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Preview and Scouting Report: Riverhounds vs Monterey Bay shaping up to be a battle of scoring attrition

It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC are having trouble scoring goals this season — as they sit at league worst 11 goals in 17 matches, but they’ll be facing an opponent, Monterey Bay FC, on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium who’ve had their share of attacking woes this season.

This could make for an interesting battle of attrition between two clubs battling to stay in their respective conference playoff races as the season is at the halfway mark, with two coaches — Pittsburgh’s Bob Lilley and Monterey’s Frank Yallop, who have been synonymous on the landscape of professional soccer in North America during the past 25 years.

The Hounds kick off the four-match homestand by hosting Monterey Bay FC for the first time ever at Highmark Stadium, as they will need to start producing results or put a fork in this season.

Pittsburgh defender Pat Hogan, who missed last week’s contest after suffering a cut over his eye in the previous match against North Carolina, is expected to be healthy and ready for this match.

While it’s been a very tough season on the scoring front, what’s keeping the Hounds’ from being completely at the bottom of the standings has been their ability to defend as a unit, as that continues to be the club’s strength under Head Coach Bob Lilley, as they currently sit fourth-best in the league in goals allowed per game at 1.12.

Monterey Bay FC: A Closer Look

This is the third season of existence for the upstart club, who at one point boasted one of the highest scoring units in the league last season, despite registering very low shot totals — as they made the most of their chances.  This season, things have not gone quite the same for MBFC, as they sit 22nd in the 24 team league in scoring (17 goals) and same ranking in conversion rate (11% is just a tad better than the Hounds woeful 8%).

As mentioned in the lead, Frank Yallop, who won two MLS Cup titles with San Jose Earthquakes in 2001 and 2003, may be among the most senior head coaches on the U.S. Soccer landscape.  Pittsburgh soccer fans may not be familiar with Yallop, but the Canadian native and former English Premier League standout has a remarkable 40 years in professional soccer as a player and coach at all levels of the game. Yallop played across the pond in England for 16 years with Ipswich Town in the Premier League and First Division, and later in Major League Soccer (MLS) with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, where, ironically, he was coached by none other than Pittsburgh soccer icon and the Riverhounds’ first-ever coach, John Kowalski.

It was with the San Jose Earthquakes from 2001-2003, where Yallop found his greatest success on the sidelines, winning a pair of MLS Cup titles.

He then spent two years coaching the Canadian National Team before returning to the United States in 2006 to coach the Los Angeles Galaxy. He continued his tenure in the MLS when in 2008 he returned to San Jose and later at the Chicago Fire from 2013 to 2015. Most recently, Yallop has been integral to the growth of USL Championship serving in coaching and leadership positions with Phoenix Rising FC, Fresno FC and Las Vegas Lights FC.

With Monterey Bay, he’s in year three of building a soccer club from the ground up.

It started with owner Ray Beshoff, an Irish-born California auto dealer with a passion for the game of soccer, moved his United Soccer League franchise from Fresno, invested more than $12 million to transform the university’s dilapidated stadium into a 6,000-seat soccer-specific venue where people would pay to come watch his team play.

On the field, it’s been a whirlwind, the first year was a massive struggle, but in 2023, MBFC ran out of steam at the end of the season, after a positive start, to finish off the playoff line by five points.

A couple of former Hounds who featured for Monterey Bay in recent seasons, including defender Hugh Roberts, the team captain a year ago, is gone, as is forward Christian Volesky.

The crop of new players on the roster that includes forwards Luther Archimède and Tristan Trager, midfielders Xavi Gnaulati and Pierce Gallaway, along with Carlos Guzman to bolster the back line — have brought mixed results.

Despite their struggles in scoring goals this season, much like last season, MBFC had another strong start to the season, with just one loss in its first eight matches, but since then, they’ve been an up-and-down club — with losses to another struggling Eastern Conference club — Hartford and yet they also knocked off the top side in the Western Conference, New Mexico United, 1-0, on June 2.

This game will mark a return to Highmark Stadium for former Hounds forward Alex Dixon, who scored for the opponents last year in the first-ever meeting between the clubs, a wild 2-2 draw at Monterey Bay’s home in Seaside, Calif.

At 34 years of age, Dixon remains an attacking threat, with a pair of goals this season.

The club’s leading scorer, Tristen Traeger, leads the way with six goals.

Looking to boost their struggling attack, MBFC made a deal with their neighbors in Major League Soccer, bringing on former Stanford star and 2022 MLS SuperDraft selection Ousseni Bouda on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes.

The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year back in 2019 could very well be in the 18 and inserted into the lineup for a MBFC squad that’s only scored four goals in the last eight.

MBFC are a team that has absorbed a lot of pressure, as noted by goalkeeper Antony Siaha’s (by far)  USL Championship leading 73 saves this season.

How Monterey Bay lined up last week vs Colorado Springs Switchbacks… 

Riverhounds Projected Lineup and Keys to Winning

The Hounds will have to get back to making their high press work — something that has been a part of their success under Lilley especially at Highmark Stadium.  This might be the match to do that.  Monterey Bay is not a great possession side.  While the Hounds are the league’s worst in terms of passing accuracy (74%) — Monterey is not far behind (77%) — and Pittsburgh will look to pressure their opponents and pounce on quick scoring chances.

They’ll have to not only pounce on chances when they come — but actually convert on them as that’s been the team’s achillies heel all season long.

With the addition of Enoch Musahgalusa, there’s been some promise in the past few matches as he’s created more shot attempts than any other Hounds’ attacker per 90 minutes this season. Robbie Mertz also has been lively in generating moments and extending possession.

There has to be a sense of urgency in the final third — as this homestand will provide Pittsburgh with a chance to jump back into playoff contention, as they only trail eighth place North Carolina by three points.

In last year’s lone match-up with Monterey Bay FC — Lilley countered Yallop’s 4-2-3-1, as the Hounds went with a 3-5-2 (3-5-1-1) formation that included a high attacking line of midfielders that included Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz and Griffin doing all the work underneath the top man, Albert Dikwa at the time.

The back line depth has proven to come through for the club for the most part this season, and Lilley has alternated between five and four in the back depending on opponents.

The Hounds have gone with rookie Jacob Randolph starting the last four matches in goal, but have to wonder if veteran Eric Dick will be given another chance to start a match, as this might be a good opportunity for a change at the position.

Here’s my projected starting XI for the Hounds vs Monterey Bay on Saturday… 

MATCH INFO

Riverhounds (3-8-6) vs. Monterey Bay FC (6-8-4)
Date: Saturday, July 6
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium
Tickets: Ticketmaster
Odds: Hounds -160 / Draw +280 / Monterey Bay +370 (FanDuel)
TV: KDKA+
Streaming: ESPN+
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #PITvMB and #HOUNDTAHN

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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