FINAL: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 2, Rio Grande Valley Toros 0
Match Stats: USL Championship Match Center
At halftime of Saturday’s match vs Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, the Riverhounds went to the locker room not having scored a goal since the second half of its last home game, on March 24 vs The Miami FC.
The Hounds’ scoring futility reached the 230 minute mark, but they did head into the end of the first half vs RGVFC with some momentum against the lifeless Toros, who were being neutralized by the Hounds solid team defensive shape.
Sure enough, after making a few halftime adjustments, and ultimately playing with a sense of urgency and need to be sharper with its decision making and passes — while being more patient on the ball, the Hounds finally created quality chances, and in turn, delivered a satisfying 2-0 win before a sellout crowd in the team’s only home match in the month of April at Highmark Stadium.
Hounds Formation, Tactics, Personnel
Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley was forced to make a few changes to the lineup, with the absence of Robbie Mertz, Arturo Ordonez and Junior Etou. He also made the most drastic formational switch, abandoning the 4-2-3-1 set-up, for a 3-4-1-2 (or 3-4-3), utilizing Albert Dikwa and Edward Kizza on the top line, with Tony Lopez in the central attacking, playmaking role.
The match also featured Illal Osumanu’s first start. The former League One and Marshall University standout was officially signed a little over a week ago, but it’s clear that with the absence of Arturo Ordonez, Osumanu’s presence along the back line provided valuable depth and tactical flexibility, as he got the nod in the lineup over the very dependable Pat Hogan, who had previously started three of the first four matches of the season at center back. Nate Dossantos also showed his versatility, dropping into the three-man backline, where he excelled in helping Marshall to a National Championship in May 2021. Who would have thought, two former Thundering Herd on the three man center back line, with veteran Joe Farrell in the middle?
As the match evolved, Pittsburgh would bring the first wave of subs (Langston Blackstock, Tola Showumi and Hogan) in the 67th minute, then capped the match with two late (88th minute) subs, in Trevor Zwetsloot and Michael DeShields.
Have patience, and use any body part that works
Albert Dikwa continues to be rewarded for his impressive work rate and willingness to do what is asked of him.
Head Coach Bob Lilley is always preaching to his players to get in the right places in the box when needed.
Dikwa takes those words to heart.
“To be a perfect striker, you have to score whatever position you are in … right foot, left foot, header, you have to score,” Dikwa said. “I scored with my chest tonight. … That’s all right too.”
How about this finish from @DikwaAlbert! 😅@RiverhoundsSC goes in front!#PITvRGV pic.twitter.com/vGAUB8QTTp
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) April 16, 2023
Once again, he got himself into position when a goal scoring opportunity came his way.
“First of all, I’m going to give the credit to coach. Every training, he’s telling us ‘you have to make the first post run; you have to be active in the box.’ I was just in the goal position, and he looked and found me.”
With a couple other potential goals that were wiped off the board in previous matches, Dikwa could easily be leading the league in scoring.
But, with four goals, he’s certainly been doing his part to produce early in the season as the top target forward.
Then, the Hounds’ assists king, Kenardo Forbes, rewarded his team after a terrific build-up that followed a free kick.
Once again, Pittsburgh didn’t rush through its progression on the sequence. The free kick option to play it back to Ybarra, follow-up by six additional touches and some pressure when the ball did come to a defender, ended with a Dani Rovira cross that found the head of Forbes.
This was a well-executed goal as the Hounds did enough to stretch its opponent and find an opening at just the right time.
You can always count on King Kenny! 👑@KenardoF has doubled @RiverhoundsSC's lead with a nice header!#PITvRGV pic.twitter.com/kLpLDe7rFW
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) April 16, 2023
Forbes has had a brilliant career, but he’s rarely going to have opportunities near goal to score on headers, as it’s usually his job to provide that kind of service.
“I challenged myself a little bit, because normally I don’t get in the box and score on headers. I mean it’s the second time in the USL in nine years, so that says a lot. It means a lot to me to get on the score sheet because it’s been a bit of a slow start for me and tonight was my best game so far. Hopefully I can build on this going forward.”
Top notch two-way play of Biasi and Rovira fuels second half surge
In the middle of a preseason match, I believe against Penn State, PSN photographer Ed Thompson sent me a text saying that number 13 was playing out of his mind and looked really good.
A few other samples of action in the early going of the season showed that in his second-year Biasi has started to get more comfortable on the width as he’s been growing in his increased role as part of the Hounds’ outside backs/winger rotation this season. The important piece of this role when playing for the Hounds is to be able to play both ways. Biasi came off the bench in the first three matches, then has started each match since, the two road losses at Tulsa and Colorado.
He was one of the bright spots on the field in the loss at Colorado (Biasi won 8 of 12 duels, led the team with three interceptions and three fouls won, and he completed 20 of 22 passes for a 90.9 percent clip — best among the starting 11). Lilley knew that with his lineup in flux, that it would be a good idea to roll out all three players who have been part of the outside back rotation, including Dani Rovira and Dossantos.
Biasi brought a lot of energy that the Hounds needed at the start of the second half, but also provided quality ball into the box that led to Dikwa’s first goal.
Lilley wasn’t happy with his team’s first half impatience and inability to connect passes, but in the second half, thanks to Rovira and Biasi’s execution, they were sharper and created chances, with four coming from the two wingers.
Biasi’s assist was a good example of being more patient on the ball. After the cross from the right side sailed past everyone, he had the composure to take a touch, get his head up, then saw the opportunity to take the ball to the end line, where he got into enough space around the defender to send a stinging ball right at Dikwa.
Rovira has often been described at the Hounds’ swiss army knife, as he has been utilized in a variety of ways in his five seasons as a dependable piece of the puzzle. This season, he’s been solid in four starts, with his best match coming on Saturday night, when he had three successful crosses, won 4 of 9 duels while having 3 tackles and 3 interceptions to complete a solid two-way effort.
With Dosantos moving into the backline, Rovira and Biasi were out on the flanks in this match, and they were both effective, and it paid off in a big way, as each were credited with their first assists of the season.
With both Ordonez and Hogan out of the lineup, the Hounds personnel are showing that no matter who they roll out there, they’re going to defend well as a unit.
With Rio Grande having some dangerous counter-attacking pieces, namely Ruiz and Christiano Francois, the Hounds did a solid job to keep them both quiet most of the match, as they combined for one shot attempt (not on target), and Francois would win only 1 of 8 of his duels.
With 16 interceptions and 21 tackles, the Hounds were solid in snuffing out most RGVFC efforts to penetrate into the final third. The rotational play was superb, especially with Ybarra and Forbes in the middle, and the wingers effectively covering and tucking in on the back sides.
The Hounds challenged everything and did everything they could to break the Toros rhythm — as they had a high number of tackles but also did concede 21 fouls.
With four goals conceded in six matches, it doesn’t seem to matter who Lilley rolls out into the lineup, the Hounds are defending very well as a unit.
Hounds Player Grades (#PITvRGV)
Jahmali Waite – 6 – didn’t have to make a save, but always talking and solid on balls into the box.
Pat Hogan (67′) – N/R – a little bit surprising at first that he didn’t get the start, but Lilley was keen on having a different back line for this match-up. Hogan still came on late and helped with keeping the clean sheet.
Nate Dossantos – 6.5 – showing his versatility as he can play as part of the center back trio, or get out wide and play on the flank.
Illal Ousmanu – 6 – Good debut. Had five interceptions, and even created a chance
Dani Rovira 7.5 – what’s most impressive is that he only had three long passes recorded all night (out of 28 passes) — and had three crosses and three chances created. Solid on the defensive end too with 3 tackles and 3 clearances.
Joe Farrell – 6 – with 13 long passes (out of 40), probably has the longest leash from Lilley as far as autonomy to play it out of the back that way, but overall, solid work out of the back in leading a clean sheet effort winning 7 of 8 duels.
Luke Biasi – 7 – making the most of his third straight start. The second year guys are stepping up.
Mike DeShields (88′) – N/R – saw a lot of him during the preseason, but came on late for his second appearance this season.
Tony Lopez – 5.5 – strength is he is very good on the ball, drew three fouls. Created one chance, but Hounds need to get more production out of the central attacking midfield spot this season, even if it means doing some of the dirty work and drawing defenders.
Kenardo Forbes – 7.5 – Kenny said it was his best game so far, and I agree. He won 5 of 7 duels, passing was a little down (68%), but had the big goal and nearly a second late. The midfielder whipped in five crosses — tied for the team lead — was second on the side with 59 touches on the ball and won possession a match-high 10 times.
Marc Ybarra – 7 – highest passing accuracy (79%) on night when most of the rest of the team was a little off, especially in the first half. Playing deeper in CMF, had four tackles, won four fouls (conceded three), as he continues to show his worth.
Trevor Zwetsloot (88′) – N/R – late sub but another appearance for Zwetsloot, who provides valuable midfield depth.
Albert Dikwa – 7 – rewarded for his efforts again, even if it was tough sledding against another strong back line, by being in the right place with goal number four.
Edward Kizza – 5 – work rate has been there all season for Kizza, but thus far, he’s still not getting enough scoring chances. We’ll see if persistence pays off for the former Pitt stand out as the season evolves.
Tola Showunmi (67′) – If there’s one guy who helps fuel the Hounds every time he steps on the pitch, it’s Showunmi, and that’s a big reason why Lilley keeps sending the young player out there, even on a night where he didn’t make a huge impact.
Langston Blackstock (67′) – N/R – with a little more extended time, won 3 of 4 duels.
It’s back on the road for the Hounds as they will face El Paso, next Saturday, April 22. Kickoff is slated for 9:30 p.m.