On Saturday, the Riverhounds SC hit the wall in its preseason match against the University of Akron, playing to a scoreless draw at Highmark Stadium.
Following the match, Head Coach Bob Lilley wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance against one of NCAA Division I men’s soccer better programs in recent years, keeping his players in the locker room after the match for an extended period of time.
After his postgame debrief with the players, Lilley Initially came out for an interview with Pittsburgh Soccer Now, but it was clear, he wasn’t feeling like talking much, so he turned back toward the locker room, instead instructing that one of the players would instead come out in his place to provide an interview.
Entering his sixth season in Pittsburgh, this was the first time Lilley walked away from an interview and didn’t feel like sharing his thoughts on his team’s performance.
That was certainly out of character for the ultra-successful coach, who, in more than 20 seasons, has never had a losing season, nor has ever missed the playoffs. Lilley has always been gracious with his time and sharing his thoughts with the media, even after the worst losses and toughest moments.
What wasn’t out of character, was Lilley’s approach in letting his players know about their lackluster performance.
There have been numerous times after games the veteran coach has kept his players on the field or in a locker room long after game, to pick things apart while fresh on his mind.
This current group, at this point in the preseason, are not meeting expectations and demands from their coach.
“We’re not in midseason form yet, but I don’t think it’s anything to be too discouraged by,” Robbie Mertz, Riverhounds SC midfielder, who quickly came out of the locker room after Lilley walked away.
“There’s a lot of areas that we can improve going forward. In terms the general mentality of the group, and the way we’re approaching games, that was a lot of what was said afterwards. We need to rachet up the intensity.”
The Hounds are now more than three weeks into the preseason, with one win against Penn State and another draw against Akron. The first match, at Columbus, the result was not shared.
The club officially has 14 players signed to the roster, as they’ve continued to train with a host of non-roster invitees battling for roster spots.
Lilley made it clear in the off season, that he was going to be looking to build a roster that would be younger, and hoping that would also be more dynamic and athletic.
But with young teams, often come growing pains.
The starting lineup on Saturday featured a mix of eight players on the roster along with three trialists (playing in one forward spot, another as center defending midfield spot and an additional center back).
For the Hounds, there were a few chances created in the first half, and fewer in the second.
More substitutions came at the half, then four more at the 65th minute mark.
Mertz spent this match playing high up in the attacking center midfield spot, where he says it suits to his strengths, working in tight spaces, playing through the middle and creating chances.
In this match, the Hounds were constantly working to make runs through the tight defensive lines, as Akron didn’t give much space as they were trying to connect final passes to the forwards and overlapping wingers on the edge.
“When we’re playing well as an 11, things come easier,” Mertz explained.
“If we’re fighting it, its breaking down somewhere. It’s not always in front of the team. That being said, as the attacking midfielder, and the forwards, we need to make the better decisions going forward in the final third. It wasn’t terrible today. We had some chances. We could have won the game. It can certainly be better, and it will be.”
The Hounds will have a short turnaround, as they’ll take on fellow USL Championship side, Detroit City FC, on Tuesday afternoon.
The team will train on Monday, then hit the road to Michigan, as they’ll be looking to ramp up the intensity as they face another pro team.
“It will feel different, and in some ways, easier. This is an annual thing with the college teams. They’re young. They’re eager. They make it tough on us sometimes. Against a professional opponent, they’ll punish you if you make mistakes, but it will have a different flow to it,” Mertz explained.
“We just need to take our intensity to the next level, and we’ll be up to the challenge.”
POST MATCH WITH ROBBIE MERTZ
HOUNDS LINEUPS VS AKRON
- Edward Kizza – F
- Trialist (29) – F
- Robbie Mertz – ACM
- Luke Biasi – ORMF
- Dani Rovira – OLMF
- Trialist (8)- CDMF
- Marc Ybarra – CMF
- Arturo Ordonez – CB
- Patrick Hogan – LCB
- Trialist (31) – RCB
- Jahmali Waite – GK
- Joe Farrell – CB
- Trialist (2) – ROB
- Trialist (22) – CDMF
- Langston Blackstock (16)
- Trialist (5)
- Trialist (18)
- Trialist (26)
- Trialist (25)