Riverhounds SC Post Match Coverage on Pittsburgh Soccer Now is presented by The Bulldog Pub
What would there not be to like about a soccer match that included a showdown between two of the most successful coaches in the North American pro ranks in the past 25 years, where three of the league’s top scorers, including two who used to play for the team they were facing, contributed goals, while the other scored twice to jump into a tie for the league lead, where spectacular saves were made and one side continued to defy logic in boosting an already insane goal scoring conversion rate.
Those were the ingredients that went into the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 2-2 draw at Monterey Bay FC Union on Friday night, as the road side played its seventh road league match of the season (in nine games), leaving Northern California with a bitter taste of disappointment despite the return of one of its most dependable players, Danny Griffin, and Albert Dikwa’s two-goal performance which elevated him into a tie for the league lead in goals.
Make no mistake, the Riverhounds controlled play throughout most of this match, holding 1-0, and 2-1 leads at the very end of both the first half, and again, in the second half. And yet, much like the previous week in Indianapolis, they couldn’t keep the full three points in the bag, having to settle for yet another road draw.
“For us, we did good things on the ball. Got two goals. Had two leads, but it’s disappointing,” Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley said.
“We have to do a better job closing games out.”
Formation, Personnel and Tactics
The match put Lilley against Monterey Bay’s Head Coach Frank Yallop, who has won MLS Cups with San Jose and has been a coaching mainstay on the North American pro soccer landscape.
Both coaches dealt with each deck of cards as you would expect from two of the best soccer minds out there.
Before we get to Lilley and how the Hounds approached this match, it should be noted that Yallop was dealing with numerous injuries that riddled his squad, including former Hounds’ defender Hugh Roberts, who usually wears the captain’s armband, had to sit out the match. Also out for MBFC were Chase Boone (concussion protocol), Sam Gleadle (thigh) and Nevello Yoseke (illness).
To make matters worse, Yallop had use up all of his substitution windows before the 68th minute. This included two rare first half substitutions, with two more players going down to injury, and hw made a halftime switch too. Both Grant Robinson (Max Glasser 27’) and Alex Lara (Chuy Enríquez 38’) came off due to knocks, while another former Hound, Jason Johnson, was taken out at the half in favor of Walmer Martínez 45’), Alex Dixon (Ugo Okoli 68’).
Meanwhile, with the re-addition of Danny Griffin to the squad, Lilley didn’t hesitate to put the club’s minutes leader from the previous three seasons right back into the starting eleven.
The Hounds went with a 3-5-2 (3-5-1-1) formation that included a high attacking line of midfielders that included Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz and Griffin doing all the work underneath the top man, Albert Dikwa.
For the second consecutive match, they started both Langston Blackstock and Luke Biasi on the wings and Trevor Zwetsloot as the holding midfielder, while relying on a three-man backline that included Arturo Ordonez flanked by Nate Dossantos to the left and Pat Hogan to the right.
Zwetsloot played deeper, allowing for Mertz, Forbes and Griffin the freedom to create chances for the Hounds.
Lilley also used his full allotment of subs, bringing on Marc Ybarra in the 59th minute for Nate Dossantos, who took a few knocks and picked up a yellow card moments earlier. Both Edward Kizza and Michael DeShields came on in the 78th minute (for Blackstock and Mertz), while Joe Farrell replaced Trevor Zwetsloot.
The three players in the 18, that the Hounds didn’t use on this night included keeper Christian Garner, Tony Lopez and Tola Showunmi.
Big Dikwa Energy rises to the top of the Golden Boot Race
Albert Dikwa continues to shine in finishing on (most of) his chances, picking up a pair of goals to ascend into the top of the race for the USL’s Golden Boot.
When was the last time we’ve said that about a Hounds’ striker?
Sure, Russell Cicerone and Neco Brett were very strong leading goal scorers for the Hounds in the Bob Lilley era, but they were always a little bit off the pace for the top spot in the league’s goal scoring race during their outstanding seasons in Pittsburgh.
For Dikwa, his success continues to come because of his persistence and continued growth as a finisher in and around the box.
On Friday, the Hounds scored its first goal on a quick, counter opportunity. Knowing that Forbes won a 50-50 ball at midfield, Dikwa made sure he put himself in position in the transition opportunity, drifting over to the right when making the run forward, so that the USL Championship’s all-time leading assist provider had enough space to operate, then find him at just the right time and place to beat Monterey Bay keeper Antony Siaha.
King Kenny creates! 🎨
And @DikwaAlbert finishes! 🎯
Albert Dikwa's sixth league goal of the year puts @RiverhoundsSC in front!#MBvPIT pic.twitter.com/SHXSGJSgLf
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) May 6, 2023
Dikwa had a golden chance to give the Hounds a 2-1 lead in the 56th minute, and regain his spot alongside his former teammate, Dixon, at the top of goal scoring race, but was stopped by Siaha on the penalty kick attempt.
But Dikwa found redemption, as he completed his brace with a very tough finish from a wicked angle that gave the Hounds a 2-1 lead, following corner attempt.
That's how you redeem yourself! 😉@DikwaAlbert's seventh tally of the season gives @RiverhoundsSC the lead yet again! 🎯#MBvPIT pic.twitter.com/1dJWzQ5I7L
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) May 6, 2023
Sometimes, relying on one player to score the majority of the goals can eventually catch-up with a team, but right now Dikwa is getting the job done in his role. He’s playing 90-plus minutes almost every match. His work-rate continues to be exceptional, and it’s really paying off in his fourth season with the Hounds.
Addition of Danny Griffin helps in freeing up Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz and the wingers
Lilley and his coaching staff have been looking for play making solutions underneath Dikwa going way back to the beginning of the preseason, as both Mertz and Forbes have been paired with different combinations of midfielders in the higher line of the attack. None of those options, whether it’s been Marc Ybarra or Tony Lopez, have really netted tons of quality scoring chances.
The addition of Danny Griffin provided an opportunity for Lilley to quickly insert the former Providence College standout on the same attacking line with Mertz and Forbes, It was clear that that trio’s chemistry and movement together was pretty good, right off the bat.
While Griffin drifted deeper behind and to the left of Forbes and Mertz, it gave them both more freedom to explore chances getting forward while left winger Blackstock had some positive moments pushing up higher on Griffin’s side, and had his best performance as a Hound.
Forbes generated his first assist on the season. And, in fact, it may have been the Hounds’ most productive two-way play coming on the width, as both Blackstock and Luke Biasi had strong performances for most of the night.
Blackstock powered a shot that was absolutely robbed by Siaha that could have made it 2-0 in the first half, and Biasi drew the foul that set up Dikwa’s penalty kick chance.
This wasn’t a coincidence.
One of Griffin’s biggest attributes his his ability to be a key link to the rest of the group both when moving forward and defending in the middle of the field.
In a match where Monterey had most of the possession (61/39), the Hounds were effectively snuffing a lot away from the middle (with 25 tackles, 16 interceptions and 13 clearances).
For Griffin, it was the usual set of contributions we’ve seen from him in his previous three seasons with the Riverhounds that don’t always show up in the highlights but make him a valuable teammate: very accurate in his passing (93% — with 37 of his 38 passes staying short), two tackles, two clearances and one interception. Sure, he didn’t create any chances nor did he have any crosses, but in this match, he didn’t have to do those things.
It’s safe to say that each week Lilley will continue to plug Griffin into different places in the midfield to where he’ll best fit for each match-up. Having Zwetsloot (and potentially Junior Etou back at some point), helps take the pressure off Griffin or even Forbes or Mertz to have deeper defending responsibilities, while they can each be more involved in the attack. With a large stretch of home matches coming, this should bode well for the Hounds to build around this group, especially having a chance to further unleash Forbes and Mertz in the attack.
Alex Dixon and Christian Volesky make their former team pay
This result probably stung a bit more for Riverhounds fans to watch as former players, Alex Dixon and Christian Volesky, both contributed the Monterey Bay goals, making the most of their chances, as the home side was held to four shot attempts for the entire match (that’s four attempted shots — not shots on frame).
These are two players who were absolutely instrumental in helping Bob Lilley lift a USL Cup in Rochester. In Pittsburgh, Dixon was a massive play maker and catalyst for the team in 2021 and 2022.
Volesky didn’t have a great one-year stay in Pittsburgh (3 goals in 24 appearances), ending up as a player mostly out of the rotation, coming off the bench mostly, as Steevan Dos Santos and Neco Brett would get the majority of playing time at forward that season.
While for long stretches, the Hounds kept both Volesky and Dixon in check, it was in a couple quick scoring chances, they both made the Hounds pay. Volesky was involved in both goals, serving up a little chip to Dixon after service into the box that stunned Pittsburgh before the end of the first half.
Against his former club 😎@moreydoner3 > @CVolesky9 > @alexdixon19 = Cinco de Mayo Night GOLAZO#MBvPIT | #DefendThe831 pic.twitter.com/z4tjJFw688
— Monterey Bay F.C. (@MontereyBayFC) May 6, 2023
Once again the Hounds defending was solid for most of the evening, but were exploited enough, leaving some frustration that this club, as good as it’s been in defending this season (less than a goal a game through Friday), has left two or three clean sheets on the table already this season.
The late goal was a real back-breaker for the Hounds.
At no point were they able to slow down Adrian Reboller in his effort to get to the end line, then deliver a ball to the near post for Volesky.
Kizza and Biasi had Morey Doner boxed in along the line.
Doner lifted a little pass over to Reboller, who then zig-zagged around the Hounds’ first defender, Pat Hogan, who came way off the back line, all the way to the sideline to attempt to slow down Monterey Bay’s attacking midfielder. While this is happening, Hogan had no support behind him, as Biasi didn’t rotate back, nor did the other Hounds midfielders (Griffin and Ybarra) sitting deeper behind.
As a result, Rebollar has all kind of space and time to work up the end line after beating Hogan.
The cross went into the box, where Joe Farrell had his mark on Sean Okoli and Micael DeSheilds was step-for-step with Volesky, but allowed the veteran to get the inside position to the ball.
GAME ON! 🎮
Christian Volesky makes it 2-2!#MBvPIT | @MontereyBayFC pic.twitter.com/DBZvZe9SXS
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) May 6, 2023
This, I am sure, is a tape that Bob Lilley has already — or will be going over with his players. It’s another late game defensive lapse for a team that has been very effective this season in rotating and playing good team defense.
It’s also head-scratching that a team that has the lowest number of shots in the league to this point in the season (61), has scored the most goals. The Hounds had to work for 90 minutes defensively, even if it meant they weren’t going to see a lot of shot.
We have to figure that things will even out eventually for Monterey Bay, but jeeeeeezz — scoring 17 goals on 61 total shots at a 35% conversion rate seems to defies logic.
I've been covering this league for a long time and haven't seen anything like it.
— John Krysinsky (@JohnKrysinsky) May 6, 2023
“Unfortunately, we’re in a bit of funk with giving away points from winning positions,” Lilley added.
“And that’s hard to do anywhere. We’ve got to be able to make those points stick. Unfortunately, we’re not quite getting it over the line, though the performance overall was pretty solid tonight.”
Hounds Player Grades (#MBvPIT)
Jahmali Waite – 4 – There was a little scare in the first minute of the match, when Waite came way off his line (again, probably making Hounds fans and his coaches nervous after the past two league games when he allowed goals when he came out beyond the goal box), but when stepping out of the 18, Waite’s thigh caught a Volesky breakaway shot effort. Waite didn’t register a save (though the early sequence vs Volesky could be considered one), allowed two goals in a match.
Pat Hogan – 4.5 – it was a solid night dampened by the two goals, especially the last one for Hogan, who could not slow down Rebollar who did the work on the right side to set up the Volesky goal. Led the team in passes (45), won 4 of 5 duels, 2 tackles, 3 clearances and one interception.
Nate Dossantos – 5 – at Center back again, won 4 of 7 duels, had two tackles, clearance, interception, won two fouls (conceded two), while also picking up yellow card.
Joe Farrell (85′) – N/R – the veteran CB came on late.
Arturo Ordonez – 5.5 – team high five clearances, won 6 of 9 duels, two interceptions
Mike DeSields – N/R – late sub, but couldn’t close out Volesky on the second goal chance.
Robbie Mertz – 5.5 — wasn’t dynamic but created one chance (1 of 3 crosses successful), taking more corners too, 85% passing accuracy second only to Danny Griffin and won 3 of 8 duels.
Langston Blackstock – 6.5 – clearly his best performance as a Hound, as he was active in creating chances, nearly scored but was robbed by a great save too. Won 6 of 8 duels, had four tackles and an interception.
Danny Griffin — 6 – like an old glove, he just fits right in with his former teammates
Kenardo Forbes – 7.5 – give Kenardo more touches, and more good things will happen for the Hounds. Better than last week, with 43 passes, one for the assist. Won 4 of 6 duels (including one that led to goal), 73% passing accuracy as he took a few more chances (won two fouls, created two chances, two shots off target, two crosses — one successful).
Marc Ybarra (59′) – 5 – when came on, dropped back as holding mid, while Zwetsloot dropped back to replace Dossantos. Created a chance, 83% passing accuracy on 11 passes.
Trevor Zwetsloot – 6 – Won 4 of 7 duels, 73% passing accuracy on 41 passes, created one chance (two shots off target), but was solid in defensive mid role, with four interceptions, two tackles and won a foul.
Luke Biasi – 6 – Another terrific performance for Biasi, who was all over the place, but again, some deductions on the late goal. Won 13 of 19 duels, created the PK chance when getting fouled on the endline. Four crosses (one successful) — and on the other end had a team high five tackles and also three interceptions.
Albert Dikwa – 7 – Points deducted (a little) for not being able to convert the PK, but Dikwa also was second on the team with five touches in the opponent’s box and won a match-high four fouls.
Edward Kizza (78′) – N/R – later sub in for Mertz.