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Lilley: ‘Results will take care of themselves’ after performance in draw

Photo courtesy John Krysinsky

Riverhounds’ Head coach Bob Lilley pleased with effort and performance against Rowdies, not satisfied with one point. 

When the final whistle blew on Saturday evening, the Riverhounds had secured their first point of the 2024 campaign after a performance that really deserved all three. While there was a positive feeling around the stadium after such a showing against a team many have picked to emerge from the Eastern Conference this year, there remained an undercurrent of lamenting missed chances and a desire to clean-up a final 15 minutes that put the game at risk.

Those sentiments were echoed by head coach Bob Lilley after the game.

“Yeah. Well, I mean, we played better for longer stretch. So you know, I think that’s a positive thing to take out of it, I think,” said Lilley in the post-game presser.

“You know, it’s disappointing, one one point out of three. Puts you further behind your curve, so it’s not really a result. We’re at home. So disappointing.”

Despite the disappointment, Lilley did see things he liked on the field on Saturday. While concerns remain around the lack of goal production, the opportunities and attacking movements generated by the Hounds left Lilley feeling like that was a problem that will largely solve itself with this type of play. Notably, the Hounds maintained their first clean sheet of the year, holding a potent Rowdies attack goalless – a chance that was nearly missed when they surrendered a dangerous free kick in the dying moments, brilliantly kept out of net by goalkeeper Eric Dick.

“We go backwards, we switch it out to Luke and he has a touch that runs them into a tackle,” Lilley said of the momentary defensive lapse.

“You know, so I have to look at what can we work on to get better. But you know this game was a game that you’re going to win in most cases, so you know that’s a positive. You know, to lose is obviously disheartening. And when you’re 0-3, you start to feel that weight and so to play not just with the the energy and the effort –  and they were willing to do all the dirty work – but I thought we had some really nice sequences. Like I thought we had – in a physical game – a really competitive game. I think we we found quality and so it’s tough to imagine we couldn’t get one in the back of the net, you know. Tampa deserves credit for putting their body on the line and making the plays they had to in front of their own goal. You know, we’ll get better. we’ll find the right pass and the right moments to slot the ball in the net if we keep creating those types of chances. I think we’d be able to get on a run, you know, right now we just have a really tough schedule.”

Certainly, one of the caveats behind the Hounds slower start in 2024 is their difficult schedule. All four Hounds opponents sit in playoff position in their conferences early on, with both Louisville and Orange County atop their respective conferences and the Rowdies and New Mexico not far behind.

All four were also playoff teams in 2023 – including the Rowdies finishing just behind the Hounds for the Players’ Shield and Orange County finishing second in the Western Conference.

But that’s not an excuse Lilley is willing to lean on. The schedule hardly gets easier from here on out, with back-to-back road trips to Rhode Island and defending USL Championship title winners Phoenix next up for the Hounds, followed by two at home against surprisingly strong Detroit City and Miami FC teams.

The next ones are Rhode Island, then Phoenix, and then Detroit.

“You know, we’ve got to retool now, hopefully build on this for next week because going to Phoenix is going to be cross country again,” Lilley said of their upcoming opposition.

“A talented team that has very good players and you know generally has a really strong home record. You know, they’re off to a bit of a slow start, a bit of a hangover from winning it. So, you know, the pressure is on them and right now we need wins. You know, they tied last night against Tulsa. Those of us at the at the south end of the table are trying to get wins, not draws. So you know there there will be a lot at stake next week. You’re on the road, so I mean it’s not going to be easy and we’re going to have to hopefully have another strong performance. It’s a process. I mean, if we keep playing well and growing. I think the results will take care of themselves.”

“The east is as strong as its been since 2019. I thought the East was really, really strong and then fell off the past few years but is even stronger this year,” Lilley said of the conference as a whole.

“I think with the uptick in Hartford – you know, Hartford spent a lot of money in the offseason – North Carolina, Rhode Island. I mean, these teams are good. And then you have the traditional powers like Louisville, Tampa – Charleston’s off to a big start and reached the final last year. I think we we’re going to have to play really well to work our way back into that picture, but it’s early. I mean today we took a step forward in terms of our overall play for the 90 minutes. I think we’ve had two pretty solid home performances. It feels like we’ve been robbed a little to only have one point out of the the two home games. I think that will will correct itself.”

Representative of play or not, that one point came in large courtesy of the strong performance of Eric Dick in goal late, as the Hounds surrendered a very dangerous free kick just 20 yards from goal in the final ten minutes.

The take from Lewis Hilton was a fantastic effort over the wall and towards the upper-left corner of goal, but Dick held his ground and was forced to make a save-of-the-week caliber stop to keep things level. It was a moment Lilley was happy to highlight as a massive one, but equally quick to highlight the unnecessary foul that created the chance as a point of emphasis to clean up.

“Yeah. On that free kick. You know, that’s really hard to do. I mean, Hilton’s so good on set pieces. He locates the ball really well, so usually they go over the wall to the to the right hand post and the keeper is leaning that direction because he’s got to get across his goal and he went back [to the left] hoping Eric would bite and Eric was disciplined enough, (he) was able to get back,” Lilley described.

“I mean, it was a really well taken free kick and it was a save at a critical time. I mean we can’t give that foul away there. There’s no need. We panic, we just come in and clatter into the guy and you can’t. You have two guys there – don’t give away the foul. He had nowhere to go, no one to pass to. Fortunately, we were able to dodge that bullet.”

Despite his heroic moment to cover an unforced error, Dick was quick to laud his teammates for an overall complete performance that led to the first clean sheet of the year. Aside from the action around the late foul, Dick was largely unpressured for a majority of the match – left to collect overplayed passes and marshal the defense from behind.

“It’s great, you know. I think the guys worked their butts off to do it. It’s a great team that we just played and I think this week we had a big mentality defensively,” Dick said.

“Let’s be sound, let’s do whatever it takes to prevent goals, and we know we’ve got the talent out there to both play defense and offense. But everybody, everybody chipped in on the defensive side today, so it’s good to start with that.”

“It’s always tough, especially dead in the center, so you know it’s a tricky,” Dick spoke of the free kick save.

“The wall did great to make it tough to go over. And I just told myself I was just gonna hold my ground because, I mean, they had three guys up there. You don’t know who’s going to take it, so you never want to get caught cheating and stuff like that. And you know, the closer it is as a goalkeeper, you know if they’re going to go over the wall, it’s probably not going to be with a lot of pace. So you try to sort of wait and see and then hopefully get a step in. And if it does go over the wall, you try to save it. But again, wall did a great job getting set. We were ready for the rebound because I gave up a rebound outside and we cleared that and that was huge because, you know, it was right there in the box. So yeah, those guys ran around for 90 minutes, you know, I’ve got to do my part too.”

The starting back five was impressive throughout, as Dick pointed out.

With the freshly-rotated Pat Hogan making his first start of the season, his presence in the center of Illal Osumanu and Luke Biasi in the back three was a stabilizing force that lifted the Hounds defensive levels above what we’ve seen so far this year – a point quick to be made by Dick.

“I think, Pat was always ready to come in here. I think he did a great job. I think the whole back line did an amazing job,” Dick spoke of his defense. “We had a lot of pressure on the ball counter-pressing from up top and through the midfield. We didn’t make it easy for them to do those balls over the top and and play through the lines. We were winning second balls. We were aggressive tackling, the guys just made it easy. And I think it was effort. I think it was a mentality thing. We wanted to get the result we we didn’t want to give them what they wanted and we didn’t want to let them play their game and we just wanted to be the aggressor. We got more chances. I can’t speak highly enough about the guys effort because they just worked at butts off. They’re exhausted and they should be. That’s a good team. That’s a great team and I think they just made it hard for them to serve balls into the box, and through balls, and crosses. The amount of stuff that we blocked out and just cleared up the line and regrouped – that was what we focused on all week. Get the ball, get it up, and then we get our defensive shape and we try to play it in their half and went as high up as we can. So it was just all-around effort that made it easier. And I think after those first three results, you sort of see the pieces that we have. And then we try to just see, you know, it’s got to be a step up. Even more than what we have to get a result against a team in this league. So it was a mentality thing and it was effort and I think the guys did real good.”

Aside from the play on the field, it was a big night off the field for one of the Hounds most vital contributors. With his 196th appearance, Kenardo Forbes took hold of the all-time record in appearances for the club – a moment honored pre-game by a handing off of the match ball from prior record holder, and still Hounds all-time goals leader, David Flavius. With ‘King Kenny’ rightly celebrated, the Hounds legend shared his belief that there’s more to come from this team, and more he wants to achieve for this club.

“It’s pretty cool. I didn’t even know that I’d break it tonight,” Forbes said modestly.

“I lost track, Bob reminded me yesterday. It’s pretty cool. I’m just sorry we didn’t get a win. I think we played well, I think we’re creating in the right direction, so hopefully next week we can build up it and get our season started, right?”

“Maybe it doesn’t look that way, but I think the team is coming together pretty nice,” he expanded.

“I mean, after three losses, people could say other other things – that we’re not a good team, can’t play, that Bob can’t coach –  but this is a big result for us tonight and we didn’t want to make two losses in a row at home to start the season I think we came out tonight. We had a better team and missed some chances. I think the guys and me, myself, after tonight feel pretty confident that next week going to Rhode Island after a good week of training could get a result.”

“It’s good, another record. I think coming in, I still didn’t achieve my main goal coming here to win a championship,” Forbes said of the future.

“I think [Bob and I] coming in, we took the team in the right direction, the organization getting good, bringing in the fans, winning two regular-season championships – but we still didn’t close the deal. We’ve had a rough start to the season, but we’re looking to get over that hump. So I think that would bring more satisfaction to me, not these records, but to win a championship with this organization before my time is up.”

With a step forward taken on Saturday night towards that end, the Hounds will hope to produce more this coming weekend in Rhode Island – where they’ll visit last year’s leading goalscorer Albert Dikwa and the newest expansion side in the Eastern Conference.

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Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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