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Preview and Scouting Report: Opportunistic upstarts Monterey Bay will look to exploit Hounds

Photo courtesy Monterey Bay FC

The Riverhounds SC are on the West Coast for another tough road match against a Western Conference foe when they face Monterey Bay FC Union on Friday night (10 p.m. ET).

PSN’s coverage leading up to this match already includes interviews with former Riverhounds, Alex Dixon and Hugh Roberts, who we caught up with on Thursday.

Hounds Notebook: Monterey Bay FC’s Alex Dixon, Hugh Roberts weigh-in on facing former team

Early this season, the 33 year-old Dixon started out hot, as the league’s leading scorer with six goals, enjoying a chance with more freedom at the top of the attack, while Roberts, now 30, wears the captain’s armband, as the team’s leader along the back line.

The match will also pit Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley against another long-time, veteran coach on the U.S. Soccer landscape, Frank Yallop, who won two MLS Cup titles with San Jose Earthquakes in 2001 and 2003.

You can count on goals typically being scored when Monterey Bay takes the field, as they have scored a league high 15 times, while surrendering the third-highest total in the league thus far this season (12).

Even more remarkable, Monterey Bay are dead last in shot attempts in the entire USL Championship, with just 57, proving that they’ve been incredibly efficient in their chances — at a ridiculous 33% (next closest team is Charleston at 21%).

“We have been able to get our offense going this year. Last year, we found ourselves defensively first, but this year, we’ve found ourselves offensively, which is the opposite of what where we were a year ago, and that’s helped set the tone for our success,” Roberts added.

MBFC’s run of form includes being unbeaten in last six matches in all competitions (including two U.S. Open Cup wins) and the last four against USLC foes (2-0-2).   Dixon had a hat trick, in a 5-3 season opening win at Hartford.

Monterey Bay’s last Open Cup win came in defeating Yallop’s old team, San Jose, 1-0, in an exhilarating ‘Cupset’, with another former Hound, Christian Volesky scoring the game’s lone goal.

The Hounds have been struggling to score goals on the road, though they did get an early goal against Indy last Saturday, but went into a bit of a shell after that, frustrating Head Coach Bob LIlley, as they ended up surrendering a late goal, settling for a 1-1 draw.  The Hounds will look to improve on a less than impressive road record thus far this season, 1-2-3 (W-L-D), as they’ve only scored once in the last four road games, and have been badly outpossessed in each of those games, not having more than 40 percent possession once.

“We probably needed a second goal, and I don’t know if we were ambitious enough,” Lilley said after the Indy draw.

“We had a few counters, but I think we could have been a bit more proactive trying to get that second goal.”

With the return of Danny Griffin to the roster, the Hounds will hope to improve its ability to be more patient and build-up possession more through the middle of the park.

The hosts are coming off a scoreless road draw at Rio Grande Valley last week, but are looking to get their attack going again.

“I’ve never played against Pittsburgh, but you hear a lot of stuff about them. So I think it’s going to be a tough game, a 90 minute battle,” said Monterey Bay F.C. defender Grant Robinson.

“We’re all really looking forward to it. I think there was a bit of a letdown from this past weekend. We didn’t come out and show ourselves the way we had been showing the five games leading up to that, so we’re going to really be looking to bounce back. We’re going to come out quick and flying and create some excitement this weekend. It’s going to be a good one for sure.”

Dixon knows it will be a tough battle against his former team.

“Bob’s teams are always going to make things very tough for opponents.  They’re younger and have been very tough to score against early this season. I expect that to be the case again when we play them.”

More about Monterey Bay FC 

We already know about the former Hounds, Dixon and Roberts, but two other former Pittsburgh players are on the MBFC roster, Volesky and Jason Johnson.

While Dixon remains the goal scoring leader, Volesky has been hot of late, picking up some big goals in recent matches, three in league play, plus his tally in the Open Cup as he is in contention for USL Championship Player of the Month in April. In fact, Volesky, who many might say, underperformed in his one season in Pittsburgh, under Lilley, his previous coach in Rochester, twice earned the Championship’s Player of the Week award, and averaged a goal every 134.7 minutes in April.

A tandem that Lilley knows all too well, as they helped him win a USL Championship, Dixon roams on the right side of the attack mostly in a 4-2-3-1, while Volesky has been the high forward in that formation.

Pittsburgh soccer fans may not be familiar with Yallop, but the Canadian native and former English Premier League standout has a remarkable 40 years in professional soccer as a player and coach at all levels of the game.

Yallop played across the pond in England for 16 years with Ipswich Town in the Premier League and First Division, and later in Major League Soccer (MLS) with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, where, ironically, he was coached by none other than Pittsburgh soccer icon and the Riverhounds’ first-ever coach, John Kowalski.

It was with the San Jose Earthquakes from 2001-2003, where Yallop found his greatest success on the sidelines, winning a pair of MLS Cup titles.

He then spent two years coaching the Canadian National Team before returning to the United States in 2006 to coach the Los Angeles Galaxy. He continued his tenure in the MLS when in 2008 he returned to San Jose and later at the Chicago Fire from 2013 to 2015. Most recently, Yallop has been integral to the growth of USL Championship serving in coaching and leadership positions with Phoenix Rising FC, Fresno FC and Las Vegas Lights FC.

With Monterey Bay, he’s in year two of building a soccer club from the ground up.

Last year was the first in the club’s existence after owner Ray Beshoff, an Irish-born California auto dealer with a passion for the game of soccer, moved his United Soccer League franchise from Fresno, invested more than $12 million to transform the university’s dilapidated stadium into a 6,000-seat soccer-specific venue where people would pay to come watch his team play.

On the field, it’s been a whirlwind, but they’re finally finding their footing.

“It’s definitely been a learning curve,” Roberts said.

“Last season, it took us time.  For me to get used to him, and I wasn’t used to playing a certain way. We were on the road for the first seven games.  It wasn’t that we weren’t good enough players, but it was more about establishing our identity, and building our relationship between the players and the coach.”

Taking a closer look at their results and performances, Monterey Bay has been a hard team to figure out.

Much like the Hounds, MBFC will look to score quickly, and they have struggled a bit with connecting passes at a high rate, but in Yallop’s system, they’re willing to take risks, and players like Volesky and Dixon are constantly breaking forward for runs and taking chances.

Both teams are among the lowest in the league in pass accuracy (MB 74%; Hounds 72%).

Even though they’ve been in a number of high scoring matches, the Union are capable of locking teams down, as they have in both Open Cup wins, but also have played in some of the wildest, high scoring affairs in the Championship this season. They’ve given up 12 goals in eight matches, but seven of those goals came in three matches which two were high scoring affairs, when things really opened up.

In the lower scoring affairs, MBFC has shown they can be disciplined sitting deep with four man back line — playing mostly in a 4-2-3-1 this season — and four or even five in front when opponents are trying to break through in the final third. 
Roberts has a terrific center back mate in Kai Greene.  The 29-year-old is within range of reaching 200 regular season appearances for his career this season and together they make up one of the better veteran backline pairing in the entire championship.

#MBvPIT Match-ups to watch

Neither team has been strong on the possession side this year, so it will be interesting to see how this match plays out.

Despite their road woes, the Hounds have defended well in most every match this season, but they’ll have to be at the top of their game against Monterey Bay, who have used the talents of Dixon and Volesky to strike quickly and when opportunities present, as Monterey Bay will look to open things up every chance they get.

MBFC often pushes its fullbacks pretty high up the pitch, and the attacking midfield line is very active in getting forward into the box as they like to build things up with short passes, as they’ve scored 11 of their 15 goals on assists.

The Hounds will need to cut down on fouls committed, as they’re currently second in the league, with 130, but will still look to bring the high press when they can, swarm the ball and challenge every 50-50 ball.

Arturo Ordonez has been suburb this season, whether he’s been paired with Pat Hogan or Joe Farrell, and they’ll be looking to keep Volesky, Dixon and company in front of them.

If the Hounds are able to clamp down the hosts, and turn this match into a more hard-fought, methodical affair, they will need to improve its road possession numbers to tilt the match in its favor. While they haven’t done it of late, they are more than capable controlling possession in its favor with the midfield talents of Kenardo Forbes, Marc Ybarra, Robbie Mertz and potentially seeing the first look at Danny Griffin back in Black and Gold.

The Hounds will do everything they can do dictate terms of the contest.

With Albert Dikwa working at the top of the attack, with five goals already this season, the Hounds will also pick their spots in playing direct, but they can’t rely too much in this game, as Roberts and the Monterey Bay defenders will be prepared and organized, and Yallop will likely devise a game plan to catch the Hounds on their heels.

Not expecting Griffin to get the start, as he probably still needs time to get acquainted with this year’s club, but it’s very likely that he’ll be in the 18.

Projected Hounds Starting XI 

Match info

Riverhounds (2-2-4) vs. Monterey Bay FC (3-2-3)

Date: Friday, May 5
Time: 10 p.m.
Location: Cardinale Stadium, Seaside, Calif.
Odds: Hounds +195 / Draw +230 / Monterey Bay +120 (FanDuel)
Streaming: ESPN+
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #MBvPIT and #HOUNDTAHN

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 Kenardo Forbes

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