Connect with us

Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Takeaways and Player Grades: Griffin, Forbes point the way for Riverhounds’ core ‘group of leaders’ to each contribute to dominant effort vs Detroit

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

During his exclusive interview with Pittsburgh Soccer Now last week, there was a slightly different tone in Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC midfielder Danny Griffin’s voice.

It was a sharper tone exuding confidence by someone who is now a fifth-year professional, who has weathered his share of storms and challenges, who knows what his team needs to do to be successful and is now wearing the captain’s armband every time he steps foot on the field.

Taking on the responsibility of being the team’s captain, and everything that comes with it, Griffin seems more and more comfortable in his role as team leader but is also showing plenty of competitive fire that rubs off on the rest of his teammates.

In that interview, Griffin gave a lot of credit for learning many tricks of the trade and when to step in an be assertive from the Hounds’ captain for the previous six seasons, Kenardo Forbes.

“Obviously I had a pretty good leader in my first five years really helped,” Griffin said. “Seeing that, and being able to lead in my own ways, but there’s no better person to look up to.”

Griffin aptly pointed out that the Hounds, who had a returning core group of 11 players from last season, have ‘a group of leaders’ who they can lean on through each battle.

On Saturday night, the Hounds showed plenty of that competitive fire, putting forth their most dominant performance of the season.

It was fitting on a night when Forbes surpassed the USL Championship’s All-Time Minutes played mark — a truly remarkable achievement — that the current edition of the Hounds, with Griffin taking on the role as captain, are starting to put early season struggles in the rear view mirror, as they’re starting to show signs that they once again dictate terms of matches.

When asked what the Hounds would need to do to ‘break’ a Detroit team that had previously stifled and kept them scoreless in the last two matches of 2023, Griffin didn’t hesitate.

“Anything less than three points is a loss to us.  We’re going to go out and attack the game,” Griffin stated. “We have a game plan. We’re confident in our group and ability to get the job done.”

The Hounds did exactly that.

Carrying over from a three-goal performance on the road in Phoenix, even when they weren’t always on the front foot, the Hounds were dynamic enough in the final third on Saturday.

Another member of the core group of veteran leaders, defender Pat Hogan, now in his second year in Pittsburgh, was right there to capitalize on a cross that came from prolonged and added pressure as the Hounds kept possession going following a corner kick, ending with a pinpoint cross from the right side — from another veteran, Robbie Mertz.

Now that Hogan is in the lineup regularly again (started the first three matches on the bench), he knows that he needed to step up in a bigger way.  Last season, Hounds’ defender Arturo Ordonez, who became USLC’s Defender of the Year, and veteran Joey Farrell, each found a knack for scoring some timely goals on set pieces and crosses.

“Bob and I had a discussion a couple of weeks ago and it was like, hey, I just need you to be more brave and go attack things,” Hogan said of his attacking success on the night.

“You’re one of the tallest guys, so you’re always going to be targeted on set pieces, but you need to find a way to get free and attack the space and if the ball lands there, get your head on it and hopefully score. It was nice today because I went back post, ball went back post and I recycled my run and Robbie was able to pick me out and I was able to head it in.”

Building off that momentum rather than sitting back, Junior Etou showed his assertiveness too.  Etou, who spent a lot of time early in his career as central, defensive midfielder, but has flourished on the wing this season, picked up where he left off on Saturday against Detroit when he helped set up a few goals.

With the Hounds holding a 1-0 lead, Etou flew into the box to cause more havoc, earning a penalty (certainly up to debate if it were a foul or not).  It was the second penalty that Etou won in as many weeks.

This provided a chance for Griffin to put his killer instinct to the test.  Last week, Kazaiah Sterling couldn’t capitalize when given his chance.   This time, it was the captain who asserted himself.

Griffin went low and inside the left post with his penalty attempt, just as DCFC’s keeper Nathan Steinwascher guessed correctly — but Griffin sent his ball with enough pace for it to blow past and graze the hand of the USL Championship’s Goalkeeper of the Year.

This gave Pittsburgh a commanding 2-0 lead in the late stages of the first half.  While the second half pressure into the final third didn’t come as often, Pittsburgh still remained on the front foot in a match where they held decided advantages in shots  (10-6, 3-1 on frame), corners (7-1) and crosses (20-10).

With a group that is growing more and more comfortable defending as a unit this season, the Hounds are going to continue to thrive and build confidence as a team moving forward — especially when scoring first.

Reverting back to  a fluid five-man back line in this win, after  coming out with 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 set up a week ago, the Hounds were solid in denying Detroit’s attack from finding space and completely limited shots and chances.  In total, DCFC had six shots, with one on target.

Likely more important than his goal-scoring prowess, Hogan’s impressive chemistry with his defensive partners, Illal Osumanu, and Luke Biasi has been extremely effective in the past few matches.

That group, with another ‘newer’ veteran, goalkeeper Eric Dick, behind them, have allowed just one goal in the past four matches combined.

That chemistry that has its roots in college competition.

“All three of us get along really well. I actually played against Illal [Osumanu] in college, hated playing against him,” Hogan said.

“We were always rivals, we’d always find each other in the conference tournament finals, so I have a lot of respect for him. And so as soon as we became teammates, we were boys right away. And then Biasi is someone that even from last year, you know, I cook dinner with Biasi every week, so we’re very close. So the three of us back there have really good chemistry, and we cover for each other, and we’re not afraid to tell each other how it is sometimes, which is what you need on the field.”

This team chemistry has been part of a culture established under Lilley, with the players’ guidance and buy-in that came from the example first set by Kenardo Forbes beginning in 2018, and now being carried on by Griffin and a ‘group of leaders’ who are starting to get into a winning groove again.

Player Grades (PITvDET)

Pittsburgh Riverhounds:

Eric Dick (GK) – 6.5 – one save, one clearance. Really wasn’t tested much, but his third clean sheet in four matches.  Something tells me he’ll be among league leaders this season if this keeps up.

Danny Griffin (c) – 7 – top shelf performance from  Griffin.  Wasn’t dispossessed at all.  Though passing accuracy wasn’t super high (65%) his long passes always had solid intentions (connected on 5/11), and

Pat Hogan – 7.5 – newly mustachioed center back did much more than score his first Hounds goal. Hogan also won 8 of 9 aerial duels for the ball and led the Hounds’ clean sheet effort with a match-high six clearances.

Langston Blackstock – 6 – back in the starting XI, Blackstock thrives when doing two-way work, but sat deeper in the 5-4-1, mostly since the Hounds took 2-0 lead.  Had four tackles, one interception, created a chance — and had a great look from just outside the box that he hit too high.

Junior Etou – 8 – for reasons mentioned above continues to do well playing wide and has been creating chances each match (had one) and winning his duels (4/6).

Kenardo Forbes – 6 – In his record-breaking (minutes played) appearance, Kenny was not holding back in playing in wider, attacking spot (opposite) Etou when it comes to providing service — with seven cross attempts (connecting on one).  Still waiting for his first assist of the season.

Luke Biasi – 7 – clearly getting more and more comfortable with whereever he’s playing on the backline — if needs to be outside back or as one of the three center backs as he won 8/9 duels, won two fouls and had an interception.  Will not also be shy about getting into the mix in creating chances (2 in this match).

Robbie Mertz – 6.5 – buzzing around near the top of the attack whether it’s part of the high press or trying to make runs behind defenders, Mertz continues to be involved in stretching out opposition and has been solid on the ball and passing (team high 88%).  Had the assist on the Hogan goal, putting in  pinpoint cross on possession in final third following corner.

Bradley Sample – 6 – in two starts, seems very comfortable working alongside Griffin in the middle of the park.  Won two fouls, created a chance, had three tackles/two interceptions and won 8/12 duels.

Illal Osumanu – 6 – won 4/5 duels and had team high five clearances — continues to be a solid mainstay on the back line.

Kazaiah Sterling – 5 – he was always pushing to get behind defenders and was active in the press, but he didn’t win a duel (0/9) and conceded a trio of fouls.  Had one shot (off target) and had two more blocked.


Dani Rovira 66′

Sean Suber 66′

EJ Johnson DNP

Nate Dragisich 90′

Gabriel Perrotta DNP

Babacar Diene 82′

Michael DeShields 82′

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Glory on the Grass

PSN’s Featured Community Partner: Open Field International

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

Subscribe to PGH Soccer Now

Enter your email address to subscribe to PGH Soccer Now and receive notifications of new posts by email.

More in Pittsburgh Riverhounds