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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Takeaways & Player Grades: It’s only one win, but these Hounds have potential to be special

Kenardo Forbes gets forward into the attack on Saturday night in Memphis during the Riverhounds SC's 3-0 win. Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC / USL Championship

As the Riverhounds SC opened the season with what turned out to be a convincing, 3-0 win at Memphis on Saturday night, there could be two realistic ways to look at the result.

On one hand, the Hounds showed that they’re a team capable dictating terms of a match, capitalizing on chances, stay aggressive throughout yet always remain steadfast in its organization and defending. Led by a Hall of Fame coach, Bob Lilley, who has built a roster banking on many returning players and experienced veterans to lead the way. At the same time, Lilley is not holding back from giving promising young players an opportunity to step into starting roles.

The Hounds very much looked like a team that should finish very high atop the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings.

On the flip side, it was just one match, against a club that had four potential starters out due to injury, and had to play down a man for the final 55 plus minutes. The Hounds also did not register a shot on goal until Dane Kelly’s milestone goal in first half stoppage time, were willing to concede possession and nearly dug a hole in the first half.

There’s little doubt that Lilley will look at the game video, and find plenty of things to pick apart.

However, for a team with championship aspirations, this was a great way to start what plans to be a long 34-game campaign. Even when they weren’t entirely sharp or weren’t as aggressive as they could have been to create more shot opportunities, they pulled out a fairly comfortable win when they weren’t really clicking on all cylinders.

Among the bright signs that this team could be special as the season evolves include:

  • Dane Kelly! His goal and assist performance elevated the team when they needed it.
  • Rookie goalkeeper Chase Vosvick’s clutch penalty kick save and overall composure through the first ever pro start, on the road
  • Confidence and effectiveness of the midfield and defenders to continiously frustrate Memphis’ build-up efforts and their overall patience and passing efficiency (especially Danny Griffin and Kenardo Forbes).
  • Talented attackers weren’t always on target but nonetheless were persistant and dangerous enough throughout the night that the home side had to resort to bad fouls and scrambling for constant clearances.

Last season, the Hounds struggled early on, so getting three points out of the gate, in a road match, should do wonders for a team that has its sights set on staying at the top of the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference table.

Tactics & Formation

The Hounds came out in a 3-4-1-2 formation.

Kenardo Forbes was the ‘1’ sitting as a central attacking midfielder, sitting just below the two striker combination of Russell Cicerone and Dane Kelly.

Deeper in the central midfield the Hounds went with Danny Griffin who led the team in minutes played last season, and a rookie from Michigan, Marc Ybarra.

On the wing, Pittsburgh opted to move the Alex Dixon to the wide right spot, and Robby Dambrot on the left side.

Lilley went with a three-man center back alignment that included Jelani Peters and Shane Wiedt, two returning players, with former Pitt standout Arturo Ordonez making his pro debut as the man in the middle of the back line.

The Hounds made multiple substitutions twice in the second half.

First, rookies Toby Sims and Nathan DosSantos along with Albert Dikwa, came in for Dambrot, Ybarra and Dane Kelley in the 68th minute.

In the 84th minute, Angelo Kelly and Mekeil Williams came on for Alex Dixon and Russell Cicerone.
Great Dane Hits Century Mark

There were a few moments in the first half, where the Hounds were knocking on the door, as the midfielders, along with Shane Wiedt, were intercepting Memphis pass attempts with regularity.

The attackers, though, misconnected or failed to create any kind of quality scoring chance for much of the first half.

Through the match’s first 45 minutes, the Hounds didn’t register a shot on goal.

There was an impressive Cicerone shot from the edge of the box that banged off the left post, then was cleared away.

Memphis defenders were clearing balls away with regularity, and it seemed like the Hounds could not get into a rhythm once they got near the box.

Then this happened in stoppage time.

It was a vintage finish from the best finisher this league’s ever had.

First, Vosvick’s long goal kick found its way past the midfield mark to Kelly, who was there to challenge for the ball in the air. Though he didn’t win the ball cleanly, his effort forced a rushed clearance by Memphis, which ended up on the other side of the pitch, landing right at the feet of Alex Dixon, who had some room to move forward after getting control of the ball off his chest, Dixon then sent a ball into the space in the box where Kelly made a perfectly timed run. After a deft first touch, Kelly switched the ball to his left foot to evade the defender and find room to shoot inside the left post for his first-ever goal as a Riverhound and became the first player to score triple digit goals in USL Championship history.

Kelly provided a continued strong presence into the second half, as the Hounds doubled the lead on a set piece. He was the target on Forbes’ corner kick, but instead of heading a ball that he outjumped a crowded box to redirect the ball toward the back post area, which landed right to an unmarked Russell Cicerone.

In this lineup, with this team, Kelly has already proved to be a valuable asset, not only to deliver timely goals with high level of efficiency, but he will draw attention and do the dirty work that target strikers are required to do, including winning his duels (he won 8 of 14 duels — and a perfect 3 for 3 in the air) and drawing fouls (he was fouled three times).

Even better for Lilley, he was able to preserve his newest asset, pulling him after 68 minutes as they held a 2-0 lead.

The veteran was relieved by Albert Dikwa, who picked up where Kelly left off by scoring a goal of his own, thanks also to a second assist from Alex Dixon.

This is exactly the type of production that the Hounds were hoping from the striker position. If they can maintain this throughout the season, they’ll be very tough to beat.

Baptism By Fire

Chase Vosvick in goal, Arturo Ordonez in the middle of the back line and Marc Ybarra in the midfield each started their first-ever pro matches. Toby Sims and Nathan DosSantos came off the bench.

Lilley showed that he has plenty of confidence in five players who are right out of college.

Vosvick, who was the starting keeper for Loyola (MD), was put into pressure packed spot only 30 minutes into the contest when he made a penalty kick save after Ordonez was called for a handball in the box when he came sliding in to deny a shot attempt.

Of the five, Ordonez is the most familiar, having played the previous three seasons at Pitt, helping anchor the Panthers’ College Cup and ACC Coastal Division Champions squad. It was a solid performance for the native of Spain, who also suffered a head laceration, and had to wear a special bandage wrap after the call in the box.

Ybarra, a playmaker and leading assist man at University of Michigan, was relatively quiet in the central midfield, playing alongside Danny Griffin. While he wasn’t really involved in the attack much, sitting fairly deep in the formation most of his 68 minutes, he had 32 overall passes (at 65% rate), drawing one foul and winning two of four duels. There was a time a few years ago when Griffin had the fewest touches and was the least active of the midfielders.

Now Griffin is the team’s workhorse.

As the Hounds evolve through the long season, having these young players step into the spotlight right from the start will likely pay dividends later in the season. No doubt, Lilley will be counting on using his depth through the entire season.

Talented young players only add to the Hounds chances of being a special team.

It will be very interesting to see how it all comes together.

Riverhounds SC Player Grades:

Goalkeeper

Chase Vosvick – 7.5 – shutout, five saves including a PK stop in his first ever pro start. Not bad!

Defenders

Jelani Peters – 6.5 – solid outing. Won 7 of 9 duels. Six clearances, two tackles and was the busiest center back with 64 passes.

Arturo Ordonez – 5.5 – Been covering him for three years with Pitt, but this is first time he’s getting graded — so welcome to the pros Arturo! Thought he handled himself well for the most part, the handball in the box aside. Won 3 of 7 duels with 78% passing (highest of the center backs) as he played in the middle with lots of confidence. Two tackles, four clearances and four interceptions.

Shane Wiedt – 7.5 – what a terrific night for Wiedt. He was the best defender at anticipating what was coming his way from Memphis, finishing the match with a team high 11 interceptions. I’ve been doing this a while, and I can’t think of any player who’s had that many interceptions in a game. Also won 8 of 10 duels and completed 53 passes.

Nathan DosSantos – NR – NCAA National Champion defender from Marshall University was a later sub, in the 84th minute. Nine passes and 0 for 2 in his duels.

Mekeil Williams – NR – Came in to add another defender late in the match.

Midfield

Alex Dixon – 7 – another solid performance from Dixon who won 3 of 10 duels, didn’t have a lot of touches and they didn’t play through him a lot (only 26 passes). Yet he showed how dangerous he can be on the right wing, picking up two assists in the two chances he created.

Marc Ybarra – 5 – as pointed out above, a pretty quiet debut, but held his own in his battles, but will definitely need to work on passing accuracy (66%) which we know shouldn’t be a problem since he was a top level passer at Michigan.

Danny Griffin – 6.5 – with Ybarra at his side, allowed for him to roam a bit more from box-to-box. Also wasn’t really involved in the attack much either though, but his biggest maturation piece is the ability to play the ball out from deeper and passing with terrific accuracy (88%).

Kenardo Forbes – 6.5 – Forbes hasn’t lost a touch. Dazzling 93% passing accuracy in a higher, more involved attacking role, and the result was creating four chances and sending in six crosses (two successful). On the flip side, he only won one of 11 duels and conceded three fouls.

Robby Dambrot – 6.5 – Remember a time a few years ago when Ryan James and Jordan Dover were very involved in intiating the attack from the wings. In this match at least, both Dixon and Dambrot were not too involved, but the fourth-year pro from Pitt is going to make his mark from the width in trying to add to the attack. He had three crosses and won five of his six duels, with two tackles, an interception and drew two fouls. Pretty decent debut with the Hounds.

Angelo Kelly – NR – short appearance, with just three overall passes and one clearance.

Forwards

Russell Cicerone – 7 – picking right up where he left off last season, Cicerone was aggressive, always looking to make his runs and find spots where he can get to so he can create goal scoring opportunities. At times in first half, his teammates had some trouble connecting withhim. By the end of the match, he was in the mix plenty, winning 7 of 15 duels, drawing three fouls and conceding three fouls too. Eventually his persistence paid off, when Kelly’s redirected header found him at the back post for the second goal of the match.

Dane Kelly – 8 – In addition to his milestone goal, another thing we saw on Saturday, is even though he’s not the biggest guy on the field, how good he is in the air, winning 3 of 5 duels in the air, including the assist. He’s also a strong two-way player, drawing three fouls, had a tackle and a clearance too.

Albert Dikwa – 6.5 – when he first came to Pittsburgh, in 2020, he was effective in coming off the bench. Once again, back at full health in 2022, and he had a nice performance off the bench, including a clever goal. Only had six passes and was 1 for 2 in his duels, but made the most of his minutes.

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).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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