Pittsburgh Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley is keeping things very much business as usual as he and the team prepare for their regular-season finale against Detroit City this weekend.
Whilst there is still a lot of joy and merriment amongst the players at the AHN Montour Junction Sports Complex this week following the win over Tampa Bay on Saturday, a win that saw the Hounds claim the Player’s Shield for the first time in the club’s history, for Bob Lilley and the rest of the coaching staff, all eyes remain on the trip to Keyworth Stadium this Saturday as the regular season draws to a conclusion.
With the number one seed already secured, the easy thing for the team to do would be to send out the second-string players, put the starters in bubble wrap and simply focus all the attention on the playoffs and an opening game that, depending on results, could very well be against this same Detroit City team at Highmark Stadium.
But speaking exclusively to Pittsburgh Soccer Now, Lilley was keen to stress how important it was that the team held on to the momentum that they’ve picked up over the past few weeks, insisting that this was a game they intend to give their all in rather than just being there to make up the numbers:
“The energy’s been good for the last six to eight weeks. We’ve been playing well, training well, happy to see even after the win on Saturday, we came this week back to work. Obviously, we have another target we’re going after, so it’s important. We’re going to try to keep our momentum this week.”
“There will be some changes, but not wholesale changes. Our intent is to go to Detroit, try to win the game and hopefully be able to carry that into the playoffs. It’s not a throwaway game for us.”
Whilst Lilley wouldn’t go into much detail about what specific changes there would be, one player who won’t be swapped out is the USL Championship’s leading scorer Albert Dikwa. With 20 goals to his name this season, he stands 3 ahead of his closest competitors, so barring any big performances from around the league, the Golden Boot will be going home with him.
And whilst some might consider it risky to play someone as important as Dikwa in a game such as this, Lilley isn’t planning to put him, or indeed the rest of the team on a time limit as the game goes on:
“I mean we’d like to get some guys off if possible, but our mindset is the result of the game is the most important. So we haven’t gotten to that point where we have guys on a clock. Some people may think that’s what we’d likely do, but if Albert’s feeling good, and the game’s still up for grabs in the 60th minute, that won’t be an automatic change.
“Our mindset is more, let’s deal with the game. We’re going to have to make some changes tactically, maybe some guys fatigue, but treat it as a regular game. Give it the proper respect it deserves.”
Lilley Wins Coach of the Month, Again
Bob Lilley was named USL Championship Coach of the Month for September, the league announced this afternoon, marking the second time this season he has received the honor.
Lilley guided the Hounds to a perfect 4-0-0 record in September, with three of the wins coming over clubs that were or are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. In doing so, the Hounds propelled themselves clear at the top of the Eastern Conference standings and set the stage for the team to clinch the USL Championship Players’ Shield and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with the best record in the league.
The 2-0 win last Saturday over the Tampa Bay Rowdies that clinched the Shield — the first official trophy in Hounds history — came in Lilley’s 200th competitive match in charge of the Hounds. During that time, he has amassed a record of 105-41-54, the most wins and best record by winning percentage in club history.
Lilley previously was honored as Coach of the Month after an unbeaten May that included two wins over MLS teams in the Open Cup. It is the third time overall Lilley has won the honor since he took the reins with the Hounds in 2018.
The Hounds coach also continued to add to his career milestones this season, as he became the first coach to surpass 150 regular-season wins in the “modern” USL Championship era (since 2011). He also eclipsed the 350-win plateau as a professional head coach this season, and he has more career wins than any active pro coach in American soccer.
Etou Earns Team of the Week Recognition
Riverhounds SC midfielder/defender Junior Etou was included in the USL Championship Team of the Week for Week 31, the penultimate week of the season, the league announced this afternoon.
Etou picked up the weekly honor for the first time this season as a defender after shining at left back in the Hounds’ 2-0 win last Saturday at the Tampa Bay Rowdies. That victory clinched the Players’ Shield and home field throughout the playoffs, and tied the Hounds record of 19 wins in a single regular season.
Etou helped the Hounds begin the match with a flourish by striking a perfect cross to find Albert Dikwa open at the back post for the team’s opening goal after just 29 seconds of play. In addition to the match-opening assist, his third of the season, Etou was a force defensively. He won 8 of 8 duels and regained possession for the Hounds four times, and he was strong while on the ball, winning a match-high four fouls while leading the Hounds in touches.
He was joined the in weekly honors by goalkeeper Jahmali Waite, who took one of the bench spots on the team. Waite made a season-high five saves on the way to his 10th shutout in USL play, making him just the third Hounds goalie to record 10 clean sheets in a season.