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Takeaways & Player Grades: Riverhounds’ struggles vs top teams continues

At one point during Saturday’s match at Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Jerin Steele turned to me in the press box and made a side comment about Memphis 901 FC’s unique shirt sponsorship, with pest control company’s name and logo, Terminix, on the front of their jerseys.

This product name and logo placement on the front of the resurgent club’s sharp light and dark blue jerseys seemed very approprate on a night when they came to Pittsburgh and exterminated the Hounds with a stingy defense that throttled and slowed down Pittsburgh’s attack, denied the Hounds’ chances to climb further up the standings and ended the home side’s seven match unbeaten streak.

In our coverage leading up to the match, much was made about Memphis’ rise this season, and that they have emerged as a serious contender which is a far cry from the unit that the Hounds defeated in the season opener, 3-0.

On Saturday at Highmark, 901 FC came to the 412 and showed their quality.

A brilliant yet not-contested-enough shot from Memphis’ Luis Fernando early in the 8th minute which gave the visitors a 1-0 lead set the tone for the rest of the match.

At first look, Hounds midfielder Robbie Mertz couldn’t get a solid touch and beat 901 FC’s Rece Buckmaster to the ball. The near collision resulted in the ball bouncing over to the Brazilian midfielder, who was happy to find some space to advance toward the edge of the box.  The Hounds defenders, all three center backs, were playing a bit deep, and none of them stepped up to stop Fernando in his path.

Even as he started to fall over, Fernando turned to his instincts to still get a solid foot on the ball to send a strike toward the open right side of goal, which caught the Hounds’ keeper Jahmali Waite off guard.

Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley said after the match they scouted Fernando as a dribbler with a dangerous left foot.

And what frustrated the veteran coach was his back line gave too much space, and his goal keeper wasn’t prepared for the shot.

While the Hounds controlled possesson (60% on the night) and had the edge in shots taken, they were not sharp when it mattered most, in the final third and in allowing Memphis to create a few quality goal scoring moments.

Despite the Hounds jumping back in control of the match after the early Memphis goal, they could not execute effectively in the final third.  Numerous crosses into the goal box area would result in Albert Dikwa and Russell Cicerone coming in too late or mis-timing their runs, and there also wasn’t enough support or additional bodies getting to the near and far posts.

When Dikwa had a few opportunities in the latter stages of the first half thanks to his endless work rate — both times he couldn’t finish.  FIrst he split a pair of defenders after getting an interception, and pulled his shot too far right.  The second scenario a few minutes later, the Hounds forward’s shot was headed inside the right post, but Memphis’ Trey Muse came up with a nice, diving save.

Alex Dixon and Nathan Dossantos on the wings along with Kenardo Forbes, Danny Griffin and Mertz were generating service at times, but on the end of that service, it seemed as if Memphis’ solid man-marking were giving the Hounds front line attackers fits, as Russell Cicerone, the team’s leading goal scorer, and Dikwa were a bit off on their runs or when, Dikwa in particular, had their chances.  Cicerone only had nine passes and as service came his way, he won just four of nine duels.

In an effort to create some spark for the attack, Lilley brought on two forwards, Dane Kelly and Edward Kizza relatively early in the second half, pulling Cicerone and Dossantos, but Memphis continued to defend well and limit the Hounds’ chances.

After taking a 10-3 (3-1 on target) shots edge into the half, the Hounds ended the match with only five more shots, and none on target, though Kelly did provide the 4,726 fans at Highmark with an opportunity for a collective gasp with a long-distance strike that did hit the top of the crossbar.

That was about it though for the Hounds as far as creating scoring chances.

Lilley credited Memphis for their executing when it counted and for doing what they had to do after getting an early lead. Memphis’ solid defending included intercepting 19 Hounds’ passes, they had 22 tackles and 28 clearances.

The Hounds gaffer didn’t have a problem with his team’s effort, but would have liked to seen better service, more quality runs — and didn’t like his team’s effort in winning second balls.

The result is a tough one for Pittsburgh, which had a chance to move past Memphis.  Now, they’re five points behind a team that outplayed them at home at a pretty important juncture of the season.

It’s also has to be extra disappointing and concerning that the Hounds have posted a very poor record against the top three teams in the standings (1-3-0), with the lone win coming in that week one victory at Memphis.  Otherwise, they’ve been handled pretty good by both Tampa Bay (two losses by an aggregate score of 8-3) and Louisville (2-0 loss away).

There is still time for the Hounds to make their move, but as a result of this loss, and Birmingham’s 1-0 defeat of San Diego, Pittsburgh is now in fifth place, and currently out of position to host a home playoff match (need to finish 4th place or higher).

The good news is that the Hounds have matches left against both Birmingham (who they also defeated earlier in the season) and front-running Louisville, and they have an opportunity to build points as they face teams at the bottom of the standings in the next four matches (vs NY Red Bulls II, Atlanta United 2, Loudoun United and Charleston Battery).

But on Saturday night and at this moment, Memphis 901 FC are the better team.

The Hounds have the talent, the experience, and the pieces in place to change that in the months to come, but they’ll have to start another streak and next time around, will have to get results against the teams ahead of them.  If not, it will be another short postseason.

Tactics, Personnel and Formation 

There were few surprises in the lineup selection, as both Dikwa and Cicerone, who came into the match in excellent form, were at the top of the attack, with Forbes in place to help facilitate as an attacking midfielder with lots of leeway to roam and move around with supportand interchangability with both Robbie Mertz and Danny Griffin.  Mertz stayed deeper in the central midfield in this match than he had in his previous two appearances since his return to the Hounds.

The Hounds were looking to find seams and spaces, but Memphis were both pressing well and marking very tight in the final third and this disrupted the Hounds attack quite a bit.

As mentioned, Lilley brought on Kizza and Kelly early in the second half, then moved Dikwa into the spot where Forbes was patrolling, shuffling Mertz wide left to replace Dossantos and while Forbes dropped deeper alongside Griffin who started to move up and take more chances as the match evolved.

Jelani Peters and Luke Biasi also came on in the 75th minute for Mertz and Mekeil Williams.

Player Grades 

# Player Position Grade Notes
26 Waite GK 4 Nothing he could do on second goal, but maybe the first one he should have been there to stop. No saves, one punch and two goals allowd.
5 Williams DF 4 61 passes; won 4/8 duels
15 Ordoñez DF 6 covered plenty of ground in the middle of the Hounds’ three center backs. six clearances, won 10 of 11 duels (including 6 of 6 in the air) and was credited with a pair of chances created. Yellow card (sitting on six now)
3 Wiedt DF 4.5 59 passes, team high 5 interceptions; won 6/12 duels; Yellow Card
2 Dossantos DF 4 30 passes, won 4/9 duels; Yellow card
14 Mertz MF 4.5 Not his best performance; sat deeper (but not as deep as Griffin) than he has in first few matches back in Pittsburgh. won 2/7 duels.
12 Griffin MF 6.5 Won 5/9 duels; most passes (57) at 92% accuracy rate; created 3 chances
11 Forbes (C) MF 5.5 Won 1/5 duels; 71% passing accuracy; created 3 chances
7 Dixon MF 4.5 won 2/8 duels; all five of his crosses were unsuccessful (not all his fault).  Thought he’d take on a defender in 1v1 spots a few times but didn’t.
9 Dikwa FW 5.5 Work rate was good (he was intercepting passes and pressing well) and won 6/8 duels (won two fouls too), but struggled with finishing
10 Cicerone FW 4 Following his brace last week, just wasn’t his night.
Substitutes
1 Silva DNP
29 D. Kelly 56′ 5 Did Hit crossbar, but couldn’t get any other quality shots
13 Biasi 75′ n/r
6 Kelly-Rosales DNP
21 Kizza DNP 4.5 had one shot; 12 passes; won 2/5 duels; foul conceded & yellow card
27 Jelani Peters 75′ n/r
4 Rovira DNP

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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