The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC put together one of the most impressive stretches of play in franchise history by going 13 matches without a loss.
At one point in the last part of that stretch, from mid-June through July 15, the Hounds only surrendered one goal.
The last two matches though, on the road at Charleston, then at home four days later vs Indy Eleven, Pittsburgh lost by 3-1 margins, inexplicably surrendering six goals.
After the second straight humbling loss, this time on home turf, Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley resorted to keeping his players on the field as he had a had a lot to get off his chest to pick apart his team’s failures while they were fresh on everyone’s mind — especially his.
Following his talk with the team and a pit stop with team officials, he made his way over to meet with the media
“In the 13 (game unbeaten streak) we underperformed in some of those games. We’ve talked about it right up here (in press conferences). Things we know we had to fix,” Lilley explained.
“When it bounces your way, you can get away with it. When it’s not bouncing your way, you don’t get away with it.”
Indeed, things have clearly not gone the Hounds’ way in the past two matches.
It’s been a stunning turn of fortunes, as Pittsburgh’s been one of the top defensive teams in the league, but it’s essentially been a combination of things that have ailed the Black and Gold in the their last two matches.
Another Poor Start “Caught” The Hounds
Contrary to belief when things were going extremely well, and the Hounds were shutting every team down, during a 34 match regular season, they were bound to have a lapse or two, right?
But two straight matches in giving up three goals has to be cause for some alarm.
Momentum is a funny thing — and the Hounds were playing lights out for that 13 match stretch on the defensive side, and they can certainly get back to that, but it appears that once they fall behind, and get punched in the mouth, they got thrown off their game a bit.
“We’ve had a lot of shutouts recently, Now, we give up three goals the other night. Three goals tonight. It caught us. We were not able to change the momentum of the game, the energy. I am disappointed we didn’t get in their face at that moment.”
It could be easy to point to the Hounds having three of the team’s center backs (Illal Osumanu, Nate Dossantos and Mike DeShields) not in the 18 due to injuries, and Lilley wasn’t having that.
“We had good enough group out there. We’ve overcome injuries all season, so that’s no excuse,” Lilley stated.
After making three halftime subs (Kenardo Forbes, JC Obregón and Marc Ybarra), the Hounds definitely reshuffled the deck differently with personnel as Lilley got a bit unconventional, moving midfielder Danny Griffin along the backline alongside Arturo Ordonez and Trevor Zwetsloot.
Where the Hounds were most ineffective, was with one of its strengths, its press, which Indy broke down with relative ease from the start, and throughout the match, slicing and dicing its way through the middle and the wide channels with terrific build-up on numerous occasions. It looked as if the Hounds, using Albert Dikwa, Edward Kizza and Robbie Mertz on the high attacking mid spot, were caught flat footed and without supporting numbers in pressuring the ball the way they like to do so from the top.
While Indy out-possessed Pittsburgh 56%-44% in the match and had the 4-2 edge in shots on target, it was in the first half and early in the second half when they were humming at a near 65-70 percent possession rate, making the Hounds chase the match.
“We have to start games better,” Lilley added.
“I said that after the Charleston (3-1 loss) game too. It’s not like us.”
This season, the Hounds, are clearly a team that needs to score first.
In the eight matches in all competitions (including the Open Cup) where they’ve surrendered the first goal, they have five losses (Colorado, El Paso, Charleston, Indy and FC Cincy in Open Cup) and one comeback win (vs San Diego), with the other two equalizers coming way back in two of the first three matches of the season, when they scored goals after the 80th minute to level in 1-1 draws with Birmingham and Miami.
“You know, I would like to think that, especially at home, that our response would be more emphatic to them scoring. After they scored, we didn’t create a lot. We created very, very little in the first half, until the very end. I don’t think we responded well to that. Look, a goal happens. Lets get on with it. Get pressure. Do the things we talked about before the game.”
One of Preseason Teams to Watch, Everything Finally Came Together for Indy
While Indy has underachieved to this point of the season, they have been a very strong possession team, and in its previous match, they took it to Tampa Bay Rowdies, with a significant 9-2 shots advantage and 64% rate of possession in the first half last Saturday. Tampa turned the tables in that match in the second half, but the teams played a 0-0 draw, giving Indy plenty of confidence coming into Pittsburgh that they’re able to play with any of the teams at the top of the table.
A club with former top league goal scorers on its roster, including Solomon Asante and Sebastain Gueznatti, they’ve been underwhelmed as a scoring side this season, but may have found their footing at Highmark Stadium on Wednesday.
The Hounds matched Indy with some counter chances early, but as the first half picked up, you could see the Eleven having no problems slicing and cutting through the Hounds ineffective press.
“I thought we got off to a good start, but they started to get into a little bit of a rhythm,” Lilley said.
A squad with experienced players and lots of proven goal scorers, the team’s most dependable threat, Aodin Quinn came through in a big way to take advantage of a not-so-great clearance by Hounds keeper Jahmali Waite.
𝐒𝐓𝐔𝐍𝐍𝐈𝐍𝐆!!! 𝐀𝐛𝐬𝐨𝐥𝐮𝐭𝐞𝐥𝐲 𝐬𝐭𝐮𝐧𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠!!! 😱
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) July 26, 2023
“It’s a great goal,” Lilley admitted and didn’t really say anything about his keeper’s play on the ball and getting caught off his line.
Indy added its second in the 35th minute when Cam Lindley — fresh off his yellow card after collision with Robbie Mertz — did his version of Lindsay Horan getting angry and doing something about it — sent a pass from the right flank behind the Hounds defense.
Veteran forward Guenzatti managed to get a boot to the ball with defenders draped over him, putting the Hounds in a two-goal hole at home for the first time this season.
“The second goal they scored, it was really well-executed on the service on the ball. We had numbers. Arturo (Ordonez) was draped all over (Sebastain Guenzatti). It was a great goal. It was an experienced player’s goal. He’s done that for many, many years. ”
The third goal came in the second half after the Hounds kept pushing numbers forward, and got caught on the counter. It was Douglas Martinez who led the counter attack down the right side, and as the Hounds had to retreat to get back, Robledo had acres of space to tap the pass from Martinez to give Indy what proved to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead at what’s been billed as the Hounds’ Fort Highmark.
“Execution in the Final Third Has Been Poor All Year”
Lilley really harped on his side’s lack of response to giving up an early goal, and further added that with some adjustments and new subs in the match, they started to get on the front foot.
Ultimately, the Hounds weren’t able to play efficiently and backed off when they needed to keep coming forward — and ultimately stating that for all his club’s success this season their ‘execution in the final third has been poor all year.”
“You can go back to the beginning of the year, and we talked about this. We’re not getting enough balls across the line. It has to get better.
“For me, the second half was better. Was a little disappointing that 10 minutes in, we had a great start, but they start stringing together a few passes, and we back off. Then the clock is running and the clock is running. I would have liked to have seen them sustain it. I am struggling with the fact that we can create chances, but the minute something doesn’t go our way, we’re backing off.”
“We’re giving a lot of respect. We’re not winning a lot of balls and we’re doing a lot of chasing because our pressure is not together. It’s something we’ve talked about.”
The width was there for the taking, but the Hounds didn’t really utilize it though at match’s end, they did finish with 20 crosses. Lilley pointed to the fact that they were trying too hard to play through the middle, when Indy was clogging things up pretty significantly.
In the end, Indy’s fresh faced keeper, Tim Trilk, registered only one save in his first start of 2023.
That’s just not going to cut it.
No Cause for Panic
Despite the two match funk, this is still no time for the Hounds to panic. They remain in first place, with a two point edge on Charleston and three point edge on Tampa, though Pittsburgh has played an extra match.
The Hounds have to return to the principles of ‘Lilleyball’ which have been working this season but also have to find a way to be more dynamic, consistently, in the final third.
They’ll have an opportunity to right the ship against two top level Eastern Conference opponents who are lurking behind them in the standings in third and fourth place respectively, with back-to-back Saturday tilts at home vs Memphis and then Tampa Bay for the first time this season.
“This is a very important stretch of the season for us,” Lilley said.
“We have 12 games left. You have to be very good now. The first third (of the season) was good. The second was really good. Now into the final third, this is a little blip, but we’ve got to respond. Tonight (vs Indy) was an ideal time to respond, but we didn’t figure it out yet. Hopefully we put together a strong performance — a team performance — on Saturday that we can be proud of and Memphis is really good that we’re going to have to play really well. Give ourselves a chance to win. No results should be taken for granted, no matter how good we’ve been.”
“You don’t become a great team overnight. You don’t become a bad team overnight. You have to be there in the biggest moments. In the toughest moments. This was a big night that we didn’t make it to the starting gate on time. Lets hope that we don’t do that again.”