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Analysis & Player Grades: Lacking tenaciousness, Hounds are shutout at home again

Analysis & Player Grades: Lacking tenaciousness, Hounds are shutout at home again

FINAL: Austin Bold FC 1, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 0

Match Center (Game Stats) 

In yet another home match with the Riverhounds SC holding huge advantages in possession, they couldn’t break through in the final third to create enough quality chances, losing to the Austin Bold FC, 1-0 on a warm Sunday evening at Highmark Stadium.

It was a night when they had 89 minutes to respond to an early punch in the gut.  Instead, the Hounds took too patient of an approach as they tip-toed their way back into the match, only giving Austin more resolve to bunker in and hang on for a road win in their first-ever trip to Pittsburgh.

Final: Austin Bold FC 1, Riverhounds SC 0

Following the early goal, the Hounds held a huge possession edge (77%) but couldn’t break through for a goal in the first half with only three shots, five crosses and one corner kick.

In the second half the Hounds brought more crosses, set up a few more corners than in the first half, held the edge in shots (10-4) and a significant advantage in possession (74-26) and passes (599-214), but by the end of the match could only muster one shot on frame.

“Yeah, we had three or four chances in the second half, but Austin also created two or three moments, they could’ve gone up 2-0, too.  It just wasn’t enough,” Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley said after the match.

“There has to be an urgency to create more chances.”

Much of Lilley’s postgame postgame comments centered around his team’s playing for stretches without enough tenaciousness, something he addressed not just as a concern from this game, but even carrying over from what he viewed was a disappointing performance in his team’s mid-week 3-2 win at Loudoun United, when they gave up two goals in the second half.

Formation & Tactics 

You never really know before a match what Lilley will be doing when penciling in his starting eleven  In this match, he reverted back to the 3-4-3 set-up that worked well against NY Red Bulls II to use more of the width to open things up and stretch out the defense.

Central mids, Kenardo Forbes and Danny Griffin were the key connectors as the Hounds worked through them and played the ball a lot from side-to-side in the early portions of the match, showing plenty of patience.

In an effort to shake things up, Lilley brought on Russell Cicerone, who’s been in good form, for Louis Perez, who made his first start, at the beginning of the second half.

The Hounds unloaded the bench in the 63rd minute, switching out Dikwa, Rovira and Kilwien — and bringing on Tommy Williamson, Todd Wharton and Anthony Velarde to spark a comeback.   With these changes, Wharton played along the back line, but crept forward on numerous occasions to add numbers to the attack.

Match Takeaways 

Fernandez’s strike — which made its way into the right side of goal — stunned the home side.

Instead of providing a jolt and generating an immediate response, Pittsburgh decided to play a super patient game as Austin immediately sat back with at least six players positioned at all times to defend the final third.

The Bold didn’t waste any time taking advantage of an opportunity to get forward and convert on a scoring chance only 53 seconds into the match, as Collin Fernandez had plenty of room to shoot from the top of the box, after a decent build-up and a few headers went back and forth.

Down a goal early in the match, the Hounds were very patient, passing it side to side and completely dominating possession since giving up early goal against a Bold side willing to allow Pittsburgh to keep the ball.  Early in the match, Austin did a nice job to bottle up Pittsburgh’s efforts to play quickly through the edges.

For most of the first half, the Hounds were reluctant to attack or look for quality chances.  In fact, Austin found a few more opportunities in the first half on the counter, both times with shot attempts from outside the box that forced Hounds keeper Danny Vitiello to make two routine saves. Very emblematic of how this match went for the Hounds came in one sequence late in the first half with the club’s two most tenured veterans. Kenardo Forbes attempted a short thru ball behind the widest Bold defender on the right side for Jordan Dover.  The winger was hesitant, and didn’t make the run, as the ball sailed through past the end line, prompting the long-time teammates just stare at each other in frustration.

That’s something that can happen through the course of any 90 minute match.  However, while they found little pressure from Austin as they navigated in playing the ball out of the back and through the central midfield, so many efforts to work the ball through the final third led to errant passes, failed runs, poor first touches were commonplace throughout the match for the Hounds as they couldn’t find a way to make Austin chase the game.

The Hounds attempted 64 long passes in the match, and from the press box vantage point, it felt like more than half of those came from diagonal balls over the top that intended to get behind Austin’s weak side defenders.  Even as some of these attempts were played accurately, they failed to get the Hounds into any plethora of dangerous chances.

PSN contributor, Mark Goodman offered up some of his thoughts during the match.

Although they only attempted five crosses in the first half, in the last 45 minutes, Pittsburgh’s effort to step-up the pressure came in whipping in crosses from the width (18 in the second half).  Overall, the Hounds finished the match with 39% crossing accuracy, but the decisions and shot attempts that resulted from those crosses didn’t generate one shot on frame.

In the second half, Pittsburgh continued to have trouble solving Austin’s efforts to get everyone behind the ball.

“We did a little better in the second half, but they tried to sit on the lead and try to hit us on the counter for most of the match,” Lilley added.

“I just don’t think the movement was good enough.  It was a crowded box.  We had to win second balls.  We had to make them scramble.”

Goodman further illustrated his point about the Hounds attempts to create quality chances in breaking down the Bold FC.

Of the Hounds 10 shot attempts, seven of them came in the box, but four were blocked. The others were not on target.

Then the veteran coach came back to a common refrain.

“I would like to see more urgency from us,” Lilley boasted. “That’s what’s required to win games. When trailing, we don’t want to wait until the second half. As the game went on, they (Austin) become more and more comfortable.”

Here’s a gist of the Hounds best chances in the final moments of the match, when they put forth their push for the equalizer:

  • Tommy Williamson, who entered the match only moments earlier, registered the first shot of the second half for either team in the 70th minute, when his header from the center of the penalty box missed to the left.
  • Williamson later recorded the first Hounds shot on goal when he made a good individual move and shot from the top of the box, but Austin goalkeeper Elliot Panicco didn’t have to move far for the catch and save.
  • Another chance came when Anthony Velarde sent a free kick into the right side of the penalty box in the 77th minute, but the Hounds could not convert as the ball skimmed off a head and went across the face of goal.
  • Then, in the 81st minute, Jordan Dover sent in a cross to Russell Cicerone, whose header went high. The final chance came in the last minute of stoppage time, when Velarde got on the end of a ball lofted toward the net. However, Panicco came up with it after a collision between Velarde, a defender and himself, snuffing out the last opportunity.
  • With five minutes of stoppage time added, Pittsburgh couldn’t keep the ball in the final third enough.  A final attempt came from a brilliantly placed long ball from Forbes over to Velarde breaking behind the back line into the box ended up in a collision between the Hounds’ attacker, Panicco and a defender, with the Austin keeper securing the ball.

“Against a crowded box, the ball through has to be perfect. The finish has to be perfect,” Lilley added. “The trick, is you can be hoping to live off three or four chances. You have to do more.”

Another concern that has come from watching this team through six matches, is the lack of dangerous chances created from set pieces. The Hounds have yet to score on a free kick or directly from a corner kick this season. This was a physical match, and the Hounds had a few free kicks from close range, but they were all forgettable efforts.

One way to become more efficient in free kicks, as Lilley referred to in his postgame comments is to be more dynamic and dangerous to set those opportunities up. With just five corner attempts generated in a match when you have the ball more than 70 percent of the time is unacceptable.

If this team didn’t see the writing on the wall after Lilley kept them on the field for more than 40 minutes after the match, I am not sure what will get their attention.  That ploy was an attempt to get his players’ attention and he plead for them to step-up their intensity and focus from the start of every match.

After watching Sunday’s debacle at Highmark, anyone who turned on the USA-Mexico match a bit later quickly got a taste of a match with unreal intensity played at an extremely high level.

It was a refreshing and exhilarating game to watch, and a very nice change of pace after a lackluster affair along the Mon earlier in the evening.

Maybe the Hounds can take a page out of the US Men’s National Team book.

They Said It 

“Urgency doesn’t mean play reckless or anything, but to move the ball quicker. Be more dynamic. Be a little more in those final moments.  We were lackluster tonight. We were disappointed in ourselves.  We’re not going to stop working. We’re going to keep trying to get better. Try to fight more,” Russell Cicerone, Riverhounds SC forward said.

Player Grades 

 

Player Grade

 (out of 10)

Key Stats / Notes 
Goalkeeper
Danny Vitiello 5 Made two saves. The goal shocked everyone, and maybe Vitiello didn’t see that one coming from beyond the box, but it was a well-placed shot after the ball bounced around a bit before getting to Ferdandez.
Defenders
Shane Wiedt 5 86% passing accuracy on 95 passes (!?) — but that’s deceiving as most were short passes to Griffin and Forbes who carried the ball through MF. Had team high five clearances. Defenders allowed three shots on frame in first half and weren’t tested much after. Goal caught back line sitting deep in box.
Mekiel Williams 5 84% passing on 93 passes(!? — see Wiedt), 2 tackles, 3 clearances, 2 interceptions.
Preston Kilwien 4 pedestrian game for Kilwien after stellar effort vs Loudoun. Was replaced by Wharton.
Todd Wharton 4 1 of 6 in duels.  Won one foul. Didn’t provide spark or added dynamic ability from the back to generate more goal scoring chances.
Wingers / Outside Backs   
Jordan Dover  4 38 passes total on night when Hounds went with 3-4-3 to use width.  Won 2 of 7 duels.  Hounds need Dover to have more of a presence in final third.  Had two successful crosses. Need more of that.
Dani Rovira  4 Same as Dover. He was more active in the win at Loudoun and he had an impact in that match. While work rate and quality of play is there, would like to see him more involved in creating chances in these matches when playing on wing.
Central Midfield
Kenardo Forbes 4.5 95 passes — 88.4% accuracy — created two chances — but again from deeper spot in Central MF as he didn’t have many opportunities be part of scoring chances in final third.  A team playing without a sense of urgency and lack of creativity, some of this should fall on it’s field general and best play maker to take his game to another level.  As I said in previous grade, we’ve yet to see peak Kenardo yet this year.
Danny Griffin 4.5 decent work rate (won 6 of 9 duels, created one chance) but when Hounds are lacking creativity to generate more dynamic play in final third, central MF’s need to be more proactive and draw defenders.
Attacking MF/Forwards
Russell Ciccerone (45′) 4 Two shots (both off target). Won 1 of 3 duels.  Really quiet considering how involved he’s been most of season and he was brought off bench to provide spark.
Tommy Williamson

(65′) 

6 led the Hounds with three shots, including one on target. Though he didn’t net a goal, he provided a spark off the bench that was missing through the game’s first hour.
Alex Dixon 5.5 after two great games, Dixon remained active and working hard in the final third, but was less effective.  Won 7 of 12 duels. Had the most passes/touches of all the forwards (27 passes).
Albert Dikwa 4.5  Only had nine passes. Two shots (one off target and another blocked) The ball hardly ever made it to him.  Won 1 of 4 duels.

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).

Pittsburgh Division I College Soccer Schedule (Spring 2021)

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