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Analysis & Player Grades: Hounds capitalize on chances in final third to earn first win

Photo Courtesy NY Red Bulls II
Analysis & Player Grades 

FINAL: Riverhounds SC 3, NY Red Bulls II 0

USL Match Center (Game Stats)

On a rainy, dreary Friday night at MSU Soccer Park to kick off Memorial Day weekend, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley was in his native New Jersey putting his all-weathered, hooded team apparel to the test as his team took on another familiar nemesis: the New York Red Bulls II.

The veteran coach wasn’t going to take cover under the awning on the team’s bench, as he remained steadfast in barking out instructions to his players on the edge of the sideline despite the hard, steady rain that was falling in the Garden State.

Heading into this match, the veteran coach believed his team had been getting better and better through the first three weeks of the season. They just didn’t have a win to show for it.

For a team that overhauled much of its back line and attacking personnel, this match finally provided some payoff and a step forward as they continue to implement a bit different attacking style from recent seasons.

While the Hounds didn’t dominate the match in most statistical areas (conceded 62% possession, were outshot 10-8 — 4-4 on target), this was a pivotal result for the Hounds, earning its first win of the season with a 3-0 triumph that put Lilley’s cornerstones to success and his ability to adjust to an opponent on display.

To win on the road it doesn’t always have to be efficient, but by dictating terms for most of the match being dynamic in the final third when they had to be, the Hounds finally have an early season win to build upon.

Formation & Tactics 

It was an interesting choice for Bob Lilley, who certainly will tinker with his line-ups, to go with a 3-4-3 (or 5-2-3), as he had a full group to select his starting eleven.

Of course, Lilley has been facing John Wolynec’s Red Bulls II squads since 2015, knowing one of the keys to success is using the entire field — to stretch out a group that likes to get forward and press high.  The Hounds moved flexible wingers Jordan Dover and Dani Rovira up the pitch every chance they could get.  Lilley had been using four man back line early in the season as he cited match-up purposes (against Charlotte’s bigger, more physical attackers).  On this night, he went with a three man center back pairing that put former Pitt defender Shane Wiedt in the middle between two Soca Warriors (Trinidad & Tobago internationals), Mekiel Williams and Jelani Peters, who made his first start as a Hound.

Kenardo Forbes and Danny Griffin worked well together in the middle, interchanging at times and both also found moments where they were active in the final third.

The Hounds stayed with this lineup through the 68th minute, when former RBII Preston Kilwien entered the match for forward Albert Dikwa to add another defender to the back, while another defender, Jalen Robinson made his debut with the club, coming in for Jordan Dover.  Rovira was also replaced by Todd Wharton in the 78th minute to strengthen the central midfield.  With the Hounds’ last substitution opportunity, Lilley brought on Josh Gatt and Anthony Velarde to replace Russell Cicerone and Alex Dixon.

It’s clear that the Hounds are still figuring things out as far as the rotation and line-up. With two matches upcoming in a five-day stretch between Wednesday and Sunday, look for more interchanging and rotation.  As he said in his weekly press conference last week, Lilley is still sorting things out with his personnel.

This early in the season, that is to be expected.

Match Takeaways 

The Hounds stretched out the high pressing Red Bulls II enough by using the width and forcing them into trying to play the ball out of the back, eventually capitalizing on a few key mistakes.

While the Hounds ended the match with 15 crosses, 14 of them came in the first half, as they brought pressure early and often against the younger, more inexperienced side.

Each of the first half goals emanated from the left width as the Hounds were effective in quickly winning the ball, the transitioning forward and getting into the box with accurate and precise one-touch passing.

The first came when forward Albert Dikwa set up Griffin in the 22nd minute with a pinpoint cross from the left side to give Pittsburgh early lead in the 23rd minute.  That play was initiated by Rovira from near midfield who played it to Dixon who came to the ball about 25 yards from goal.  Unlike last year, when that pass would have gone to target forward Steevan Dos Santos, who would have probably taken more time to draw the defenders and hold the ball up, Dixon didn’t waste a second, quickly redirecting the ball off the side of his right foot for Dikwa, who broke forward to the right corner, then took a touch up the end line before delivering a left-footed, bending cross to the far post area. Even as Jordan Cicerone was making a run to the near post, this opened things up for Griffin to get behind the defense. Griffin made his one-time, redirected shot look easy but he had to thread a tight spot between the defenders and keeper to put it through with enough pace.

In the 28th minute, with Rovira pushing forward along the left side line, his attempted cross was deflected and bounced very high off the turf, toward the end line.  Red Bulls defender attempted to clear the ball away toward the sideline, but Rovira was quick to collect it and keep the possession alive.

Rovira seized the moment. Instead of settling for a high cross, he noticed that the Red Bulls defenders in the box were already sitting deeper, so he slid a low cross to the middle of the box for Dixon, who made a well-timed run to get the ball in stride, then delivered a quick shot into the right of goal to beat Red Bulls II’s keeper AJ Marcucci.

The choice to go with the 3-4-3 did leave the Hounds open to transition moments for the Baby Bulls, especially as their attacking mids and forwards were quickly getting into transition behind Dover and Rovira.  it seemed as a calculated choice made by Lilley and his staff.

This put the onus on the three center backs and goalkeeper Danny Vitiello to be put in a few uncomfortable situations.

Among the nervy moments for the Hounds between 16th and 30th minutes:

  • Roald Mitchell did well to control and wove past a defender in the left channel before sliding a pass to his right for Jeremy Rafanello that the forward pulled wide of the left post.
  • Omar Sowe also threatened three minutes later after a quick upfield move by the hosts, but his shot to the left corner was saved by Hounds goalkeeper Danny Vitiello.
  • After Dixon’s goal Mitchell squeezed home a finish into the right corner, only to be ruled offside, while soon after a clever dummy by Rafanello opened up a shot for Sowe in the right side of the area that Vitiello came off his line to deny. R
  • Rafanello then tried a long-range effort that Vitiello could only parry before Shane Wiedt blocked away a rebound chance by Mitchell,

Pittsburgh also conceded the possession battle on the wet surface, as this forced RB II to be more patient and methodical, an approach that doesn’t usually suit their style, especially with one of the youngest squads they’ve had in a while.  When looking at the touches, passes and duels statistics among the Hounds players, the back line only combined for 51 total passes in the match, while the three starting forwards were involved in more than 80 passes and won 20 of 38 duels as a lot of the activity centered around the final third.

The Hounds did have a two-goal lead, but with the way the Red Bulls threatened in the first half, it was precarious.  Pittsburgh needed to put the match away early in the second half.

In the 50th minute, they did exactly that.

After a nice build-up from the right side to the edge of the box, ending up with Dixon sliding a clever back pass through to Cicerone, who blasted a banger into the back of the net for the convincing three-goal advantage.

There were some moments in the remainder of the match when the Baby Bulls provided some danger, as they would hold the possession (62%) and shots (10-8) edge. For the most part, Pittsburgh were in control in seeing out the remainder of the contest to earn its first shutout of the season and its first three points.

It was a standout night for Dixon who had his foot in each of the three goals, ending up on the stat sheet with one goal and one assist, but his quick pass on the first goal was key in keeping the ball moving and wide to stretch the Red Bulls in the final third.

They Said It 

Player Grades 

Player Grade

 (out of 10)

Key Stats / Notes 
Danny Vitiello 7.5 Made four quality saves.
Mekiel Williams 7 Thought it was his best match. His experience came through, always prepared and anticipating RBII passes with seven interceptions along with two tackles and five clearances.
Shane Wiedt 7 Lilley showing plenty of confidence in Wiedt to be the man in the middle of back three. Eight clearances and three interceptions.
Jelani Peters 6 Not a bad first start. Had six clearances and five interceptions.
Jalen Robinson (69′) N/R
Preston Kilwien (69′)   N/R
Jordan Dover  6 Next to Forbes, Dover was second on team in passes made (32), and he was involved in
Dani Rovira ASSIST: Initiated attack on first goal, then kept play alive and had assist on second goal. Three tackles and won 10 of 15 duels (best rate on the team). Maybe best performance in his three years with the club.
Central Midfield
Kenardo Forbes 7 One of those quietly efficient nights for Forbes.  On a night when passing accuracy was down, he was by far team best rate: 82%. Two chances created, three tackles, two interceptions.
Danny Griffin 7 GOAL: got to the right place. Worked well with Forbes in center of field, particularly in covering a lot of ground in the first half.
Todd Wharton (78′)  N/R
Anthony Velarde *(86′) N/R
Attacking MF/Forwards

Russell Ciccerone

6.5 GOAL: only shot ended in goal. Won 5 of 9 duels. Three unsuccessful crosses.
Alex Dixon 9 GOAL; ASSIST:  Starting to enjoy the little things he does. Outsanding work rate and always seems to be in right spots. Won 8 of 14 duels.
Albert Dikwa 7 ASSIST: Won eight of 15 duels (5 of 6 in the air)
Josh Gatt (86′)  N/R


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).

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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