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Takeaways & Player Grades: Lacking intensity, focus and movement, Hounds doomed from the start at Charleston

Photo courtesy Charleston Battery / USL Championship

The bottom fell out for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday night in Charleston.

The Hounds surrendered an early goal, and never recovered, as Pittsburgh’s longest standing rival, the Charleston Battery, had their way in a 3-0 decision which lifted the home side to its second win in 13 matches this season.

FINAL: Charleston Battery 3, Riverhounds SC 0

There weren’t many bright spots on a night when the Riverhounds SC were completely outplayed by a team that has been at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

The Hounds were lethargic, lacked focus and appeared to underestimate a desperate opponent.

The question is, when will the Hounds starting playing with the same level of desperation?

Head Coach Bob Lilley questioned his team’s inability to respond last week after dominating play against Detroit FC, only to allow a goal in the 70th minute.

For much of the past month leading up to this match, Lilley noted that for the most part, his team had been playing ‘reasonably well’.

But he warned, “playing reasonably well and being mentally sharp, committed, efficent and times you have to be able to do different things. And you have to be able to do that in big games,” Lilley stated.

“We have to get better, clearly.”

The Hounds should have been motivated and primed to get back to winning ways.

After all, they had a full week of preparation for Charleston. They don’t have any apparent injuries. There’s one player on international duty (Mekeil Williams), and another key contributor, Alex Dixon, was also absent from the lineup (his wife is expecting their first child soon, so that could be the reason why he didn’t make the trip).

Even without Dixon and Williams, the Hounds should have been eager to turn the tide and pick up their first road win since early April.

Instead, they took another step backward.

Tactics, Formation and Personnel

As mentioned Alex Dixon, who’s been a key catalyst in the Hounds attack and one appearance away from his 200th in USL Championship, didn’t make the trip.

Still, with a front line of attackers in a 3-4-3 shape which included a fairly well-rested Dane Kelly, Russell Cicerone and Luis Argudo, along with Kenardo Forbes and Danny Griffin anchoring the central midfield, the Hounds had all the pieces in place to have a productive evening.

Dani Rovira and Nathan Dossantos were flanked out wide in the wing-back spots, while the three man backline included Arturo Ordonez with Jelani Peters on his left and Shane Wiedt on the right.

One of the problems in the first half was the Hounds were lacking movement and were not in sync when getting forward. They stalled in many possessions beyond the midfield through much of the first half.

Here’s what the Hounds’ (in black) shape looked like 30 minutes into the match, with Cicerone (10), looking to make runs, spending most of his time wider and to the left, while Dane Kelly (29) was drifting closer to midfield and Luis Argudo (21) wasn’t doing enough to stretch the Charleston back line on the right central attacking midfield side.

Trailing 3-0 at the start of the second half, Lilley went to his bench for a spark, adding Angelo Kelly-Rosales (who played for Charleston), William Eyang and Albert Dikwa, replacing Kelly, Agudo and Rovira.

In the 73rd minute, Marc Yabarra and Toby Sims also came on for Cicerone and Forbes.

Never underestimate a desperate opponent

In professional sports, an opponent should never be underestimated.

This match provided a perfect example of this.

Charleston came out ready to play, and despite a terrible start to the season, they showed some life in recent games.

Sure enough, they came out charging on Saturday. Things became more confounded for the Hounds with a sloppy pass from its leader, Kenardo Forbes, that led to the game’s opening goal.

Auggie Williams delivered a strike that stunned the Hounds and provided his team with a boost.

The USL Championship’s all-time leading assist leader made a very uncharacteristic decision. Forbes played it back, dangerously through the middle, even with Williams standing in the path.

In the previous match, following a few sloppy passes, Forbes’ long-time coach, Lilley did not hold back in letting his captain know how he felt from the sidelines at Highmark Stadium.

Sometimes during a long season, these type of mistakes tend to happen here and there. With Forbes, there’ve been a few head scratchers of late. If he’s not on top of his game or doesn’t do his part to help dictate terms and extend possession, it really does affect how the rest of the team performs. In this match, Forbes had just 35 passes at an accuracy rate (low for him) of 74 percent, though he did battle through the match, getting the team’s lone shot on goal before being pulled in the 73rd minute.

Charleston showed from the start of the match they would be a tough opponent, but the Hounds never really responded with equal intensity.

The double-whammy came late in the first half.

The Hounds allowed a set piece goal, a ball played on a corner kick to the near post, redirected by Andrew Booth with Hounds defender Arturo Ordonez tightly marking. It was a well-placed header with a lot of pace, but the Hounds keeper Jahmali Waite was in the right position, but he didn’t react quick enough.

The real ‘salt-in-the-wound’ goal came in first half stoppage time, when the Hounds could not stop quick moving Battery attack from moving quickly right through the middle of the field, as a through ball made it past a retreating Ordonez and to Romario Piggott’s foot.

From there, Waite came off his line, but wasn’t up to the task, as Piggott’s clinical finish sealed one of the most embarrassing halves of football for the Riverhounds in quite some time.

Hounds fans are hoping that this was a complete aberration.

Forwards not in sync, lacking movement; Dane Kelly in a slump

If Bob Lilley’s response to lack of movement in the Detroit match was harsh, I can’t imagine what he had to say to some of his attackers at halftime of this one.

Wholesale substitutions at the start of the second half suggested that Lilley was not happy with what he saw from Luis Argudo and Dane Kelly, two of the Hounds biggest off season pick-ups, as William Eyang and Albert Dikwa entered the match, giving the club some much needed energy off the bench.

Through his first seven matches with Pittsburgh, Kelly scored six goals.

In the last seven matches, Kelly has only played one full 90 minutes once, starting in three, and has not scored a goal nor picked up an assist.

The USL Championship’s all-time leading scorer has not been a dangerous threat in the box for much of the last seven games. He’s spending a lot of his energy coming back to the ball, but he’s also not getting enough touches. Even if he plays the role as a target man, he’s not facilitating goal scoring opportunities like he did earlier in the season either.

Kelly is in a slump.

With his eighth club since 2016, it is fair to question how much does Kelly has left in the tank. Can he be a player relied upon to help elevate the Hounds’ lofty standards and be that added dimension in the attacking third. Early in the season it appeared that he was a key addition.

Now, at 31 years of age, with more than half the season remaining, can he regain his step and scoring touch? There certainly is plenty of time for him to still make his mark, but based on his recent run of form, these are valid concerns.

By contrast, Russell Cicerone, the Hounds leading scorer in 2021, has been the most active and mobile attacker of late. In this last match, Cicerone was the only one who played the full 90 minutes, winning eight of 15 duels and had 27 passes. Cicerone’s been the team’s workhorse at the top, especially in the last five matches, as he’s scored twice along with two assists.

Lots of Cicerone’s success has come when he’s hooked up with Alex Dixon though. They were fantastic at Miami a few weeks ago, as they connected twice, and have been instrumental in creating the majority of the Hounds’ chances in the last seven games. While Cicerone’s movement and work rate has been good, but he has not been able to link up with Kelly and Argudo as well as he has with Dixon.

Following up a positive showing against Detroit when he created four chances, and getting his second straight start, Argudo was also a ghost against Charleston.

Make no mistake, the way the Hounds played on Saturday and failed to create chances is more of a collective issues.

The midfield (Forbes, Griffin, Rovira and Dossantos) as a group only created one chance. The Hounds were not patient enough in building possession and did not work hard enough as a group, especially off the ball, once they got near the attacking third.

This is a team which should not be reliant on the return of one player to help fuel the attack.

Lilley and his coaching staff have some work to do to get this group back in sync.

Player Grades

Starting XI

# Player Position Grade Notes
26 Jamahli Waite GK 4 Three goals, made two saves. Comes up with another big save or two, could be different match
27 Jelani Peters DF 5.5 Yellow Card; despite 3 goals, hard to ignore his performance as he was active w/ 61 passes and won 11 of 14 duels (won 8 of 8 in air).
15 Arturo OrdoΓ±ez DF 3 Would love to have the last two goals back
3 Shane Wiedt DF 4 Like Peters, very active (team high 63 passes) but also those three goals, tough.
4 Dani Rovira 45β€Ž’β€Ž MF 4 Pulled after 45′; sent one unsuccessful cross
2 Nathan Dossantos MF 4 Won 3 of 11 duels; two unsuccessful crosses and had team high 5 interceptions but conceded a team high 5 fouls!
12 Griffin MF 5.5 Yellow Card; 81% passing accuracy; was active for 90-plus minutes (3 int’s; 1 tackle)
11 Forbes (C) 74β€Ž’β€Ž MF 4.5 Did have the Hounds’ lone shot on frame, only 1 of 5 crosses were successful. Giveaway led to first goal
29 D. Kelly 45β€Ž’β€Ž FW 3 Zero goals, zero assists in the last seven matches
21 Argudo 45β€Ž’β€Ž FW 3 Was a ghost in the first 45, then was pulled
10 Cicerone 74β€Ž’β€Ž FW 5 Work rate was there, and again put in a full 90 minute, but no shots
Bench & Substitutes
1 Silva DNP
16 Sims 74β€Ž’β€Ž Sub n/r
13 Biasi DNP
6 A. Kelly-Rosales 45β€Ž’β€Ž Sub Under utilized to this point in season; showed his toughness in the tackle, something that this team could use more of
18 Ybarra 74β€Ž’β€Ž Sub n/r
9 Albert Dikwa 45β€Ž’β€Ž Sub 5 Helped give Hounds some spark in second half
8 Eyang 45β€Ž’β€Ž Sub 5.5 Positive work-rate, good energy off bench.

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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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