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Analysis and Player Grades: Hounds’ falter in new house of horrors in Charlotte

Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

Analysis and Player Grades: Hounds’ falter in new house of horrors in Charlotte

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC faltered their way through an uninspired performance to drop their second straight match on Saturday night in Charlotte, losing 1-0, as long-time Hounds nemesis Enzo Martinez scored the game’s lone goal in the 47th minute.

Even a change in scenery in Charlotte, playing in refurbished American Legion Stadium, didn’t provide any change in result for Pittsburgh in their six-plus year series with Charlotte as both teams endured a match delay of 30 minutes because of heavy rain and storms in the area.

The wet surface affected both teams but the Hounds, who mustered just six shots and only one on goal, looked like they had more trouble adjusting on the grass surface.

FINAL: Charlotte Independence 1, Riverhounds SC 0

Not exactly sure what it is about playing in Charlotte, but Pittsburgh has never defeated the Independence in the Queen City and have just one win overall in the series (and it came this year — on July 3 in Pittsburgh).  The Hounds now hold a 1-8-5 record all-time vs Charlotte.

Lineup, Tactics and Formation 

With numerous players out due to injury, Pittsburgh still put out a pretty strong lineup for this match, starting in a 3-4-3 formation.

Head Coach Bob Lilley opted to put Alex Dixon in the highest attacking spot while moving Tommy Williamson over to the left, while Russell Cicerone stayed on the right wider spot.

With four midfielders, Todd Wharton and Louis Perez roamed wider, while Danny Griffin and Kenardo Forbes zeroed in and spent most of the time working from box-to-box (see touch map below with all touches for Forbes and Griffin).

The Hounds went with Shane Wiedt in the middle of the three man backline with Mekeil Williams to his right and Preston Kilwien on the left.

When trying to push for the equalizer in the second half, they brought on Dani Rovira and Anthony Velarde first in the 71st minute (for Perez and Wharton) to provide more energy on the width, while Kilwien and Williams, were replaced by Ezra Armstrong and Jalen Robinson, in what looked like pre-calculated rotation moves at those spots.

Charlotte, typically a very possession-oriented squad under head coach Mike Jeffries, also came out in 3-4-3, as both teams jostled to build-up passes through the middle and exercised their share of patience.

On Charlotte side, tactical discipline is a priority with the addition of former Premier League winner Christian Fuchs to its back line which already includes former Hound and All-USL defender Hugh Roberts

Each of the three matches between these two sides this season have been tightly contested, each ending in a 1-0 result.

Fuchs, on loan from future MLS side Charlotte FC, hammered this point home in his postgame interview last night.

Key Moments and Takeaways 

Following Wednesday night’s second half debacle, this proved to be a very difficult match-up for the Hounds playing on short rest.

Indeed, the Hounds were put to the test in a test of tactical discipline against Charlotte for most of the night.

It appeared that each time when they pushed ahead in to the attack to break down Charlotte and find seams through the lines, they had a pass intercepted or they couldn’t find the right connection in the final third.

After scoring five goals in the past two games, they ran into a wall on Saturday night.

They did end the evening with 55 percent possession on the night and nearly 100 more passes (524-426), but that was due mostly from its push in the final 35 minutes to get the equalizer.

Charlotte conceded space on the width as the Hounds tried to generate some chances by sending balls in from the sides as they held the edge in crosses (15-9).

Charlotte started out the more promising of the two teams, and they outshot the Hounds in the first half, 5-2, but the Independence had a hard time hitting the target with just one shot on goal.

The lone shot was a great chance for Brandt Bronico in the 30th minute, who got an open header inside the six-yard box from a free kick, but Hounds goalkeeper Danny Vitiello made a reflex save to parry the ball downward and cover it before it could cross the goal line.

Charlotte then put the ball into the net in the 41st minute, but Martinez’s would-be goal was waved off for offside.

A much different half played out after the break, and Alex Dixon nearly caught Charlotte napping with a curling shot that missed just high only 20 seconds into the half.

But Charlotte finally found the net going the other direction, as Irvin Parra was able to get down the right flank and serve a low pass to Martinez in the middle. Martinez slid for the ball and got the touch needed to get it between defender Shane Wiedt and Vitiello for the 47th-minute goal.

Both Wiedt and Mekeil Williams were split and there seemed to be a moment of hesitation in their response to the ball played to Parra.  Once Parra got the ball and took it to the right, the Hounds defenders were scrambling to recover, and were beat by precise pass in the box and a solid finish by one of the USL Championship’s best players in the past six years.

It was ironic, that Charlotte’s only goal would come from a long pass over to the middle of the Hounds back line, and once again, as they’ve struggled the past few games, they couldn’t stay organized to clear the ball away.

It would be the sixth goal surrended in the second half in less than three games.  This is very uncharacteristic of a Bob Lilley coached team.

The Hounds began to press forward more after that point, and they finished with 55 percent of possession in the game. But the time on the ball didn’t equal chances.  They sent more crosses (15-9), but only connected on 27% of them, as Charlotte’s goalkeeper and former Hound, Austin Pack did a nice job coming off his line throughout the night, especially late in the game.

With Charlotte defending well and getting numbers behind Pittsburgh’s attackers, the only shot on frame for Pittsburgh for the night came on a long-range effort by Dixon forced the only save of former Hounds goalie Austin Pack in the Charlotte goal.

The bottom line is that this game may be more indicative of what to expect come playoff time for the Hounds and even this coming Wednesday against Tampa Bay.  Both Charlotte and Tampa Bay have experienced and strong units that make life difficult in the final third for opponents and they generally possess the ball very well.

In these type of matches Bob Lilley likes to say, it comes down to how players and teams come together to handle the big moments.  Charlotte made the most of their chance on Saturday night, while the Hounds came up short and couldn’t come up with too many answers, especially in the final third.

It’s back to the drawing board for the Hounds, who will try to snap their losing streak on Wednesday night in a first-place showdown with Tampa Bay.  The Hounds can put the past two games behind them fairly quickly and right their ship with a positive result in this upcoming midweek encounter.

Player Grades 

Player
Grade
(out of 10)
Key Stats / Notes 
Goalkeeper
Danny Vitiello 5.5 Maybe if he didn’t come out on the goal, he could have been able to save it. Also made two saves and had one punch; 14 of 24 passes were long
Defenders
Shane Wiedt 5 Team high 74 passes as they played out of the back a lot (87% passing accuracy); Attempted 9 long passes; Won 5 of 8 duels; Costly breakdown on the goal dampened an otherwide solid night; two tackles; one interception; one foul conceded
Preston Kilwien  4.5 Two clearances; one interception; won 3 of 4 duels; 44 total passes (77%) with seven long attempts;
Mekiel Williams 4.5 Same as Wiedt. Thought he played well, but that goal mishap will see some points deducted; lost both duels; 55 total passes (78%); one clearance; one interception; conceded one foul
Ezra Armstrong n/r conceded a foul; one interception
Jalen Robinson n/r won one foul; 88% passing accuracy (8 passes)
Midfield/Forwards                                               
Danny Griffin 6 won two fouls but conceded three; completed 52 of 66 passes (78.8 percent); also won 7 of 10 duels while winning the ball away from Charlotte a team-best 13 times.
Todd Wharton  6 Won two fouls; Team high 91.4% passing accuracy; 35 passes; won all four duels; two tackles; three interceptions
Kenardo Forbes 5.5 Two shots missed the mark; 2 of 5 crosses successful; zero chances created; two blocked shots; won 2 of 3 duels
Louis Perez  4.5 won 5 of 9 duels; 37 total passes (72% accuracy); conceded foul’ four tackles; one interception
Anthony Velarde (71′) n/r in limited time, sent three crosses; 88% passing (9 passes); created one chance
Dani Rovira (71′) n/r in limited time, 13 passes (61%); 1/1 in duels; had interception
Tommy WIlliamson 4.5 playing wider, left forward in 3-4-3 — had one shot (not on target); one unsuccessful cross; conceded two fouls; just 23 total passes (70% accuracy)
Alex Dixon  4.5 41 passes (80% passing) despite playing central forward much of night — came back to middle at times; three shots — and had Hounds lone shot on frame early in 2nd half; created one chance; only won 2 of 8 duels; conceded three fouls and had a yellow card
Russell Ciccerone 5 Hounds leading goal scorer shut down despite decent work rate; won just 5 of 15 duels; 29 total passes; created two chances; one unsuccessful cross; won two fouls; conceded one foul

 

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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