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Riverhounds Notebook: Lilley not keen on his squad taking shortcuts and lack of endurance

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

The Riverhounds hit the road once again, as they’ll travel to Memphis to take on a team that has been a regular Eastern Conference opponent since 2018, but have since switched over to the USL Championship’s Western Conference for this season.

The teams will face each other on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET), each sitting on 13 points and meddling at the edge of the playoff line in their respective conferences.

The Hounds put in a pretty standard week of training, and will head to Tennessee on Friday as a team without a loss in their last seven league matches, with the last two results ending in disappointing draws.  The squad’s injury report remains the same, with first-year defender Jake Lent-Koop remaining questionable (knee) — otherwise Head Coach Bob Lilley and his staff will have a pretty healthy squad for lineup selections at Memphis.

Sportsnet Pittsburgh is the place to watch the Hounds game, unless…

Saturday’s match will be an 8:30 start in Pittsburgh — 7:30 local time in Memphis — and it will be shown live on SportsNet Pittsburgh after their coverage of the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves baseball game.

However, should Pirates-Braves run long (imagine that — a baseball game running long?), the Hounds can still be seen live on their SportsNet Pittsburgh+ alternate channel.  You may recall that when Pirates game hit an extended rain delay on May 11, the Hounds match that night was bumped entirely from being viewed live on SportsNet Pittsburgh.

Rest assured Hounds fans, if you don’t have access to SportsNet Pittsburgh or its alternate channel (or streaming service), the match will also be streamed live via ESPN+, and set your DVR’s (if you still use them) as Sunday replays of the match will air at 3 a.m. on SNP and at midnight, noon and 4 p.m. on SNP+.

Lilley not keen on his club taking shortcuts and their lack of endurance

Last Saturday, in 1-1 draw at Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh notched their lone goal in the first half against North Carolina.

They looked very impressive and were on the front foot for the first 30 minutes completely dictating terms and pace of the match.

Then, there was a clear drop off that could be seen by many of the fans in the stands watching, but especially the USL Hall of Fame coach.

Lilley said he noticed their fading endurance in the first half, and adding to his frustration, pointed out in post match comments that his Riverhounds squad entered as the better rested team, having spent a week between games; North Carolina, on the other hand, endured a quick turnaround, last playing on the previous Tuesday against Loudoun United FC.

“There were guys that frankly, to me, looked tired after 20 minutes… I think mentality wise we weren’t strong enough today. We took some shortcuts, even in the first half,” Lilley said.

“They didn’t get a sniff for [the first] 30 minutes. The last 15 minutes or so, there were some situations where the midfield was open, they got some transition moments.”

The Hounds had a flurry of chances — but again they kept up with their season-long theme of failures to convert — as Kenardo Forbes, Edward Kizza and Robbie Mertz missed on fairly big chances.

Carrera also benefitted from lucky bounces, with Forbes deflecting a point-blank opportunity over the net. Another Forbes shot at 28′ trickled out of Carrera’s grasp. Kizza collected the rebound, directing it back toward the net front, but it caromed out of the box toward the sideline.

“Some of it, it turned because they (North Carolina) asserted themselves. They took risks going forward, we took shortcuts,” Lilley said.

The Hounds currently are fourth in the league (not bad) in creating big chances, with 27, but have missed on 19 of those chances, which is second most missed chances in the league to this point this season.  Pittsburgh is also second in the league in touches in the box (250) but are 18th in shots on target.

With a chance to put the match away — this Hounds team couldn’t get the job done last week and for most of this season this has been their Achilles heel.

“You have to work harder. When we were tired we didn’t want to run forward and close the field, we wanted to rest.”

Keeping Up With 36 Year-Old Kenardo Forbes

Kenardo Forbes, who celebrated his 36th birthday last week, continues to pile on records for longevity.

The USL Championship’s all-time leader in assists became the league leader in career minutes played on April 27 in the Hounds’ 2-0 win over Detroit City FC. The midfielder now has 21,521 minutes in his career between Rochester and Pittsburgh.

Forbes is approaching another major USL Championship milestone, as he currently has 272 regular-season appearances, only five behind the record held by Yann Ekra.  Forbes is also the Riverhounds’ all-time leader in assists, minutes played and appearances.

Coming off back-to-back 10 assist seasons, this season, Forbes continues to be an essential part of Lilley’s lineup selections, though he has not contributed with any goals or assists in 10 matches.  The native of Kingston, Jamaica, has started nine of these matches, logging 736 minutes and taking a closer look — contributes in a variety of ways.

In last Saturday’s match, Forbes, who has been playing in an attacking midfield role, had a couple of solid chances in and around goal, but missed on those chances.  Of his 13 shots takes this season, just two have been on frame.   As far as his creativity and ability to create chances, after all he’s the all-time league leader in assists, Forbes has completed 322 successful passes, at a 79% percent rate.  Forbes will continue to take the lead in terms of corner kick attempts and will often be on the ball for most free kicks. Considering he’s getting more touches in the final third under more defensive scrutiny, those numbers are solid, but bottom line is that he hasn’t created as many chances as he’d probably like — with six chances created and six successful crosses.  In context, Robbie Mertz leads the team with 16 chances created (Edward Kizza has nine and Langston Blackstock has eight).

With the emergence of younger midfielders such as Bradley Sample and Jackson Walti alongside Danny Griffin — Forbes has continued to find a place in the lineup higher up in the midfield — along with another veteran Robbie Mertz. Under Lilley, who stresses the importance of two-way play, Forbes remains a valuable contributor, as he’s already posted 50 recoveries, with a tackle success rate of 67 percent while holding his own in duels with 43 percent win rate.

Too Early to Look at the Table, but…

The Hounds are within four points of third place, but currently sitting on the edge of the playoff line.

More Riverhounds Coverage…

Look for our match preview, as we’ll take a closer look at Memphis 901 FC, to come late Friday or early Saturday.

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).

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Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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