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Takeaways & Player Grades: Fearless Hounds battle back for draw at Miami

A lot has been made of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s road struggles ahead of Saturday’s 2-2 draw against The Miami FC in a match that was delayed multiple times, and didn’t end until early Sunday morning.

There was a two-hour and 50 minute weather delay, then when the second half was set to start, the lights went out at Ricardo Silva Stadium.

FINAL: Riverhounds SC 2, The Miami FC 2

The match itself provided plenty of thrills for those who stuck around to watch in person and on the broadcast. Going back to last season, the Hounds are now 1-2-2 overall against Miami.

I’ll say this much. The Hounds have not been afraid to take each match to its opponents on the road this season.

They are fearless.

Once again, they were looking to get forward quickly in the attacking third, trying to create chances early while they also held the edge in possession. Throughout the night, their two most imaginative and persistent play makers, Alex Dixon and Russell Cicerone created havoc in the final third.

However, bringing numbers forward also left room and plenty of space on the back end for opponents to find a few scoring chances. Miami took advantage of a set piece to take the lead, then in first half stoppage time, caught the Hounds’ napping.

In the latest edition of ‘Sounding Off on Soccer’, Mark Goodman and I went back-and-forth on some of the reasons for the Hounds’ road woes. He brought up some excellent points about the Hounds lacking speed, not being ‘tough-in-the-tackle’ and wearing down late in matches while I also addressed some of the choices they’ve made tactically to play aggressively on the road and leaving the back line to be exposed at times.

Watching the latest match, all of these issues came to the forefront for the Hounds.

Bob Lilley’s squad showed plenty of resolve to battle back for what was an important result to stop the road carnage of late.

The most positive takeaway for the Hounds’ is that for the first time in five matches, they’ve come back from a road trip with a point in the bag. For a team with high expectations, road results are a must.

They are currently in fourth place, one point behind Detroit City FC, next week’s opponent in what will suddenly become an important match for positioning in the top half of the Eastern Conference standings.

Tactics / Personnel / Formation

Always mixing things up from week-to-week, the Hounds opted to go with a 3-4-2-1 (or 3-4-3) to start the match.

Head Coach Bob Lilley has been using the central midfield trio of Danny Griffin, Kenardo Forbes and Dani Rovira to start most matches of late, however, where they’re situated in the formation continues to be fluid. In Miami, Lilley opted to use Rovira on the width, opposite Nathan Dossantos, while using Forbes and Griffin to anchor the central midfield. Griffin stayed at home a bit more than Forbes, who moved up at times to support the attackers.

This also allowed the Hounds to keep Alex Dixon higher up in the attacking end, alongside Cicerone, where they were able to create enough dangerous chances to fuel a positive effort on the road.

Pittsburgh stayed compact in shape most of the match. Dixon had plenty of freedom to work either side of the wider channels in the attacking third, and used his ability to beat defenders off the dribble and also send numerous dangerous balls into the box, while Cicerone continues to also work with Kelly to find the seams in the defenses.

In this match, Lilley, who has moved his center backs around depending on match-ups, positioned Mekeil Williams in the middle of the trio.

Lilley went to his bench pretty early in the second half (54′) to swap Rovira out for Luis Argudo.

The Hounds made two more subs in the 79th minute, as Toby Sims and Albert Dikwa came in for Cicerone and Dossantos.

Pittsburgh held the possession edge (56/44%), had more passes (531-431) and for the first time in a road game in a while, they were the stronger team at the end of the match. In the shots department, Pittsburgh had more volume (16-10), but Miami delivered more on frame (5-4).

Turning the tide on the road?

Initially, the attempt to get on the front foot in the early going of road matches this season paid off in the Hounds’ first two road wins at Memphis (a 3-0 shutout, now looking event more impressive, especially with 901 FC sitting at the top of the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings) and at Tulsa, as the Hounds scored seven goals in those two matches.

Mixed in between those two matches also included a first-ever match at Detroit City FC, where the Hounds were clearly on the front foot at the outset of the match, dictating terms and play, on its way to a 1-0 lead. Since the second half of that match, when they surrendered a second half goal and withstood a strong assault from Det City, Pittsburgh has been playing most of its road matches on its heels, especially in the final 45 minutes.

The Open Cup road loss at FC Cincinnati, saw the same theme. A solid first half, but unable to convert on a few quality chances. In the second half, FCC subs brought everything but the kitchen sink, bringing some of their top players off the bench. The Hounds hung on bravely, but eventually lost to FCC in extra time.

They fell behind at Louisville and Tampa, but in both matches, they faltered in the second half.

That changed on Saturday.

The strong late kick on Saturday — on a very long night — has to be encouraging for Hounds fans.

Defensive Lapses

The Hounds had to battle back in this match because the defense was overpowered a few times.

The first came on a corner kick. Miami played the set piece to the near post area, and while the Hounds’had all marks covered along the goal box, they didn’t pick-up the late trailer, Junior Palacios, who came barreling into the box to smash the ball past the scrum and into the goal.

The next came in stoppage time when Hounds were not able to contain a burst of Miami speed when Joshua Pérez got behind the left side of the defense — Jelani Peters to be precise. While Kevin Silva made the initial save, but Adonijah Reid tapped the ball into the open net on the rebound.

That was way too easy. This will be something that Lilley will probably be running on repeat in the next Hounds film session.

Here are the still frames of how the Hounds’ allowed yet another long, direct ball leave them exposed. It’s been an on-and-off issue since last season.

It didn’t start out that way, as the back line were in decent position. Still you can see that the Hounds were a bit stretched with the gap between the back line and the central midfielders.

Quickly, Peters has his hands full with Pérez, who initially burst through to the ball played on the right side.

Even as Peters recovered, the other center backs, Williams and Ordonez, were in good position with the next attackers five-to-10 yards in front of them. However, both had their backs turned — mostly watching the ball.

After Pérez’s shot attempt was saved, both Ordonez and Williams were caught out of position with no support from their midfielders or wingers.

Making a heads up run, Reid has plenty of room to cut between the Hounds defenders for the clinical finish.

The Hounds defensive shape wasn’t cohesive and quick enough to deny a direct long ball. This is a perfect example of the back line being stretched out and not having enough support and not properly closing out space in a dangerous situation.

On the postiive side for the Hounds, in the second half, Miami only could get one shot attempt, as Pittsburgh tightened things up considerably, while playing on the front foot for much of the final 45 minutes.

They made the necessary adjustments and finished strong, but only after surrendering another pair of road goals that were fairly preventable.

Dixon and Cicerone Fuel the Attack

Dixon and Cicerone were a dynamite combination in 2021. They connected more than another other pairing we’ve seen in Pittsburgh since Kevin Kerr and Rob Vincent, combining for 24 goals and 20 assists.

At the start of 2022, with the addition of Dane Kelly, Pittsburgh added another dimension and a cold-blooded finisher to their attack.

For all of Kelly’s attributes, which provides the Hounds with more quality and depth in its attack, lately they’ve relied more and more on Dixon and Cicerone to deliver in key moments.

In the 17th minute, Dixon found Cicerone breaking into the box with a deadly accurate pass as the latter broke into the edge of the box. After taking a touch and accelerating forward, Cicerone was tripped by Devon ‘Speedy’ Williams to win a penalty.

Stepping up to take the spot kick was Dixon, who probably tried to get too cute to mix up Miami’s keeper Connor Sparrow by chipping his attempt in the upper center area of the goal, which didn’t fool Sparrow.

Once the Hounds surrendered its first goal, Dixon decided to not get cute with his next chance.

Following a dangerous cross into the box, Dane Kelly elevated to beat Sparrow to a high cross. After the ball pinged around for a bit, Kelly’s header fell to Dixon, who didn’t hold back in blasting a shot that struck the body of Cicerone, then deflected into the net.

Dixon and Cicerone always seem to find each other — even when it’s unintentional.

And when it’s intentional, they make it look even prettier.

Trailing 2-1 early in the second half, Cicerone played a nice diagonal ball to Dixon on the left side.

The 32-year veteran took it from there.

Dixon nearly had another assist in stoppage time, but Kelly’s header missed over the bar.

While Kelly battled on without a real, quality chance, and Albert Dikwa provided some energy off the bench it was Dixon and Cicerone who were the catalysts.

Combining for three of four shot attempts, winning four fouls and scoring twice, Dixon and Cicerone’s persistence paid dividends, giving the Hounds with a chance to salvage a road point.

Player Grades (MIAvPIT)

Player
GR
Key Stats / Notes
Goalkeeper
Kevin Silva 5 The corner kick goal was a bit confounding, as ball played to near post could have provided opportunity to come off his line though it was quite a scrum. Three saves, one punch out but conceded two goals.
Defenders
Jelani Peters 4 Won 4 of 9 duels, conceded two fouls, one clearance, one interception.
Mekiel Williams 5.5 Four clearances, won 4 of 4 duels, 92% passing accuracy as Hounds’ steadiest decision maker out of the back right now, but still, that second Miami goal was rough.
Arturo Ordonez 5 Won 7 of 10 duels, two tackles, three clearances. Team high 77 passes. Same as Williams re: second Miami goal.
Midfield
Dani Rovira 4 won 1 of 7 duels, just 29 passes, conceded 3 fouls, and was pulled in favor of Argudo in the 54th minute
Kenardo Forbes 5.5 won 4 of 12 duels, conceded 4 fouls, passing accuracy at 77% — with 63 passes with three successful (of 7) crosses to create three chances. Not up this he high standards, but still productive night.
Danny Griffin 5.5 91% passing accuracy, won 5 of 10 duels, created one chance, conceded three fouls
Luis Argudo (54′) 5 shows flashes of brilliance, but overall pedestrian performance as second half sub; created one chance; won 1 of 7 duels;
Nathan Dossantos 4.5 Conceded three fouls, had yellow card; 50 passes, but didn’t create too many chances on his side.
Toby Sims (79′) n/a First appearance in a while, with some quality moments.
Forwards
Dane Kelly 4.5 By his standards, a below par performance for the USL C’s all-time goal scorer, but he continues to work hard and draw defenders.
Alex Dixon 7 GOAL; really could have been three goals and the Cicerone credited goal was a result of his effort to get a dangerous shot attempt on goal.
Russell Ciccerone 7 GOAL; ASSIST; extra bonus points for being in the right place at the right time. The pass over to Dixon showed he has great vision and can set up chances too.
Albert Dikwa n/a

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).

Sounding Off on Soccer: Riverhounds Road Woes

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