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Takeaways and Player Grades: Riverhounds still infected with case of scoring blues in loss at Memphis

The Riverhounds seven match unbeaten streak ended with a 2-0 loss at Memphis 901 FC on Saturday night, as they were unable to generate or convert on any scoring chances while also being subjected to a couple of defending breakdowns.

Memphis made two key chances count, when Marlon Santos drilled a downward shot into the turf that ricocheted into the back of goal in the 7th minute as an attempted clearance following a long, direct ball came to his feet. Then early in the second half, long-time Hounds nemesis, Oscar Jimenez, one of 901 FC’s off season pickups, doubled the lead on a shot from a difficult angle that sailed over a unprepared and perplexed keeper Gabe Perrotta.

PSN’s Colton Coreschi provided the match report following the disappointing result for Pittsburgh, who dropped a full three points in a league match for the first time since March.

Riverhounds’ unbeaten league run ends at seven in 2-0 loss at Memphis

In the big picture, it’s not a major concern that the Hounds lost a match on the road against an opponent in good form.

It happens — even to good teams every once in a while.

What should be alarming to Hounds’ fans is that they continue to see this squad stumble in the final third. After 11 league matches (and 12th overall) — the Hounds are sitting on 10 goals for the 2024 campaign.

That’s simply not good enough.

MEMvPIT Takeaways

Line-up / Tactics

In penciling in his lineup, which looked initially like a 4-2-3-1, but shaped more into a 4-1-4-1, Riverhounds’ Head Coach Bob Lilley opted to go with a reshuffled midfield alignment, that included Dani Rovira making only his second start in the last seven matches, while Kenardo Forbes and Robbie Mertz started on the bench.  This also put the central midfield pairing of Danny Griffin and Bradley Sample higher up in the formation.

In this set-up, Rovira sat deeper than Griffin and Sample, with heavy rotation between the three.

Sean Suber also got the nod as part of the four-man backline at right back, along with Pat Hogan and Luke Biasi in the middle and Junior Etou on the left side. On the opposite end, the Hounds opted to go with two forwards, Kazaiah Sterling and Edward Kizza.

Again, for the fourth straight match (including Open Cup loss to Tulsa) Gabe Perrotta got the start in goal.

Coming off the bench, Robbie Mertz was the lone sub at the start of the 2nd half, while Kenardo Forbes and Nate Dragisich entered in the 67th minute, then Pierre Cayet and Babacar Diene came on in the 80th minute, as Lilley used all allotted subs.

Digging another hole on the road

It doesn’t help matters for a team that’s struggling to score goals, to find themselves in a hole on the road early in the match.

This happened once again as Pittsburgh repeated its last road performance, by allowing an early goal.

As pointed out in my match preview, this match played out as a contest between two teams that lack in passing accuracy but like to score quickly and often will play direct or use countering chances to put pressure on goal.

Memphis found their opportunity in the 10th minute, coming on a long, non-threatening ball from midfield, which was headed away by Junior Etou, but ultimately fell at the top of the box near several unmarked Memphis defenders.

With no pressure forthcoming from the Hounds remaining defenders, Marlon was free to fire a rocket into the lower-left, beating Gabriel Perrotta in net and digging a hole for the Hounds early.

Can’t give hot goal scorer even an extra second on the ball.

Looking closer at this sequence, Rovira, in the defensive midfield spot, was shadowing Memphis’ attacking midfielder Samuel Carega who drifted to the left side, away from where the ball was played.  This left Marlon left unaccounted for in the middle, as the Hounds’ back line was covering deeper, leaving plenty of space for the Brazilian to bring the ball down, then take aim with a terrific snipe on target.

In his six years with the club, Rovira has been successfully used in a variety of ways, sometimes on the wing, or as an outside back, and other times in a central midfield role.  He’s also been used to mark dangerous players. With Marlon along with Bruno Lapa coming into this match in solid form, it made some sense that Lilley would implore Rovira in this role, while relying on Griffin and Sample to take turns rotating back to fill in to the defensive shape in the middle of the pitch in front of the back line.

However, on that long ball, the Hounds didn’t effectively close in on that space occupied by Marlon.

While Pittsburgh created their share of pressure and were on the front foot for much of the rest of the first half while they were pushing for an equalizer (more on that below) — the Hounds went to the locker room trailing 1-0.

Unfortunately for the Hounds, the second half started much like the first.

Memphis came out pushing for that second goal — and the Hounds were caught on their heels.

A giveaway at midfield left Langston Blackstock out of position — and he reacted a bit late to the transition moment for Memphis.

As a result,  Jimenez was free and clear on the right wing — and a ball switched over to the outside back’s right side found his feet.

Jimenez attempt at a tight angle shot did the trick.

Somehow, it got past Perrotta along his near post and found the back of the net to double Memphis’ lead.

The Hounds goalkeeper battle has been a bit peculiar this season, as it appeared that veteran Eric Dick emerged as the clear-cut starter at the beginning of the season, making the first eight starts in goal.

Following a 1-0 shutout win vs Miami, which Lilley was critical of some sequences that Dick was involved in, Perrotta got the start against Tulsa a few nights later in the Open Cup match, and has since started the last three league matches.

A few weeks ago the Hounds dug a 2-0 hole in the league match vs Tulsa, where Perrotta showed his mettle in coming up with penalty kick save (that he conceded).

However, this time around, the Hounds couldn’t rally to bail out their defensive lapses, and for the seventh straight game when surrendering an early goal, they were unable to come back and win full three points.

Shooting Blanks

The Hounds got a great chance to equalize quickly after the Marlon goal, however, as five minutes later a Pat Hogan header would be directed towards goal, but was cleared off the line at the last possible moment by Memphis forward Dylan Borczakwas defending at the near post and prevented the goal with his right boot.

Later, around the half-hour mark, a free kick set up a dangerous chance for the visitors. With the kick taken to the back post, Pat Hogan found it with his head and attempted to steer it back across goal, where it deflected off a Memphis defender and rang off the post.

So — while Kizza and Sterling were extending themselves in pressing and covering space they were essentially absent in creating or getting on the end of scoring chances.

It was a center back — Hogan — who accounted for Pittsburgh’s best chances in the first half.

Pittsburgh looked like the better team for most of the first half, but again, this troubling trend continued, where they are getting forward, getting touches in and around the box — but from there they’re lacking the ability to finish.

When your center back is the one on the end of two of the three chances that they generate the entire match — that’s not exactly a recipe for success.

After falling behind by two goals, and bringing on Robbie Mertz at the half for Rovira to create a spark, the Hounds were not able to create enough quality moments.

There were a few sequences when Etou — as is his habit — caused some issues on the left side. Notably, his attempt from inside the box which was deflected by a Memphis defender, but fell to Danny Griffin outside the 18.

Griffin would rip a hard shot towards goal, but it too was bounced away off a defender and ultimately cleared away.

Kenardo Forbes also came on with intentions of adding more quality play making opportunities — and when given chances to shoot — came up short too.  Forbes had two open looks from distance in the final 10 minutes. The first was deflected wide of the goal for a corner by Cissoko, while the second was an off-balance effort that drifted wide of goal.

Ultimately it was a lackluster effort for a team that has not been scoring enough goals this season.

Chasing the match from the 7th minute on, the Hounds had 58 percent of possession and shots were even at 11-11, but only three of the team’s shots were on target.

Pittsburgh was shut out in USL play for the first time since a 0-0 draw at Rhode Island on April 13.

Even more concerning — as it’s a recurring, broken record emanating from post match analysis pieces like this all season —  but this is a team that remains near the top of the league in touches in the opponents box, but they’re doing the least with those touches and not making them count — as they’re now sitting at 18 missed ‘big chances’ and only generating 3.5 shots on target per match (18th in USLC) this season.

The Hounds will have a chance to right the ship and get past their scoring blues next week against another tough opponent.

Indy Eleven, another team on an impressive unbeaten streak, and ahead of the Hounds in the Eastern Conference standings by seven points, come to Pittsburgh next Saturday.

The Hounds have to find a greater sense of urgency and find solutions in the final third, or they will really be fighting an uphill battle this season to climb up in the standings.

MEMvPIT Player Grades

Goalkeeper 

Gabe Perrotta (GK) –  – Perrotta made four saves but it was the one he didn’t make early in the second half that was most glaring.  Current thoughts from PSN’s Colton Coreschi may have been the best takeaway during the match — If Lilley was unhappy with Eric Dick after four shutouts in five games, surely he must be thrilled with Perrotta’s performance thus far? More goals, several unforced drops/errors, through a few matches in goal.

Defenders

Junior Etou – 6  – the usual workmanlike effort for Etou who has been solid all season.  Won 8/10 duels, four clearances, two interceptions, won two fouls and created one chance.

Pat Hogan – 5 – as pointed out, was on the end of those two chances, but maybe could have been there to close space on the Marlon goal. Conceded foul and won 7/11 duels.

Luke Biasi  – 6.5  – took a professional foul/yellow card at one point and was closer to challenging on the direct kick that led to Marlon goal, but was pretty solid as part of CB pairing with Hogan most of night. Won 12/16 duels, three tackles, won two fouls and passing accuracy at 85%.

Sean Suber – 4.5 – seems as if when Hounds go with four-man back line, Suber gets the call.  Won 5/7 duels, four unsuccessful crosses and had two tackles.

Pierre Cayet – n/r – late sub — who won 2/3 duels, had a clearance and one shot attempt (off target)

Midfielders

Danny Griffin – 6 – more assertive and physical as we’ve ever seen from the captain. Won 8/12 duels, won 2 / conceded 2 fouls, while on ball did his part to extend possessions (78% passing accuracy on 44 attempts) while also having one of the Hounds’ few shots on target.

Dani Rovira – 4 – created one chance, had a tackle, won two/conceded two fouls, but overall, was subbed out at the half as Hounds still seem to be struggling to find where their long-time ‘swiss-army knife’ can contribute on a regular basis.

Robbie Mertz (45′) – 5.5  – won a foul, had a shot blocked, created a chance, had three unsuccessful crosses but overall didn’t impact a comeback in second half this time around.

Langston Blackstock – 5 – after an assist last week, Blackstock starting to find his place in the starting XI, but didn’t really implement much impact in creating chances (one unsuccessful cross), no shots, but won two fouls.

Bradley Sample – 5.5 — didn’t have a lot of touches (just 25 passes), but created a couple of chances, had three tackles, and won 6/9 duels in his partnership with Griffin in the middle, before being subbed out at 67′.

Kenardo Forbes (67′) – n/r – couldn’t make an impact as a 67th minute sub

Nate Dragisich (67′) – n/r- relatively quiet with some extended minutes off bench — winning 2/2 duels — as Hounds were chasing more of the match in the later moments than they would have liked.

Forwards 

Edward Kizza – 4  – won two fouls, created a chance, one shot (off target) had an unsuccessful cross but despite his consistent work rate, not able to make an impact in generating chances in final third.

Kazaiah Sterling – 4 – no shot attempts, won 4/9 duels and didn’t have enough touches as Memphis’ athletic and big back line provided resistance that pushed Sterling back numerous times throughout the night.

Babacar Diene – n/r  — did create a few chances late in the waning moments

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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