FINAL: Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3, Memphis 901 FC 1
Match Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC wrapped up a two-game road swing through Mid-South territory — taking away four points following a comeback draw in Birmingham last week, then punished struggling Memphis 901 FC, 3-1, as Albert Dikwa earned his first professional career hat trick at AutoZone Park in Memphis on Saturday afternoon.
Legendary professional wrestler Ric Flair once owned the Mid-South back in the day as a stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ and dealin’ son of a gun.
The Hounds own the Mid-South too.
Pittsburgh has only lost once in Birmingham and absolutely own Memphis in AutoZone Park, coming away with its fourth win in four tries since the teams began facing each other in 2019. Count in their 2-0-1 record in Atlanta, and the Hounds have a combined 7-1-2 record along the I-20 / I-22 corridors.
It was a big day for Dikwa, who has continued to evolve in his fourth season in Pittsburgh. (More on that below).
With the win, and following the rest of the results in the Eastern Conference on Saturday, Pittsburgh (1-0-1, 4 points) are right near the top of the table early in the season. Louisville walked away from a two-game California swing with all six points after defeating Monterey Bay, 1-0, on Saturday.
Formation, Tactics & Personnel
The Hounds started the match with the exact same line-up as they did the week before in Birmingham, even staying in a similar 4-2-3-1 formation with a few different wrinkles.
Through much of the first 60 minutes, prior to subs being made, both Kenardo Forbes and Junior Etou remained deeper in the central, holding midfield spots, while Marc Ybarra and Robbie Mertz roamed out on the right and left. The difference this week, was Forbes stayed central through most of the match, while Etou kept close tabs on Memphis’ outstanding midfielder Aaron Malloy.
Here’s a look at Forbes’ (the dark dots) isolated touch map.
Dikwa, with a three-goal performance, along with Edward Kizza, were each very active with a lot of movement at the top of the attack. They were involved in 25 duels, winning nine.
Lilley has been preaching the importance of movement from his top line attackers, as that opens things up and create more passing channels.
The Hounds continue to go with a heavy second half rotation, using four of five possible subs.
Tola Showumni and Luke Biasi came on in the 64th minute for Edward Kizza and Nate Dossantos.
After the Hounds took the two-goal lead, Burke Fahling and Joe Farrell came on for Forbes and Mertz. At that point, the Hounds went into a 5-4-1 defensive-minded formation.
Big Dikwa Energy Pays Off
The Cameroonian native came to Pittsburgh in 2020 for only a half season. Struggled with injuries in 2021, then, when he finally had a chance to play a full season, began to really show his value as a forward who will work his tail off, but not by running around aimlessly, but as Head Coach Bob Lilley has described, with ‘intelligent movement’.
His three goal performance provided an early season payoff for his continued growth into becoming a top-notch striker at this level.
Dikwa has always been well-respected by his teammates, and Lilley has said for the past few years, that his best soccer is in front of him.
When the 2021 season ended and his contract was up, the Hounds could have easily parted ways with Dikwa. But Lilley saw something that made him believe that he could continue to evolve. Even though the Hounds brought in the USL Championship’s All-Time leading goal scorer, Dane Kelly, for the 2022 season, it was Dikwa who became the Hounds primary target man, as Kelly faded away after a hot start.
Coming into the 2023 season, there was little doubt, as long as he’s been healthy, that Dikwa would be the primary man at the top of the Hounds attack.
On Saturday in Memphis, Dikwa showed his poise and maturity as he’s has now improved on the one area of the game that haunted him early in his career — finishing in and around the box.
Unlike a week ago, when Birmingham’s back line were up to the task in limiting his chances on the ball (he still won 3 of 5 duels and created one chance) the Hounds wanted to get Big Dikwa energy going in this game at Memphis.
And they sure did that.
Dikwa still didn’t have a ton of touches or passes (24), but he had touches in all four corners of the final third, showing that his movement was constant and fluid, keeping the Memphis back line moving with him.
On the first goal, following a Robbie Mertz free kick, the Hounds kept the ball alive as it was redirected a few times. Pat Hogan poked a ball forward, where Dikwa reacted quickly to put the ball through for early lead in the 5th minute.
Check out the nose for goal by @DikwaAlbert!
Great job by our guys hunting the ball in the mixer, and that goes down as Pat Hogan's first assist in Pittsburgh for keeping the play alive.#MEMvPIT #HOUNDTAHN pic.twitter.com/2Rm6Y29vG8
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) March 18, 2023
On the next goal, the Hounds were putting pressure on Memphis, as Dani Rovira’s cross forced a handball in the box.
Earlier in the preseason, La Mega Media’s Amadeo Eichberg posed the question in the press box: be taking penalties for the Hounds. Under Bob Lilley, the Hounds have usually gone to one or two players, but sometimes it situational.
On Saturday, it was clear that Dikwa was in a groove, and he would be the man to take the kick from the spot.
No problem, as even as pointed out by Riverhounds SC twitter admin, Memphis’ Sporting Director Tim Howard would not have stopped Dikwa’s perfectly placed shot late in the first half.
From there, as the Hounds played more compact and willingly absorbed pressure in the second half, continuing to frustrate and stymie the 901 FC attack, while they would punish Memphis with Big Dikwa Energy for the third time on the counter attack in the 71st minute.
🇨🇲Albert Dikwa for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in 3-1 win over Memphis 901 FC:
• 90 minutes played
• 3 goals
• 39 touches
• 3 shots on target
• 2/3 dribble attempts (succ.)
• 2 key passes
• 1 big chances created#HOUNDTAHN | #MEMvPIT | #ReadyToShine pic.twitter.com/u6caGFT3Bo
— Pedro Rondon (@usasupersoccer) March 19, 2023
Hounds Clamp Down After Early Defending Lapse
Shortly after the Hounds scored, they had a defensive lapse that certainly will have Bob Lilley’s attention at training this week.
Making his first start, Dylan Borczak sent a low, fairly unassuming cross into the box. When Pat Hogan’s mark, Phillip Goodrum, slipped and fell to the ground, Bruno Lapa made a quick run right behind to get to the ball, catching Hounds defender Dani Rovira and Forbes a bit off guard.
.@brunoolapaa ties it up with his first goal for @Memphis901FC! @BorczakDylan7's cross found the Brazilian, who made no mistake with the finish! 🎯#MEMvPIT pic.twitter.com/YT728Okkbb
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) March 18, 2023
Lapa was positioned outside of Forbes, but he still made a semi-circle run, quickly getting around and into the open space where the ball found his feet. It was a brilliant individual effort, but the Hounds have to defend that better by marking and communication where the runner is going.
The concerns that this team had at the end of the 2022 season, when the Hounds struggled to hold leads late in the second half are currently a distant memory. In its first two games, the Hounds are defending better as each game goes along, which is a very good sign early in the season.
Memphis did own the possession edge in a big way (64/36), but in the final third, outside of that transition goal in the 7th minute, they were not very dangerous. The Hounds combined for 13 interceptions, 16 tackles and 24 clearances.
Of Memphis’ eight shots, three were on target with seven coming from inside the box. Much like Pittsburgh, Memphis likes to build-up play and look to get close range chances. For the most part, the Hounds defended well in most of those pressure moments.
The four-man backline with Arturo Ordonez and Pat Hogan in the middle, flanked by Nate Dossantos and Dani Rovira were well-positioned, with Dossantos making slightly further advances up the pitch than Rovira.
Late in the match, when veteran CB Joey Farrell entered the match, they switched out to a three-center back pairing, with Farrell in the middle.
Dangerous enough to the end; Showunmi Comes Close Again
In a match where the Hounds midfielder and their overall passing was not always on target (62% for the game), they needed to be precise and efficient when they got forward. As previously mentioned, and thanks to Dikwa’s finishing, the Hounds were more dangerous team and that was the difference in the match.
Going into the contest, Bob Lilley said that he would like to see his team take little more risk and push play a little more. This is what they did when getting forward.
The Hounds took nine shots, with eight of them coming inside the box, with five on target, providing plenty of pressure on Memphis keeper Andrew Romig.
For the second week in a row, in his first two matches as a professional, Showunmi had fantastic chances to add to the lead. Twice in the latter stages of the match, he was provided service into the box, only to misconnect on chances. The former University of New Hampshire product and Atlanta United SuperDraft selection has been getting to the right places, now he’ll have to work on converting on this chances.
On the final Dikwa goal, Showunmi had no problem displaying his ability to play a ball through the lines. His movement and energy, coming off the bench, has been a positive sign early in the season that the Hounds have weapons they can turn to off the bench.
The irony is, that’s how Dikwa came to the Hounds in 2020, as a big energy guy off the bench in the second half.
It will be fun the watch to see how Showunmi develops this season in this role.
Jahmali Waite – 6 – made two saves, one punch, one clearance in his third start of the week if you include his appearance with Jamaica on Tuesday.
Pat Hogan – 7.5 – credited with the assist on the first goal, as made clever play to keep ball alive. Won 5 of 7 duels, created a chance, had an assist along with six clearances, two tackles and two interceptions on the defensive end.
Arturo Ordonez – 7 – another solid performance. Won 6 of 8 duels, created a chance, three clearances, two tackles and one clearance.
Nate Dossantos – 6 – constantly active playing both ways. Four clearances, four unsuccessful crosses. Won 3 of 7 duels.
Dani Rovira – 5 – was closest to Lupa on the Memphis goal. Had three cross attempts (one successful as his cross in box forced the PK). Conceded two fouls, had three interceptions and won 2 of 8 duels.
Joe Farrell – N/R – came on in 75′
Luke Biasi – N/R – came on in 64′
Robbie Mertz – 6.5 – Team best 83% passing accuracy but only 23 passes. Won 6 of 10 duels and won two fouls. Two chances created. Two shots off target.
Kenardo Forbes – 6 – quiet but efficient night for Forbes. Won 5 of 7 duels. Created two fouls, but just 34 passes sitting deeper.
Marc Ybarra – 5.5 – improved from week one. Won 5 of 13 duels. With 35 passes (only 51%) but had pair of crosses and shot on target. On defensive side, had four clearances and three interceptions.
Junior Etou – 5.5 – efficient performance. Won 7 of 12 duels. Had three tackles.
Burke Falhing – N/R – came on in 75′
Edward Kizza – 5.5 – being asked to do dirty work underneath Dikwa. Had one shot on target. Won three fouls (5 of 13 on duels)
Albert Dikwa – 9 — A day to remember for the topman. Scored on three of his four shots. Drew two fouls. Created two chances. Won 4 of 12 duels.
Tola Showunmi – N/R – He keeps pushing and being in the right place, he’ll get a late goal in one of these upcoming games.
The Hounds return to Highmark Stadium for its Home Opener on Saturday — a 7 p.m. kickoff when they take on Conference foe, The Miami FC.