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Takeaways and Player Grades: Riverhounds can’t reverse fortunes in Vegas

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

When things are not going your way — maybe Las Vegas isn’t the best place to visit.

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC left Las Vegas empty handed following a 2-0 defeat in match played in very hot conditions at Cashman Stadium on Saturday night.

This result keeps the Hounds in a very precarious position at the official halfway point of the season, at the bottom of the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings.

Riverhounds run of futility continues in 2-0 loss at Las Vegas

With this result, Head Coach Bob Lilley’s squad extended their winless streak to nine matches in league play (and 10th overall including Open Cup), with its third loss in the past four and fifth defeat in the last seven.

Pittsburgh has been shutout in its last five matches, and haven’t scored a goal in nearly 500 minutes of play, stretching back to June 1, when Danny Griffin scored from beyond the 18 in a 2-1 loss to Indy Eleven.

As has been stated repeatedly in this column during the course of this season, the Hounds have failed to put consistent pressure on its opponents, and even when they create scoring chances — they can’t execute and convert in the final third.

On a very hot Summer night in Las Vegas, against one of the statistically poorest defensives sides in the league — the best they could come up with — despite 26 touches in the box — was six-shot attempts, with two on frame coming in the same sequence on a penalty kick opportunity.

There’s no doubt that players and coaches are feeling the pressure.

It’s not for lack of effort. 

The players are playing hard and have shown no quit.

Thee fan base is beginning to grow restless.

The media members who cover the team continue to have to come up with new ways to put a spin on the Hounds’ inability to score goals.

There is still hope for this Hounds team though, as they still have a half season to play. 

They will also look to a four-match homestand beginning Saturday to reverse their fortunes as they remarkably sit just three points off the playoff line.

Lineup Selections / Tactics / Subs

The Hounds opted to start forward Enoch Mushagalusa for the second time in three matches since his arrival to the club last week.  The speedy attacker was utilized on the left attacking wide spot, while Robbie Mertz was on the right side, while Edward Kizza was positioned mostly as the center forward in this allignment.  Kenardo Forbes also got the start, where he stayed deeper than he has all season, covering the middle with Danny Griffin.

The Hounds lined up in a what could’ve been conceived as a pretty fluid 5-4-1 formation.

The steady outside back/winger pairing continued with Langston Blackstock and Junior Etou doing the two-way work out wide, while the Hounds went with three center backs, including Illal Osumanu, Luke Biasi and Sean Suber. 

Defender Pat Hogan (who was listed as questionable with lacerated head) was not in the 18.

Jacob Randolph made his fourth straight start in goal.

Forbes, Mushagalusa and Kizza were replaced in the 62nd minute, by Bradley Sample, Babacar Diene and EJ Johnson.

Dani Rovira also came on late, in the 88th minute, for Luke Biasi.

Vegas Makes Its Own Luck — Cashes In At End First Half

In the first half, the Riverhounds had three shot attempts, none on target, though Enoch Mushagalusa, making his second start since joining the club last week, hit a strong shot attempt from outside the box in the 25th minute that was blocked.

Pittsburgh had some decent transition moments while also earning a few set pieces (three free kicks and two corners).

Still, it was much of the same old story.

Once Pittsburgh got into the box, they couldn’t execute.

Despite conceding 60 percent possession to the Lights FC, the Hounds were solid defensively through 40 minutes, not allowing a single shot.

Then, the home side caught the break needed to get the go-ahead goal when Khori Bennett was played a perfectly squared ball across the box from former Pitt topman, Valentin Noël.

The shot that followed appeared to graze off Hounds’ defender Luke Biasi’s leg, while midfielder Danny Griffin also came sliding in to deny the shot — leaving keeper Jacob Randolph frozen in the middle of the goal, while the deflected ball took a quick, redirected turn inside the right post.

Watching the replay a few times over now — the goal was set up by a brilliant piece of play from Noël, who did plenty of this when he was starring at Pitt.  In receiving the ball in stride, in plenty of space, the Frenchman’s first touch was flawless, then found time to turn, and send a perfectly placed ball to Bennett’s foot.

Bennett — who has now scored more goals in the past three games than any player on the Hounds roster — did well to turn and drive the ball hard enough that it found its way over the goal line.

This is exactly the kind of execution the Hounds are lacking in the final third.

Hounds Can’t Catch A Break — Even When Getting A Break

At the start of the second half, the Hounds were on the front foot with Enoch Mushagalusa doing what he was brought to Pittsburgh to do — taking on defenders around the edge, sending a dangerous ball that banged off the cross bar. Unfortunately for the Hounds there wasn’t anyone in position to follow that effort up.

Robbie Mertz was a bright spot with a solid match in his usual attacking midfield spot. The Upper St Clair native was fouled — actually bulldozed — in the box in the 52nd minute to set up a penalty kick chance.

Finally, the Hounds were in excellent position to end their scoring drought – right?

Wrong!

Danny Griffin stepped up to take the spot kick, driving his shot to the left side, but LVLFC’s keeper Raiko Arozarena made a dazzling save to deny the equalizer.  The ball remained loose in the box when Mushagalusa stepped in to drive the rebound on frame, but once again, Arozarena was there to make another big stop

The team’s captain — Griffin — has become the go-to guy to take penalty kicks this season as he had converted his previous two attempts.  When a goal was sorely needed — and could have changed the match entirely he failed to convert.

Credit to Mushagalusa for pouncing on the rebound quickly, but his difficult angle shot attempt — which he put on frame with plenty of pace — was also turned back.

Here’s another look (painful for Hounds faithful I’m sure) at the sequence.

Subs Can’t Add Needed Spark

With the match being played in very hot conditions, Lilley brought on three subs in the 62nd minute that could help push the Hounds to getting an equalizer and maybe even get them over the top.

Instead, Pittsburgh floundered in the final 30 minutes of the match including stoppage time, as they were chasing the match against a solid possession team.  Vegas owned nearly 60 percent of the ball, and eventually things opened up, leading to something the Hounds have also been prone to give up this year — goals late in matches when pushing for the equalizer.

This time, they allowed too much space when Jean-Claude Ngando found Bennett on the break, to slot through his second of the match to put the Hounds in a 2-0 deficit that sealed the match.

Season Hinges on Four-Match Homestand in July

For the Riverhounds, they will most certainly welcome a stretch of the schedule where they will play four straight Saturday evening home matches at Highmark Stadium  starting this coming Saturday when they host Monterey Bay FC. Additional opponents will be Oakland Roots (July 13), Hartford (July 20) and Loudoun United FC (July 27).  They will not play again on the road until August 3 (at Sacramento).

This season, while they’re not invincible at home (2w-3l-2w overall), the Hounds will have full week training sessions with no travel, and will need to take advantage of this time to get their ducks in a row.

HOUNDS PLAYER GRADES (LVvPIT 6/29/2024)

Starting XI

Jacob Randolph GK – 4 – Randolph made one save and conceded two goals.

Langston Blackstock DF – 5 – created one chance, won 3/9 duels, won three fouls but conceded three too. 
Junior Etou DF – 5.5 – drew a few fouls, 61 touches — with six passes into final third. Won 7/11 duels. 
Illal Osumanu DF – 4.5 – picked up another yellow card (that’s team leading six — so if this keeps up suspension is on horizon). Two defensive actions, five recoveries and won 2/5 duels 
Luke Biasi DF – 5.5 – handled majority of passes out of the back three (57) at 82 percent accuracy, won 4/8 duels and three clearances
Sean Suber DF – 5 – also busy with helping possess out of back (86% accuracy) with 49 passes and three clearances. 
Robbie Mertz MF – 7 –  in earning one of four fouls won in the match — set up penalty chance which the Hounds blew. The midfielder also connected on 21 of 24 passes (87.5 percent), was second on the team with three crosses and won a team-leading 9 of 14 duels in the match.
Danny Griffin MF – 5 – bottom line — all the good work he’s doing in center of field was fine (82% passing accuracy, 68 touches, 7 recoveries, won 4/7 duels) , but got to convert that chance to stop the goal scoring drought. 
Kenardo Forbes MF – 5 – playing deeper than he has most of season — had 37 touches, 81% passing accuracy, won 2/3 duels and sent six passes into final third.  
Enoch Mushagalusa FW – 4 – forwards will be judged based on activity in final third — and in 62 minutes he was fairly active (by this team’s standards) with three shots — two of them blocked and the other saved on the rebound chance.  
19 Kizza FW
Subs:
Bradley Sample MF (62′) – 5.5
Babacar Diene F (62′) – 4 – as mentioned above, forward subs didn’t really make much of an impact, with no shots as Hounds were chasing the match instead of trying to get one or two goals back
EJ Johnson F (62′) – 4 –  pretty much same as Diene
Dani Rovira MF (87′) – N/R – came on late — sending four cross attempts but none connected.

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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