WHAT WE LEARNED: WEEK 6 RECAP – Riverhounds Still A Work In Progress

11059518_10153260050614146_6416594696173843284_nWhat did we learn from Sunday’s game that had a pretty wild ending between the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and NY Red Bulls II?

Await no more — here’s are the three things I learned…

STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS

Last week, after his team romped over Toronto 5-1, Mark Steffens felt like things were really coming together for the Riverhounds. He made the statement that he really liked that the team was starting to build some chemistry and that the best is yet to come.

A new opponent, NY Red Bulls II, presented a new challenge on Sunday for the Riverhounds.  And they came up short.

In some respects, the Riverhounds showed poise and ability to bounce back after difficult setbacks. Ultimately though, it was those setbacks that cost them a chance for a better result.

On a weekend when we were expecting a “Fight of the Century”, the Riverhounds went through a 95 minute slugfest of their own on Sunday with the NY Red Bulls II.   Here’s the blow-by-blow, using some boxing analogies, of Sunday’s action at Red Bull Arena….

  • The Riverhounds started out by slipping early and falling to the mat while trying to ward off a tricky attack (Fejiro Okiomah’s own goal gives the Baby Bulls the early 1-0 lead).
  • The Hounds get up off the mat, recover with a quick 1-2 combination (Kerr to Vincent for the equalizer).
  • As the match wears on, they stumble to get any rhythm going  — and just like that — absorb a big blow right to the gut (Manolo Sanchez’s header in the 66th minute for the 2-1 Red Bulls lead).
  • Again, Pittsburgh responded with a brilliant late counter punch (Danny Earls slide tackle pokes the ball to Kerr, who delivered a ball to Vincent who had enough room on the right side to bury his sixth goal of the year) to even things up.
  • Finally, in the waning moments, with the match hanging in the balance, they were knocked to the canvas by a round house left (-footed blast from Anthony Wallace to give the Baby Bulls the 3-2 lead in 94th minute).
  • As the precious seconds ticked away, the Riverhounds still managed to get back up, make one last valiant push to pull even (Drew Russell’s run to the endline that sent a ball that didn’t quite cross the goaline and was cleared away by Andrew Jean-Baptiste) — and just barely miss on connecting with a big punch.

Here’s how close Russell’s attempt got to crossing the goal line…

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Want to see it for yourself?   Here you go…

One of the Riverhounds loyal supporters tweeted after Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the NY Red Bull that maybe the only way they can become a winning team is if they get rid of stoppage time.

Food for thought. And maybe wishful thinking.   But the truth is — the really good teams finish strong. The Riverhounds are not quite there yet.

BABY BULLS BROUGHT SOME BIG BOYS TO THE PARTY

The Red Bulls II fielded seven of their MLS players on Sunday against the Riverhounds. Not getting much playing time for their senior team, the Baby Bulls have MLS veterans and budding young players like Sanchez, Jean-Baptiste and Wallace, all who were instrumental in the Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh.

Sanchez, the NYRBII first round Super Draft pick in 2015, has played in all seven NYRBII games, but is also on the senior team roster. He was responsible for the first two goals and drawing a near penalty kick in the first half.   Jean-Baptiste and Wallace are two examples of players who are buying their time on the senior club, but now getting a chance to see regular minutes each week in USL games.

Keep in mind, the Red Bulls are one of the deeper MLS teams, who are coming off a successful 2014 campaign, and started off 2015 unbeaten until Saturday night’s loss at New England. Both Jean-Baptiste and Wallace have played in MLS, and in the case of Wallace, has even seen the field for the U.S. Men’s National Senior team.

I think we saw a big difference between the Red Bulls and Toronto FC, in that Toronto really didn’t have many experienced players on the field in Pittsburgh last Saturday.   What we see from other MLS “two” teams will depend on a lot of factors.  Do they have a game that same day?  Is their senior roster experiencing injuries?

The talent is there – but the biggest issue with the Baby Bulls, and most MLS USL “two” teams is there lack of continuity and chemistry on a game-to-game basis that is so important in soccer. Going into Sunday’s match, according to my count, they fielded 23 different players in their lineup in their first six matches.

Mark down the date for the rematch – the Fourth of July game at Highmark Stadium.   Maybe we’ll have some fireworks before the Zambellis do their thing.

HOUNDS BACK LINE SHAKY

The Riverhounds defenders had a rough day on Sunday.

Matt Dallman looked a bit out of sync in his second start. He gave a few balls away playing right back. Then, in the 30th minute, he had to take down Sanchez who was moving into the box to his right, and Dallman clipped him right on the line.   It was very close to being called a penalty, but the Hounds averted danger. Dallman did get some services into the box and his passing was sharp, which is a big part of his game, but was eventually replaced in the second half.   It seems like it’s going to take him a bit longer to round into his top form.

Anthony Arena was battling hard in central defense, but maybe a bit too hard at times.   After a hard tackle, he was booked for his third yellow card of the season. Arena kept barking at the official after the call, prompting Steffens to give him the hook.

Sanchez’s was standing by the far post with no Hounds players near him on the second goal that he easily headed into the goal. That’s likely on the right back.

Willie Hunt seems to have some issues with speedy wing players, but is a crafty defender, who can adjust.   Pasher, like Dallman, will use his speed and come forward every chance he gets in Steffens’ system. Mike Green has been shuffling between midfield and back line – and did so within the game yesterday. And Sterling Flunder sat out again, but was available on the bench.

Okiomah’s own goal was costly – and set the tone for the Riverhounds having to play from behind most of the day. He completely lost control of his footing in putting that ball in the goal for the Baby Bulls. That’s two times now this year he’s been responsible for a goal – as he was called for a penalty in the box against Harrisburg that was converted.

On the game winner, the Riverhounds had enough players back, but didn’t mark Wallace, a left back who found space to sneak in on the back side to get to Jean-Baptiste’s pass and let loose that fabulous shot.

Steffens has said he would probably prefer to win 4-2 games, but at this rate, it might be putting a lot of pressure on their back line. With no shutouts in six games, the Hounds know they must play better in the back if they are going to be a contender in the USL’s Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh Soccer Report’s John Krysinsky  has covered the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and other sports — writing for Pittsburgh Sports Report, Riverhounds.com/USLsoccer.com and other publications.  Krysinsky is a former Head Soccer Coach at Point Park University, and has also coached at the High School level at North Catholic and Shady Side Academy.  You can follow his Riverhounds and Pittsburgh soccer coverage on Twitter @john.krysinsky 

 

 

 

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