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Bob Lilley Press Conference: Week 10 vs. Hartford Athletic

Riverhounds SC head coach Bob Lilley observes training at Highmark Stadium this week. (RIVERHOUNDS SC)

Bob Lilley Press Conference: Week 10 vs. Hartford Athletic

As heard during this week’s media conference for Riverhounds SC manager Bob Lilley, with the team preparing for Saturday’s Group F showdown against second-place Hartford Athletic at Highmark Stadium …

(Note: Here’s the full story on first-year Hounds keeper Danny Vitiello getting his third consecutive start.)

On what’s impressed him about Vitiello, with three clean sheets in his first four pro starts:

“He’s been pretty solid all four starts. We had liked what he had done the first couple of games. In the Loudoun game I thought he was particularly sharp. He didn’t have a ton to do, but he made some big saves, stopped the penalty kick. He’s getting better dealing with crosses and his kicking’s been pretty good. I think he’s grown a lot since the beginning of the year. We thought, ‘He’s in form right now.’ To give him another opportunity in a big game helps his development. I thought he was good against Red Bull. We’re getting good goaltending. It’s always tricky when you have two guys that are capable. We have to make those decisions. We’re anticipating him starting against Hartford on Saturday.”

On winning three in a row over nine days to rise to a six-point lead in Group F:

“It seems like a big moment in the season. It certainly was to keep ourselves in the driver’s seat in the division. Guys are more consistent in their performances and we’re able to rotate in certain guys and build our depth as a squad. Having said that, just as important are our head-to-head matchups with Hartford. With them having three games in hand, you can do the math on that. We’re in good form. We’re at home. We want to have another sharp performance on Saturday and get the full three points and that’ll put us in good position in the division.”

On what he expects tactically from the second Hartford match of the season:

“They caused some problems early in the game in Hartford, getting in behind us. We’ll have to deal with (Alex) Dixon and (Éver) Guzmán. They have guys with good pace, and guys capable of delivering that final ball. We’ll have to dictate the game with the ball and hopefully we’ll be able to create those chances with our energy and our movement going forward. In Hartford we managed well and got better defensively as the game went on, but we also were able to do better in possession, too.”

On how having a full week off between games the rest of the way affects preparation and practice:

“There’s more time to be more specific with the game plan. We can train guys early in the week and hone in on the lineup later in the week. We can push guys in some areas that need to be pushed. Obviously we’re tapering down late in the season (generally) and on Thursday and Friday we’re tapering down for Saturday. Fortunately we have some familiarity with the opponents. It gives guys time to recover and won’t have to rotate the squad as much. When we use guys off the bench we have to hope they’re sharp and ready to go.”

On the recent midseason additions of Albert Dikwa, Patrick Bunk-Anderson and Tony Walls:

“Tony is back training with us. He made the trip to New York. Right now our job is to try to get him fit. We’ve done a good job with Bunk-Anderson and Dikwa, getting them minutes. That really helps with Kenny (Forbes) out at this point. They’ve been very productive with their minutes.”

On what’s sharpened about the team’s game during this 6-1-1 surge up the Group F standings:

“Managing the game is probably the biggest thing. Understanding how to create space. When to play faster. When to play slower. Understanding different situations in the game. I think we’re calmer as a group. We’ve done a lot of the hard work and learned some lessons early in the year. Hopefully we’ve addressed those problems. I think we’ve been pretty efficient in front of goal all year, and I think we’re passing it better. There’s been a decent level of improvement across the board. We didn’t run out of gas in New York. We were intelligent when we pressed. When we moved as a group, we traveled together. We didn’t get stretched because we stayed connected. I don’t know we were ready to do that even a month ago. They did it collectively.”

On how to gauge whether a player is ‘match fit,’ either objectively or subjectively:

“With Dikwa we gave him 45 minutes his first go-around. He’s played three years in the league and he’s a fit guy. He’s high-energy. Ryan James is another guy like that. Some guys it’s 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and you try to build them up. We have days when we train them harder and measure how quickly they’re recovering. It’s really helpful to have the five subs. When we played Dikwa in the Loudoun game, we held the sub (for later). If he was gassed, we would’ve been able to make another sub. We wanted to rest Ropa (Mensah) in New York, but we didn’t think it would be 45 minutes. But when we were up 2-0, we knew it would help save energy (for future games). I haven’t used the halftime sub period as much as some other coaches. You don’t get charged for that. I think the only time we did a halftime sub was at New York earlier in the year. It was a good opportunity. With Patrick Bunk-Anderson, we were able to get him 15, 20 minutes in Hartford, 30 to 35 in New York. He’s trained really well and he’s been here another week. I think he could manage 90 if he needed to. But I think 60 or 70 is doable for him. Now it’s just the decision for us as a coaching staff. (Mark) Lindstrom’s doing well. (Thomas) Vancaeyezeele is a cornerstone back there. Skylar (Thomas) is having a good season. Lee’s been a center back and a left back. It’s good to have some of these tough decisions to make.”

On how the chess game might develop with Hartford as the three-match season series moves along:

“Will we play them exactly like we played them the last time? No. There are different ways to skin a cat and we’re flexible and versatile enough to pick up on some things we’d like to exploit. We’re always trying to grow and tweak our approach. Do we want to establish the same spells of possession and get into our attacking moments? Absolutely. Our identity is pretty clear at this point. They’re going to have a decent idea of how we like to play, if they’re doing the video work. We may tweak some things, but it’s still execution. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We want to keep improving, but I don’t think we’ll see massive changes. There’s massive competition within the team right now for those starting spots. These last four weeks we want to really hone in on our lineup and have a clear picture of what our lineup can do as we head into the playoffs.”

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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