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Analysis & Player Grades: Hounds show grit, pass squad rotation test with another road win

Photo courtesy Indy Eleven

Analysis & Player Grades: Hounds show grit, pass squad rotation test with another road win

Chalk up a third-straight road win for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, as they walked away from yet another grunge match with Indy Eleven with three points.

Riverhounds SC grind out first-ever win at Indy, 1-0

“This was two very capable teams trying to find themselves,” Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said after the match. “The soccer wasn’t great, but I think there was a lot of intensity in the game, and there generally is when we play Indy.

“I think we were ready for a really tough game, and we started the game well. When you get a goal, it gives your team a lot of confidence.”

For a team that’s begun its season with five of its first eight matches on the road, and even as they’re still trying to figure things out, the Hounds are starting to form a piece of their identity at the one-quarter mark of their 32-game campaign.

This is clearly a team that’s not intimidated when playing away from home.

The Hounds will now carry some momentum and confidence as they head back to St. Petersburg, Florida, where they suffered their worst loss of the season on opening night, for a rematch with the Atlantic Division front-runners, Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Formation & Tactics 

Pittsburgh began the match lining-up in a 5-3-2 formation, providing a well-organized, bottleneck sea of bodies prepared to defend and hit Indy on the counter.

Head Coach Bob Lilley said prior to the season that he wanted to have a deep roster that he could rely upon during the grind of a 32-season. In a mid-week game at Indy, his roster building efforts were put to the test.

Lilley penciled in a lineup card with less than half of his regular starters to this point in the season, as Kenardo Forbes, Todd Wharton, Jordan Dover, Albert Dikwa, Alex Dixon, Mekiel Williams and goalkeeper Danny Vitiello were on the bench.

With both Forbes and Wharton out of the staring eleven, Pittsburgh relied on Danny Griffin to be the main man in the central midfield and to wear the captain’s armband, with a pair of third-year Hounds, Dani Rovira and Anthony Velarde holding down the middle.

The back line was tightly connected with three center backs across the middle, including both Jalen Robinson and Jelani Peters making spot starts along with durable Shane Wiedt, who was held out of Saturday’s starting line-up. At outside back, Preston Kilwein was joined by Josh Gatt, who made his first start as a Hound and showed his experience and versatility.

Regardless of whether they played with 11 or 10 men, Lilley was prepared to bring fresh legs in the second half to carry his team to the finish line.  He used his first substitution at the 62nd mark to bring in three veterans, Alex Dixon, Kenardo Forbes and Albert Dikwa.

When Peters left the match, Pittsburgh kept a similar shape, opting to leave one forward, Dikwa, on the top line, while the rest of the team stayed behind the ball.

Todd Wharton and Mekiel Williams also made their way in as the Hounds’ final two subs in the 71st minute.

This was another match where Pittsburgh’s squad rotation was put to the test. They now have two mid-week road wins to show for it.

A very good sign for the long-season ahead.

Match Takeaways 

When earning a road victory, it helps to get a break or two.

The Riverhounds SC found one in the first half on the game’s first real close chance for either side.

After being fouled just left of center at the top of the penalty area, Indy’s Gordon Wild fired a free kick toward the right corner of the net that hit the post.  Heading to the back side was defender Neveal Hackshaw, who had moved in anticipating a rebound, but after the ball pinged off the post, the Hounds cleared it away.

The Hounds finally converted a goal from a dead ball set piece.  Velarde’s quick and hard-charging step-over caused Indy’s wall to move and open up just enough that when Williamson’s shot belted through the sea of blue shirts in the middle of the box, it had a chance to do some damage.

There were a few deflections, but the ball go through and the Hounds had what they needed, a lead on the road against a team that’s struggling to score goals.

It was a well-earned first pro goal for Williamson. The San Jose Earthquakes loanee has provided some bright moments thus far for Hounds this season, and it finally paid off.

In the first 45 minutes, the Hounds looked more opportunistic, creating five shots, with two on target, while Indy were kept mostly at bay with just one real chance on Wild’s free kick.

With the five-man backline, Gatt and Kilwien came forward to combine for seven of the Hounds’ 18 crosses.  However, they were most effective in staying organized and limiting Indy’s chances through the wide channels.

By the second half, Pittsburgh relinquished possession in what was a pretty evenly played match to that point.

Things also got pretty physical in the second half.  In all, the Hounds were assessed five yellow cards, but two proved to be costly for Jelani Peters in the 59th and 62nd minutes.

Peters’ needed to find a little bit more restraint on both fouls which drew bookings in the 59th and 62nd minutes. The first came at midfield, when he went up to challenge for a ball in the air, but his elbow nicked Gordon Wild.  He received his second yellow card in the space of three minutes for bringing down Arteaga, when he came charging in late, resulting in a head-to-head collision.

Lilley brought on a host of subs in the 62nd and 71st minutes that helped provide the experienced muscle needed to finish the job to secure a road win.

The Hounds continued to hold firm defensively in the minutes that followed.

“We were organized, and our willingness to fight and communicate with each other was big,” said Pittsburgh captain Danny Griffin, who picked up one of six yellow cards during the match but stayed on for the entire 90 nonetheless. “We changed the formation a bit, but the tactics stayed the same. We probably could have kept the ball a little more and kept them chasing it, but we’re happy to get the three points on the road.”

The hosts continued to build pressure as the game entered the final 10 minutes

When Indy brought in substitutes Jordan Hamilton and Nick Moon to try to generate a late spark, the Hounds only dug in deeper.  A few dangerous moments ensued but no quality shots came right at Leeker.

There was one final nervy moment for the Hounds, when Leeker came for a cross in the center of the penalty area, but juggled and spilled possession, only for a defender to clear the ball to safety. After a long-range shot by Hamilton was saved, however, the Hounds were able to withstand Indy’s final push and claim their third road win of the season.

They Said It 

“We know any (road) opportunity is a chance to get three on the road, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Griffin said. “We go on the road (Saturday) against Tampa, and we’re confident that we can go in there and get a win. We want to get maximum points every game and keep climbing up the standings.

Player Grades 

Player
Grade
 (out of 10)
Key Stats / Notes 
Goalkeeper
Jake Leeker 7 Only had to make one save, but it was a well-earned clean sheet, with good work coming off his line at different times to deny Indy with creating any additional chances in the box.
Defenders
Shane Wiedt 6 Shared the load with Peters in building out of the back (42 passes). Won 3 of 5 duels. Three clearances, 2 interceptions & 1 tackle.
Mekiel Williams (71′)  6 Brought on to short up the back line especially to replace fellow Soca Warrior, Peters.  won 3 of 3 duels and had three clearances.
Jelani Peters RED CARD. Have to deduct for the two fouls that led to cards (plus another for three total fouls conceded), as he probably could have shown some more restraint. He active playing it out of the back (43 passes), 76% passing but won just 3 of 8 duels.
Jalen Robinson  6 Two tackles; one shot on target; won 5 of 8 duels in his second start as a Hound.
Wingers / Outside Backs   
Preston Kilwien 6 Another solid, if not spectacular outing. Two crosses, two interceptions, two clearances
Josh Gatt  6 Solid first start for Gatt, who LIlley may be looking find ways to use his experience, as he was utilized to help with defending (as he only had 12 total passes), but sent five crosses and created one chance and had 83% passing accuracy.
Central Midfield
Anthony Velarde  6 Created two chances, had two successful crosses (of six), drew two fouls, 26 passes (86%); won 2 of 7 duels
Danny Griffin 8 Without Forbes or Wharton on the field to start the match, Griffin showed he could command the middle with help from Velarde and Rovira.  44 passes (89% passing accuracy), won 5 of 8 duels. Tackle, clearance, won two fouls (conceded two also).
Dani Rovira     7.5 In a more central role than usual, he was very active. Led the Hounds in touches on the ball (55), possession gained (10), interceptions (four) and tied for the lead in clearances with three. In addition, he drew a team-high four fouls, rounding out a high-energy 90 minutes.
Kenardo Forbes (62′)     6.5 came on as Peters was sent off; focused on defending with three tackles, won 3 of 5 duels.  89% passing accuracy (just 9 passes) and still created one chance
Todd Wharton (71′) 6 slid back to help back line at times; won 3 of 6 duels, two tackles and clearance
Attacking MF/Forwards
Russell Ciccerone  6 Created a pair of chances; won 2 of 5 duels; relatively quieter night than usual for Hounds leading goal scorer
Tommy Williamson

 

7.5 recorded the lone goal of the game, had three shots overall and completed 15 of 18 passes
Alex Dixon (62′)    dropped back into central midfield to help with keeping shape as he came in right after Peters’ red card; won; had a late yellow card
Albert Dikwa (62′)    6 did a nice job of disrupting Indy’s possession out of back; brought lots of energy; won 7 of 10 duels; two clearances and two interceptions and drew a foul. Yellow card too.

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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