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Hounds Notebook: What ‘other solutions’ will come at RGV, plus a look back at short-lived Houston Dynamo affiliation

Photo courtesy Mark Goodman

The last time the Riverhounds SC won a soccer match, they defeated a team from Texas, way back on May 14 when they defeated El Paso Locomotive, 1-0, at Highmark Stadium.

On Saturday night, deep in the heart of the Lone Star State, they’ll face another new opponent, Rio Grande Valley Toros FC in the first-ever meeting between the two clubs (8:30 p.m.).

The Hounds (7-4-3, 24 points) finished training in Pittsburgh on Thursday, as Friday is a travel day as they head Westward looking to snap a four-game winless string, which includes two losses (at Tampa Bay and at Charleston) and two draws (at Miami and against Detroit City FC in the only home game during this stretch).

It will also be a battle of two teams that were once affiliates of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer. Check out more on that very interesting nugget below.

The Hounds are looking to turn the page after an embarrassing 3-0 loss at USL Old Guard rivals Charleston last Saturday in South Carolina.

Lilley determined to ‘keep after it’ despite Riverhounds’ current rough patch

“It was tough,” Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley said in an interview with PSN this week.

“We have to think about other solutions. Because our performance at Charleston was stale. We were pretty predictable. DIdn’t cause a lot of problems.”

Other Solutions could be in the cards

The Hounds should have the services of both Mekeil Williams and Alex Dixon, who both missed last week’s match for different reasons.

In addition, goalkeeper Jahmali Waite, who started at Charleston, was called up to the Jamaican National team for its CONCACAF League of Nations match vs Mexico, where he served as the back-up keeper. (Waite was not used in the 1-1 draw).

The Hounds reported at mid-week the call-up was not expected to affect Waite’s availability with the Hounds. Sure enough, he rejoined the team in training Thursday, giving Lilley and his coaching staff a full selection of players for the trip to Texas

So, what kind of changes are in store for this week?

Under Lilley’s direction, the Hounds constantly adjust to its opponents from game-to-game and even within each match. Against Charleston, after falling behind early in the match, the Hounds didn’t adapt to Charleston’s back four playing deep and made some costly defensive mistakes late in the first half.

They were lacking the ability to get to the end line, stretch Charleston’s defenders once they got into the final third — and have more options and runners getting into open spaces.

Lilley used five subs in the second half at Charleston. He brought on Albert Dikwa and William Eyang at forward (replacing Dane Kelly and Luis Argudo), plus Angelo Kelly-Rosales (replacing Dani Rovira). Marc Ybarra and Toby Sims also came on in the 74th minute.

Based on his feedback in this week’s interview, Lilley liked what he saw from each of his second half subs, pointing out that some of those changes “shook up the group in positive way.”

One of PSN contributor Mark Goodman’s assessments in the last time he was on ‘Sounding Off on Soccer’ was that the Hounds haven’t been tough enough in the tackle, especially in the middle of the park, this season.

Lilley himself even said after the disappointing result against Detroit City FC, that his team wasn’t tenacious and didn’t do enough to reclaim the lead after surrendering an equalizing goal in the 70th minute.

What about Angelo Kelly-Rosales?

The Hounds have a deep central midfield, but he’s one player who’s been underutilized to this point this season.

After some extended time in the second half, showing some positive things, maybe the veteran midfield will get his first league start with the Hounds soon?

With Kenardo Forbes and Danny Griffin as fixtures in the central midfield, Lilley has mixed in Luis Argudo, Marc Ybarra and Dani Rovira with starts in the middle, but Kelly-Rosales has been used intermittenly, with eight apperances, no starts in league play and a total of 150 minutes of action.

With the Battery, Kelly-Rosales, made 90 appearances and had nine assists in four seasons, including 29 starts as season ago. While Danny Griffin has been solid in the number six role, it’s possible that if he’s looking to ‘consider other options’, Lilley could mix in Kelly-Rosales higher up in the formation, especially against teams they’re looking to press, much like he did with Mohammad Dabo in 2018 and 2019, who was a ‘tough-in-the-tackle’ defensive midfielder in the same mold.

Or, Kelly-Rosales could sit deeper, and give Griffin a bit more freedom to play higher up along side Forbes, or drop deeper alongside Kelly-Rosales if they want to go to a 4-2-3-1 set-up.

That’s one possible change that might make sense in this upcoming game or in matches ahead when the Hounds might need some extra toughness in the middle.

Toros-Hounds Connection

The Toros have been a USL Championship Western Conference staple since 2016 when they were founded in part to serve as a hybrid affiliate of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer.

You could say that on some level, the Riverhounds helped provide a preliminary blueprint or a temporary fill-in prior to the development of the Rio Grande Valley Toros FC franchise.

Only a few years prior, the Dynamo organization partnered with the Riverhounds to form a one-year affiliation.

In 2014, the Riverhounds, as part of USL Pro (*), had entered into an affiliation agreement with Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo.

**(USL Pro didn’t become USL Championship and elevate into second division status until 2018)

The Dynamo-Hounds affiliation came at the beginning stages of a MLS-USL partnership in which every MLS franchise would be required to either start their own USL franchise or find an affiliate partner in USL by 2016. The rapidly expanding USL doubled in size during this time, going from 14 teams in 2015, to 29 in 2016.

At the time, there was a great sense of excitement that this new-found partnership between the Hounds-Dynamo would provide more legitimacy and a boost to the Riverhounds franchise, which had just completed its first season in Highmark Stadium.

During that time, in the mid-2010’s, the Dynamo were a successful MLS franchise — with a three-year run that included back-to-back MLS Cup runner up finishes and then a Conference Finalist.

It turned out to be a partnership that proved to be less-than-ideal for both parties.

The Hounds would be mired in bankruptcy proceedings for much of 2014, got off to a terrible start and then fired their coach. With the prospects of using players from Houston appealing, especially in light of their financial situation, the Hounds never seemed to get on the same page with their affiliate. The Dynamo also went through a difficult season that included many injuries and missing the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.

During that 2014 season, the Hounds only utilized the services of two key players from Houston with any regularity: defender Anthony Arena and goalie Mike Lisch. Other players, including former Dynamo first-round 2013 MLS SuperDraft pick, Jason Johnson, and Brian Ownby, played sporadically in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Arena played with the Riverhounds in 2014, on loan from the Houston Dynamo. (photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC)

The prospects of a continued partnership with Houston, or another MLS affiliation turned off the Riverhounds’ new leadership as they were looking to help the franchise forge a new identity as they entered the 2015 season.

Then Riverhounds President Richard Nightingale, and new Head Coach Mark Steffens were eager to embark at that time without a partner.
The Dynamo found another willing partner in the Charleston Battery for the 2015 season.

A year later, the Rio Grande Valley Toros FC took the mantle, and became the Dynamo’s hybrid affiliate.

It was a partnership that lasted through the 2020 season.

Now, both clubs are independent franchises, free from any affiliation to Major League Soccer.

Look for cov erage of the Hounds-RVGFC match, a new edition of Sounding Off on Soccer and more to come this weekend on Pittsburgh Soccer Now.

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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