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Wasteful Hounds: Goal conversion rate drops as Sunshine State swing awaits

Photo courtesy Mark Goodman

The Riverhounds SC are coming off back-to-back home wins, but now are gearing up for a two-game Florida swing, with matches at Tampa Bay and Miami coming up over the next two Saturday evenings.

The club will train with its usual schedule, which will include departures to the Sunshine State each Friday after morning sessions in Pittsburgh.

The Hounds had some good battles against the Tampa Bay Rowdies and The Miami FC last season, when the teams met in ‘Atlantic Division’ play four times each.

Against the Rowdies, after a rough 3-0 loss to open the season at Al Lang Stadium, the Hounds returned the favor by winning at Tampa in May, then both return matches played at Highmark Stadium ended in tightly contested draws.

The two-time defending Eastern Conference Champions have been quite inconsistent season, including a run of form of late that included a draw and two straight losses, but then they exploded for a 5-1 win at Phoenix on Saturday.

“They have a really strong nucleus, they’re going to figure it out,” Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley said.  “It’s not like they’ve lost eight of 10 games. They’ve lost three of 10. Their expected goals and expected goals against is one of the best in the league right now. It’s just that every ball that’s on their nets is going in and they haven’t been converting their chances. They could easily be 8-1-1 based on their expected goals.”

Lilley added, “They’re going to be tough. They’re very good at home. They’re good on set pieces. They’re good in the box. They have experience. They defend well as a team.”

Look for a more detailed preview and scouting report on the Rowdies to come from Mark Goodman later in the week.

Not All 1-0 Wins are Equal

Sir Alex Ferguson often mused that 1-0 wins reveal championship form.

Not sure if Lilley would concur after his team’s latest 1-0 victory, it’s second in a row, last Saturday, in beating El Paso Locomotive.

On May 7, Lilley was elated with his team’s 1-0 victory against Birmingham Legion FC.

A week later the Hounds pulled out another 1-0 victory, against a high-scoring and red-hot El Paso Locomotive FC.

This time, Lilley came into his post match meet-up with the media a very dissatisfied coach.

“We have an experienced team who should be able to close out games more efficiently than we did tonight.” LIlley explained.

Riverhounds Reaction: ‘We almost gave it away’

Lilley has won championships at this level, knows what the standard should be for great teams to set.  He’s really pushing for this team to play at a higher level and  clearly not satisfied that his team left tons of scoring chances on the table, for the second consecutive week.

In fact, Lilley isn’t the only one who has sensed that the Hounds are underperforming to this point in the season.

PSN’s Mark Goodman went as far as saying in his match preview on Saturday that this may be the most talented Hounds team in history, but they’re underperforming thus far in 2022.

“It’s hard to say that the Hounds, who sit comfortably in second place in the Eastern Conference, have underperformed. But I believe they have. They lost a head scratcher in Las Vegas. They looked totally outclassed against Louisville two weeks ago. They fell apart after the 60th minute in Cincinnati in US Open Cup play. They are an incredibly good team – perhaps, talent-wise, the best team in Riverhounds history. But they’ve had some scuffling, unconvincing wins, and some losses that seemed unjustified.”

The veteran coach’s assessment of his team and individual player performances very much alligned with our Player Grades from last week, as the Hounds executed their match plan soundly, even if they missed on numerous chances, the were on the front foot from start to finish against Birmingham.

Against El Paso, not so much.

“Last week, when assessing players., out of 10, we had a lot of sevens and eights,” Lilley said at one point during the 20-minute press conference that even include a few expletives from the long-time coach.

“Tonight, we had a lot of fours and fives.”

Taking a Look Back: Tactics, Formation & Lineups 

For the second consecutive week, against what was a different style of opponent, as El Paso really look to possess the ball and control the midfield, the Hounds started in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

This time around, both Danny Griffin and Kenardo Forbes sat deeper as holding mids. Dane Kelly (29) returned to the starting lineup after sitting out the previous week, and gravitated a lot back to the ball as a target man, while Russell Cicerone (10) was constantly working to break through the lines, despite initially sitting deeper.

As a result of his efforts, Cicerone did make a timely into the box early in the second half which resulted in the match’s lone goal.

The Hounds conceded possession to El Paso, who showed, at times, why they’re so good at stringing passes together.  Lilley has often said, when playing good possession teams, it’s important to not necessarily have more of the ball, but have enough of the ball to not let them get into a rhythm.  The Hounds defensive shape and positioning did result in picking up 25 interceptions during the match (in comparison El Paso had just 10).

Still, mostly on the counter, the Hounds attackers had opportunities to put away their opponent. Instead, they couldn’t convert, holding on to a very precarious 1-0 lead.  They did double-up the Locomotive with a 16-8 (6-5 on target) shots advantage, so Lilley’s match plan provided the chances.

Converting them was another story.

“The last couple of games, we’ve been creating our chances, but not putting them away,” Cicerone said. “Definitely need to put our chances away, then we don’t have to worry about that penalty at the end.”

LIlley was a bit more blunt and less diplomatic than CIcerone in his team’s inability to convert on its chances.

“We’re getting our crosses, but we’re not picking anyone out of our runs.  Our runs are not good enough.  Last few games, I am disappointed when we get shots.  Generally, we’ve converted, but the last three, four games, we’ve been very wasteful.  Our very high conversion rate is dropping because we’re pissing away some golden moments.”

More ‘Team of the Week’ Recognition for Hounds

Two more Riverhounds SC players, Cicerone and Kevin Silva were honored on the USL Championship Team of the Week.

For Sliva, in his third consecutive start, he posted a five-save shutout, including a late penalty kick denial on El Paso’s Luis Solignac, to preserve a 1-0 win for the Hounds against Locomotive FC.

Cicerone’s goal on Saturday was part of a strong all-around performance in which he recorded four shots and three chances created and won 6 of 10 duels and completed 4 of 6 dribbles.

As for the Hounds’ opponent on Saturday, Tampa Bay’s Lewis Hilton earned a spot on the team too.  The English midfielder ran the show for the Rowdies in their 5-1 win on the road at Phoenix Rising FC, completing 78 of 83 passes and recording one assist on four chances created while making 11 recoveries at Wild Horse Pass.

Still No ‘Number One’ Keeper

Despite back-to-back shutouts and a Team of the Week nod, Kevin Silva is still battling to earn starts each week, as Lilley continues to leave things open as his starting goalkeeper decision is still a week-to-week call.

Lilley praised Silva’s big save and his peformance on Saturday, but also said there’s plenty that he needs to work on too.

Silva embraces the competition.

“It’s always going to be a challenge, as we’re all fighting for one spot on the field,” Silva said after Saturday’s win.

“It’s good in training. We all know at the end of the day, if you are going to get the call, you have to keep doing your thing. Whoever’s in, has to be ready.”

Hounds vs Tampa Bay – Saturday, May 21 (7:30 p.m. kickoff) 

Look for Mark Goodman’s preview and Jordan Smith to anchor the game coverage for PSN on Saturday night.

 

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).

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