoun to penetrate deep into the attacking third for quality chances.
With its newest forward in the lineup and an extra defender, the Hounds looked to hit Loudoun on the counter in the second half.
WELCOME TO PITTSBURGH ALBERT DIKWA
The Hounds added a late goal by Albert Dikwa, as the forward capped his first week in Pittsburgh, and his first match at Highmark Stadium by winning battle with Jeremy Garay after a high bouncing ball came forward from a goal kick from Danny Vitiello.
Dikwa’s one-timed shot in stride from the top of the box to beat Lefebvre sealed the Hounds win in Lilley’s eyes as he couldn’t sit too comfortable until that third goal came in the 89th minute.
The forward from Cameroon, who spent the previous two years with Saint Louis FC, brings a new dimension to the Hounds attack: bringing speed and an ability to make those darting runs through the lines at the top of the attack.
“I knew I wanted to put him in for 45 minutes, to see if he could handle it,” Lilley said. “He got a goal, he had some other good chances, and I think he has an understanding of how to get behind the back line.”
Riverhounds SC Player Grades
|Player / Position||Grade
(high-10; low 1)
|Danny Vitiello||8||Great save on the PK! Solid in his third start.||4 saves|
|Ryan James||7||Didn’t get forward as much, but solid in his defending duties as he wore captain’s armband again.||5 interceptions
Won 4/6 duels
|Thomas Vancaeyezeele||7.5||Had a brilliant slide tackle early in second half. Came close (again!) on scoring off corner.||4 tackles
|Mark Lindstrom||6||Most accurate passer on back line (80%)||2 tackes
Won 2/6 duels
|Jordan Dover||6||Conceded foul on PK. Bit more involved than James in attacking moments. Had one brilliant slicing and dicing move to create golden header chance for Fernandes that would have been highlight goal. But header went wide.||3 fouls conceded
2 chances created
Won 8/12 duels
|Ropapa Mensah||6||Thought he did well in a different position as an attacking midfielder|| Won 7/9 duels
2 shots (one on frame)
|Lukas Fernandes||5.5||Missed great opportunity to put game away earlier as header went wide in 50’||2 shots (one on frame), Won 4/7 duels
|Robbie Mertz||7.5||Workmanlike night for Mertz who was asked to sit deeper. In absence of Forbes, his leadership in middle of field shows||44 passes
96% passing accuracy
|Anthony Velarde||7||Two consecutive starts for Velarde and two positive performances when Hounds held lot of possession.||GOAL
95% passing accuracy
|Danny Griffin||7||He’s really stepped up since Forbes went out Friday. More involved, has good chemistry with Mertz.||95% passing accuracy|
|Mark Forrest||7.5||Made the most of his second start. Slid into the midfield when Dikwa came in.||GOAL.|
|Albert Dikwa||8||Considering it was his first action with the Hounds, it was a rousing success as he showed can be dangerous in space and blowing past defenders. That was a nice finish on the goal too.||GOAL, 4 shots (three on target)|
|Patrick Bunk-Andersen||65’||Lilley added another defender for last 30 minutes of match.|
|Steevan Dos Santos||64’|
|Players not used||Pos|