A new season, same result for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds against a familiar opponent.
The Riverhounds came up short in season opener, 1-0, against the defending USL Champions Rochester Rhinos on a cold, rainy Saturday night at Highmark Stadium .
Early in the match in the 7th minute, Rochester took advantage on ball played by Rhinos midfielder Marcos Ugarte that skipped past Riverhounds center back Sergio Campbell. Rhinos forward Christian Volesky got behind Campbell and into the box, then chipped the ball over Hounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap for the early 1-0 lead.
“The ball got past Sergio there, and it gave (Volesky) an opportunity to get a little chip on it,” said Mark Steffens, Riverhounds Head Coach.
“I think it was more weather conditions that led to that, but we can’t let that happen.”
Riverhounds had a few decent chances of the first half, including shot on a deflection from Steven Okai in the 23rd minute, and a ball from Drew Russell on the right flank to an unmarked Kevin Kerr in the back of the box, but Kerr’s one-time volley sailed over the bar.
For much of the first half, the Hounds had a difficult time solving the Rhinos well-organized midfield and back line.
The Riverhounds made one change after halftime, bringing on Corey Hertzog at forward for Lebo Moloto, who struggled a bit after nursing a groin injury in practice earlier in the week.
Immediately, the Hounds created a few solid chances — thanks to crosses from the right side. Jordan Murrell played a ball into Hertzog that was stopped by Rochester’s goalkeeper Adam Grinwis.
In the 64th minute, Rochester center back Vasilis Apostolopoulos was booked for a boot into Hertzog’s midsection — providing the Hounds with free kick from 22 yards.
Kerr’s perfectly placed ball into the center of the box found Hertzog who’s header was cleared by Grinwis, and couldn’t convert the deflection either as the ball sailed to the right of the post.
After Murrell sent a dangerous ball toward the goal from the left side — about 45 yards from goal — the Hounds struggled for the rest of the second half to sustain an attack despite Rochester sitting back.
Same Old Story vs Rochester
There’s a reason why Rochester were 2015 USL Champions –and are a tough team to beat.
Make one mistake — and they’ll make you pay.
If you give up a goal, especially early in the match and it becomes more difficult to come from behind.
“It takes the wind out of you a little bit,” said Kerr.
“After seven weeks of training and preseason, you come in with all that energy, and expectation, it does take wind out of you to give up a goal that early.”
There’s no doubt that Sergio Campbell could have been able to make a better play on the ball that got away from him, and found the feet of Christian Volesky — who beat Hunter Gilstrap with a terrific, bending chip.
We made one mistake, and it cost us, said Steffens.
After taking the early lead, Rochester was content to sit back, and make things difficult for the Hounds to generate an attack. The Riverhounds started Zak Boggs at forward, and it seemed as if every ball played in the air in his direction — there were three Rhinos defenders there to deny any touch — and redirect it away.
“They don’t play too much football, but they don’t let you play much football either,” said Kerr.
“They’re big strong boys. They work hard. They win a lot of second balls. That’s something we didn’t do well enough tonight.
“To win against Rochester you really have to get that first goal. That’s a team that can defend. They showed that last year. We knew it was going to be tough from 1-0 down. We did have a response, but we were unfortunate in the end.
For the Riverhounds — it’s a tough test to start the season against a team like Rochester especially as they are still figuring things out and building things as a possession based team.
But the silver lining was the second half.
“If we play the way we did in the second half — and convert those goals — I really like our chances, “said Mark Steffens, Riverhounds Head Coach.
Hounds Need Some Time To Get Clicking
In post-game comments, coach Steffens, Marshall Hollingsworth and Kerr all agreed that the team came out a bit too tentative from the start.
Steffens was disappointed in his team’s performance in the first half, but seemed encouraged by what he saw in the second half when things opened up a bit more.
“We came out a little too slow. The conditions didn’t help,” said Steffens.
“We’re a high possession team and we have to play better than that from the beginning.”
The starting eleven and four subs — it seemed they didn’t fire on all cylinders as Steffens would like them.
The best attacking unit was the group out there early in the second half, when he moved Boggs to the right side, Hollingsworth to the left — moved Kerr into the center attacking midfield spot — and just like that they were able to generate a few nice chances on goal.
Later, after bringing on Alex Harlley and Romeo Parkes, they weren’t able to generate the same build up and quality chances they had in the early part of the second half.
Steffens will continue to try different things — and strive to build more chemistry in the next few weeks.
“There’s a lot of new faces on the team. It’s going to take some time to develop chemistry. If we play like we did in the second half we’ll win our share of games,” said Steffens.
Maybe seeing a Harrisburg team that has already lost its first two games next week will be the tonic that the Hounds need to get things going.
Crew Loanee Hollingsworth Was Everywhere
The Riverhounds had better hope that Columbus Crew will be patient and willing to let its 2016 Second Round SuperDraft selection Marshall Hollingsworth get a full season of play in USL, because he was a force on the field Saturday night.
“Marshall was one of the best players on the field tonight,” raved Kerr.
“When you work that hard, you’re never going to have a bad game.”
He started the match on the right flank — providing speed and ability to get to the end line where he created a few crosses and able to get the ball into the box.
His closing speed and work-rate was non-stop throughout the match as he drew a number of fouls and won numerous balls against a strong, physical team that wasn’t backing down. He also showed his versatility, moving to the left side when Hertzog came on — and Zak Boggs moved to the right. And later in the match, after another substitution, Alex Harlley, Hollingsworth moved to left back.
“I thought I settled down enough — and played my best at left back,” said Hollingsworth.
“I was definitely tentative at first, and we were having some trouble keeping possession, playing too many balls in the air in the first half. I wanted to make sure I was working hard and doing what I could to make plays.”
His play reminded me of Brian Ownby when he played for a stint with the Riverhounds on loan from Houston a few years back. It will be interesting to see how Steffens utilizes Hollingsworth going forward.
I know this much — it will be hard to keep him off the field.
Referee: Leland Grant Assistants: Sean Regan, Nathaniel Buck
Fourth Official: Charles Murphy
The Riverhounds (0-1-0) will host Keystone Derby rivals, Harrisburg City Islanders (0-2-0) on Saturday, April 9 at Highmark Stadium. Harrisburg has lost both matches this year.
The teams met four times in 2015 — with the Hounds winning three of four including the memorable “Miracle on the Mon” come-from-behind match and a playoff/Turnpike Cup clinching victory at Harrisbug in the last game of the season.