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Takeaways and Player Grades: Riverhounds give new meaning to being non-clinical

Photo courtesy Hartford Athletic FC

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC have reached unprecedented times in the Bob Lilley era.

With the Hounds’ latest loss, a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Hartford Athletic FC, the club now has twice as many losses as they have wins (3w-6l-5d), as they sit on the wrong side of the playoff line after 14 matches.

PSN’s Colton Coreschi provided the match summary:

Unlucky Riverhounds hit post twice, fall to Hartford, 2-0

Since Lilley took over as Head Coach in 2018, the Hounds’ record has never been this poor both in overall record and in execution on the field this far into any season.

With this result, the Hounds extended their streak of matches without a win to six games, as they lost for the first time ever in Hartford since the teams started playing in 2019.

It’s one thing to be unlucky and have a few results where things don’t bounce their way, but this has been the case for much of the 14-game season, minus the Hounds’ three-match win streak in late April/early May.

Never under Lilley’s guidance, have the Riverhounds been as inept as they are this season at scoring goals, as they were shut out for the third straight match on the road.

Saturday’s performance at Trinity Health Stadium provided a microcosm of how this season has gone to this point for the Riverhounds, as they continue to give new meaning to being ‘non-clinical’ when it comes to finishing in the box.

Between the defensive lapses early in a road match and inability to convert on big chances — yet again — Lilley had plenty to say to his team after the match — and apparently they were on the field after the match for a lengthy talk.

With two matches this coming week, at home vs Louisville, then back on the road at North Carolina, they won’t have time to sulk over the loss, and will need to turn things around or this could be a very long season.

Personnel, Formation and Tactics

The Hounds opted to give Jacob Randolph his first ever professional start.

Beyond that, the lineup looked very similar to the group that took the field the previous week at Charleston, which put forth a very strong defensive effort against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Hounds lined up in what looked more like a 3-5-2, with Danny Griffin and Jackson Walti in the middle and Langston Blackstock and Junior Etou pushing up higher for most of the match.

At the half, needing both a spark to get back into the match, and looking to rotate players ahead of a midweek match vs Louisville City, the Hounds brought in Kenardo Forbes, EJ Johnson, and Bradley Sample, replacing Robbie Mertz, Edward Kizza, and Jackson Walti.

Pierre Cayet and Dani Rovira also came on late, but neither could help spark a comeback.

Takeaways #HFDvPIT

Another Terrible Start on the Road for the Hounds

Unfortunately for the Hounds and Randolph, Hartford would find a goal in the very early moments of the first half. In the sixth minute, a long, long ball from the Hartford defense sailed over the entire Hounds midfield and defense and into the path of the on-rushing Michee Ngalina. The 23-year-old had an easy time getting into the box, leaving him one-on-one with the debut keeper, and he coolly slotted it home for the 1-0 advantage.

Randolph would redeem himself just a few minutes later, as another run in behind from Ngalina left him with a chance on goal. This time, Randolph was quick off his line, shutting down the shooting angle and forcing the ensuing shot wide.

Still, despite a majority of possession, the Hounds were going nowhere — and clearly getting exposed on Hartford’s counter attack.

Ngalina would find his brace not five minutes later.

This time, a measured Hartford attack found the feet of Deshane Beckford on the left-wing, who was able to win his duel with Langston Blackstock towards the byline. His cross was a laser across the face of goal, getting by Randolph at his near post and finding Ngalina at the far post for an easy tap-in and his second of the night.

And, just like that, the Hounds were trailing 2-0, with more than 70 minutes to play.

This was the third match in the past four on the road where Pittsburgh fell behind 2-0 in the first half, as they did the same in draw at Tulsa and loss at Memphis.

For all of the team’s struggles in scoring goals, these defensive lapses are also not helping matters.

On the first goal, the Hounds were clearly caught playing a high line, and exposed, giving Ngalina way too much room in getting behind Sean Suber and Pat Hogan, with pace.

The second goal, it appeared that Hogan and Randolph both reacted to the ball as it came through the near post area, leaving unmarked in the middle of the goal box for a chance to redirect it into goal uncontested.

There’s no way around it — the Hounds communication in the box and defending needs to be better in that sequence.  With the club starting its third goalkeeper in the past four matches (Gabe Perrotta started four straight in May, then Eric Dick started the previous two), this also seems to be an area of concern where there’s been a lack of continuity at this position without one keeper seizing the primary starting position.

Non-Clinical Hounds Hit The Woodwork Twice

Both of Hartford’s goals were actually proceeded by Hounds chances in the box.

Junior Etou advanced into the box, then sent a low, hard pass to the near post to Edward Kizza, who fanned on his chance, hitting his shot just left of the post.

Right before the second goal, Robbie Mertz lined up and hit an in-swinging corner that was loose in the middle of the box — but the Hounds could not react quick enough to pounce on the ball to get the equalizer.

Less than 30 seconds after each of these chances, Pittsburgh would surrender a goal.

The Hounds would get their best chance to equalize just beyond the half hour mark.

A cross from the left wing towards the top of Hartford’s box was touched,but not controlled, by Robbie Mertz who had a lot of forward momentum to slow down to control the ball.

The first man to it was Kazaiah Sterling.

The shot attempt to the bottom-left that beat everyone except the inside of the left upright and somehow ricocheted across the goal line and didn’t wind up in the back of the net.

The woodwork would come into play again as Hartford’s 12th man in the second half.

The latest moment of misfortune for the Hounds took place beyond the hour mark.

A cross from the right wing towards the penalty spot was deflected by the Hartford defense and fell into empty space on the right side of the box.

EJ Johnson was on hand and able to get to the ball and rip a rocket of a shot, but it clanged off the right post and straight back out with the Hounds unable to buy a goal on the night.

Later, Danny Griffin and Kenardo Forbes both put shots on net, but Hartford goalkeeper Renan Ribeiro was able to make the save each time.

The Hounds missed out on — by my count — five big missed chances.

If they’re slightly more clinical in the box on two of those moments — they leave Hartford with at least a point or three.

The Hounds keep swinging and keep missing.

It was another game of missed chances in a season of many missed chances.

Riverhounds Player Grades (HFDvPIT)

Jacob Randolph – 4 – two saves — both required getting on the ground and extending to deny Ngalina. The second goal could have been avoidable with better communication with back line.

Illal Osumanu – 5.5 – picked up yet another yellow card (leads team with five), but put in another good performance overall

Dani Rovira (82’) – n/r – late appearance and was active in trying to push for goals

Pat Hogan – 3 – lapses came on both goals where his positioning could have been better?

Sean Suber – 5 – in a possession heavy night for Hounds — Suber had a ton of touches (96) at 73 percent passing accuracy rate, with defensive work that included winning four of six duels and five recoveries.  However, he could have helped close that gap area and covered space on first goal.

Junior Etou – 5 – created a few moments as he continues to be positive presence on left wing, with five passes into final third but won 5/14 duels.

Pierre Cayet (70’) – n/r

Danny Griffin – 6 – typical Griffin performance on night when Hounds were strong in possession — had seven passes into the final third and created a chance, while doing good defensive work (six defensive actions and six recoveries while winning 3/7 duels).

Jackson Walti – 6 – Another start for Walti, who showed his value in center of park, with a perfect passing rating (18/18), with one pass into final third and no chances created.

Bradley Sample (46’) – 5 – continues in rotation with Walti in central midfield

Robbie Mertz – 5 – won 3/8 dues, had 29 touches with lots of back tracking (5 recoveries and 5 defensive actions) — nearly had coincidental assist on Sterling’s chance

Kenardo Forbes (46’) – 5.5 – the quality is still there as created three chances in 45 minutes, but still without a goal or an assist this season as again he missed on a late chance.

Langston Blackstock – 6.5 – Hounds played a lot through right wide areas, as Blackstock had 88 touches on the ball, most by a non-center back. He connected on 42 of 51 passes (82.4 percent), led the team with seven total crosses, won possession six times to share the team high, and he won 6 of 11 duels.

Edward Kizza – 4 – two big missed chances while he had five touches in the box — still stuck on three goals.  Came off after 45 minutes.

Emmanuel Johnson (46’) – 5 – brought good work rate (won 5/9 duels), but also hit post on one of his two shots and four touches in box also came up empty.

Kazaiah Sterling – 5 – three shots — one big chance missed — as Hounds keep waiting for forwards to be more clinical in the box, Sterling was the big signing in the off season and hasn’t lived up to his billing.

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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