Following its first consecutive win in league play on Saturday, defeating Charleston Battery, 2-0, the Riverhounds are in first place, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot to Head Coach Bob Lilley.
“Lets see where we are with 10 games left.” LIlley said.
Lilley was right about one thing, the upcoming schedule will not be easy, but as he said in his post match comments on Saturday, in terms of recovery and rest, things will be a little bit less chaotic as they’ll have matches once per week in the coming weeks.
The Hounds (7-2-5 | W-L-D) went through this week’s routine by having an extra day off on Monday, but training Tuesday through Thursday, however, with another West Coast trip looming, they’ll be traveling on Friday to Oakland.
“I know Oakland will be a tough game,” veteran midfielder Junior Etou said this week.
“Last year, (when playing) with Tampa, we tied Oakland. That’s a long trip. But (we’re focused on) training, get rest and be ready for the game, and hopefully get the three points.”
Waite with Reggae Boyz; Hounds Add Luis Zamudio on loan from DC United
Already without the team’s leading scorer, Albert Dikwa, the Hounds will also now be without another player who won’t be with the club this weekend, nor will he be around for the rest of June and potentially into early July.
Goalkeeper Jahmali Waite is now competing with the Jamaican National Team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
On Thursday night, Waite started for the Reggae Boyz in its 2-1 friendly loss to Qatar. Jamaica will face Jordan on Sunday morning, then fly back to the United States for Gold Cup play, which begins with Group Stage play vs the United States on June 24 (9:30 p.m.). The Reggae Boyz also have matches scheduled on June 28 (Trinidad & Tobago) and July 1 (TBD).
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With Waite on National Team duty, at least for the next three, possibly four matches, the team’s goalkeeper depth will be put to the test, as both Christian Garner and Jonathan Gomes were the likely the two option of who would step into the starting role.
Then on Friday, the club made an announcement that they would be adding Luis Zamudio, on loan from DC United.
Luis Zamudio on a month-long loan deal with MLS club D.C. United, the team announced this afternoon. The deal is pending league and U.S. Soccer approval.
Zamudio, 24, signed with D.C. United in the offseason after playing the 2022 season in the USL Championship with Loudoun United FC. As Loudoun’s starter, Zamudio posted seven shutouts in 27 matches and was kept busy, making 105 saves for a .665 save percentage.
“Luis is a talented young keeper who is good with his feet and a very good shot stopper,” Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley said. “He will be a welcome addition during this difficult stretch of the schedule, and we look forward to working with him.
The Hounds play Saturday matches the next three weeks (at Oakland 6/17, home vs San Diego 6/24 and home vs Louisville City FC 7/1).
Garner has started two of the Hounds 17 matches in all competitions this season, in one regular season match (1-1 season opening draw vs The Miami FC) and the first Open Cup match (2-0 vs Maryland Bobcats). Garner’s lone goal allowed this season in a battle of attrition vs Miami, came when Kyle Murphy was allowed a chance to make a second effort play on the ball, as defenders didn’t close out space on a hard shot that Garner stopped but couldn’t secure.
In his first start, Garner made one save, but Lilley said considering it was his first start, it was something for the young keeper to build upon.
“Our keeper didn’t really have anything to do. There were a few dangerous plays he stopped but on the goal he shouldn’t have given up the rebound. He could’ve called off the defenders a bit quicker. It’s good to get this game under his belt and be out there.”
Gomes hasn’t played yet this season in competitive matches other than the preseason, but has appeared as the backup option as a player available for selection in recent Hounds’ game day lineup cards.
The keepers are in good hands, as Hounds goalkeeper coach Jon Busch has been a great addition to the coaching staff. Earlier in the season, if you didn’t check it out, PSN’s Mark Goodman featured the former MLS keeper.
Will Possession Disadvantages Eventually Catch Up with the Hounds?
In 18 matches in both league play and in the Open Cup, Pittsburgh had held the possession advantage just three times.
The question is, can they continue to thrive with this being the case, or will that catch up with them eventually?
It was outlined in PSN’s Takeaways and Player Grades following the Charleston win, that Lilley wasn’t happy with how the Hounds’ midfield was not doing enough to stop penetration in recent league matches against Phoenix and Charleston.
Against Charleston, after scoring an early goal, there was some chaos in the Hounds makeshift midfield, as they found themselves stretched and chasing the game a bit more.
The Hounds went with Danny Griffin, Kenardo Forbes and two traditional holding midfielders, Trevor Zwetsloot and Junior Etou in the starting lineup. Both Robbie Mertz and Marc Ybarra came on on the second half.
“(I) was trying to figure out how to be a little bit better in defense. They (Charleston) were dribbling through out lines pretty easy. We weren’t compacted until we were recovering. Every time they hit a long ball, our top guys were slow to come back to pick-up secondary balls. And when we hit the long ball, and they won the header, we weren’t pushing out lines out. We got stretched and we were played through the central areas which doesn’t happen that often,” Lilley explained.
This is a trend against good passing teams in league play that concerns Lilley, especially as the Hounds will face some very good possession teams in the coming weeks, however, he was encouraged by his team’s performances against the MLS clubs New England, Columbus and Cincinnati, in the Open Cup run, which served as a blueprint for what he wants his midfield to be doing.
“It happened against Phoenix. It happened against a good passing team, Charleston, tonight. We are going to play good passing teams. So that’s a clear area… How do we stop the penetration? Frankly, we stopped penetration better against MLS clubs, then we did in the last two (league) games. We’re going to have to address that. We’ll have to clean that up.”
Despite the chaos and giving teams like Phoenix and Charleston lots of opportunity to play deeper into the final third and bring more pressure, they still kept those teams at bay in terms of quality chances.
On Saturday, even as the match ended with Charleston posting 13 shots, with just two on frame. The Hounds defending included 24 clearances, 13 interceptions and 21 tackles — along with Waite’s two saves.
Bottom line here is that the center back groupings that typically feature Arturo Ordonez and Nate Dossantos combined with either Joe Farrell, Pat Hogan or Mike Deshields, have been absolutely rock solid this season. They’ve also settled into a pretty strong rotation of outside backs/wingers including Luke Biasi, Langston Blackstock, DZ Harmon and Dani Rovira. The latter is back into the fold after being out with an injury for more than a month.
As the cream starts to rise to the top in terms of team statistics, the Hounds have clearly now in the conversation as the team’s best defensive side, which has been a long trademark of Bob Lilley teams.
In the entire Championship, only Sacramento Republic (8) have allowed fewer goals than Pittsburgh (11).
Oakland Roots in decent form
The Hounds next opponent, Oakland Roots, are coming into Saturday’s match in decent form, without a loss in its last three matches, and the only losses they’ve been handed since April have been two setbacks vs Western Conference leading Sacramento, once in the Open Cup and again in league play.
Otherwise, they’ve posted road wins at San Diego and Colorado and posted a 2-2 draw vs Phoenix on Saturday.
One interesting note about the Roots, is they recently dealt Edgardo Rito, the team’s top player (was voted the team’s MVP), to Hartford Athletic for cash and Jeciel Cedeño, a former NY Red Bulls Academy product, who scored two goals in 36 appearances with Hartford.
Look for more on the Roots (6-4-3, 21 points — 5th in Western Conference), we’ll have a Match Preview and Scouting Report to come on Saturday.
Another interesting note, as the Hounds head to a city dealing with stadium woes for its current and recent pro sports teams, they will not actually be playing the Roots in Oakland, but rather in Hayward, as the Roots have been forced to move the remainder of its home matches for the 2023 USL Championship season due to unfit field conditions at their regular venue Laney College.
The Roots have played subsequent home games at California State University, East Bay in Hayward.
Initially, the team said it would continue to play home games at Cal State East Bay through April, but that has been extended through the rest of the season.
“We explored all options and expert opinions to return to Laney College this season,” in a Roots announcement.
“Unfortunately, our turf field is incompatible with Laney’s new field that was recently installed, meaning we cannot meet United States Soccer Federation and United Soccer League standards for our games.”
Hounds vs Roots Coverage
Look for more to come including the aforementioned Preview and Scouting Report to drop on Saturday, and Mark Goodman will anchor PSN’s coverage for the late Saturday night match, as kickoff will be coming at 10 p.m. ET.