With fifteen games down and fifteen games to go — I really wish I could offer Pittsburgh soccer fans a more positive outlook for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
The Riverhounds (2-9-4, 10 pts) followed a similar script from much of the season when they lost 2-0 on Sunday to expansion Bethlehem Steel FC at Goodman Stadium on the campus of Lehigh University.
The same old story included a pair of defensive breakdowns that led to goals by Cory Burke and Leo Fernandes— and an attack that brings shades of promise, but ultimately fizzles in quality and occasional missed chances.
With this result, the Hounds have:
- Been shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 2014 .
- Remain in 13th place (out of 14 teams) in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
- have not won road game in eight tries
- tied with last-place Montreal for least goals scored (14) in all of USL
- two wins are at home against, against two Canadian teams that have struggled in USL (FC Montreal and Toronto FC II)
- are minus -10 overall in goal differential
Here are my post-game/midseason takeways which don’t paint a pretty picture.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
The talk from coaches and players continues to elude to potential differences in results in terms of a play here or play there — and the need to overcome a “losing mentality” as Kevin Kerr said after the game to DK on Sports’ Matt Welch.
Frankly, I am not sure what else can be said from coach Dave Brandt‘s perspective as he has tried to will this team into developing a “winning mentality”.
With a half season in the books, the team’s body of work suggests personnel have simply not been good enough — and coaching change after eight games has not provided the recipe for a turnaround to the team’s fortunes.
On Sunday at Goodman Stadium — the Riverhounds lineup included some of the usual core group of players that started the season, along with three starters (Danny Earls, Jack Thompson and Ryan Adeyele) who were not even on the team a month ago.
In addition, Brandt continues to rotate his goalkeepers like it’s preseason — opting to take turns with starting Mauricio Vargas and Hunter Gilstrap in goal (more on that in a bit). Gilstrap got the start Sunday, after Vargas’ impressive shutout performance against Harrisburg on Monday.
Kevin Kerr, Lebo Moloto, Corey Hertzog and Zak Boggs are all quality players who are proven at this level– and yet — somehow they’re not producing and don’t provide enough of a dangerous attacking presence for this year’s team. Each player can be a solid contributor to a winning USL team — and maybe one that has better chemistry as they’ve seen lots of combination of players inserted into the line-up around them.
Last year, Moloto came on strong, finishing with six goals and seven assists.
Kerr had a breakout season in terms of his offensive contributions — with ten goals and nine assists in 2016.
This year the pair have combined for two goals and two assists.
“Kevin (Kerr) said it a number of times to me, including a few minutes ago: Goals change games,” Brandt told Welch.
“The fact that we missed two or three very good chances in the first half, if those go in it’s a very different game.”
Yeah — that’s been the story all season.
But they can’t change games, unless they actually score goals.
The Hounds had two pretty dynamic goal scorers who were with the team going into the season.
Now it seems like they don’t have any.
One of those two goal scorers was Romeo Parkes, who scored five goals in the team’s first six games when they were still coming together — and earned three road draws. Even in games when the Hounds were outplayed early in 2016, Parkes was a constant threat.
Parkes’ now infamous ejection, kicking of Karl Oiumette and subsequent termination of his contract within 12 hours, left the Hounds attack in shambles.
We can also see now how valuable Rob Vincent was to the Hounds — and to the success of his teammates before he signed with DC United in March.
It seems pretty clear that Moloto and Kerr are not the same without Vincent. Even in Vincent’s one appearance with the Hounds, on loan from DC, he was the best player on the field and with his first real look from distance scored against Charleston from 27 yards out.
That’s what the Hounds under Brandt are missing: a goal scoring threat from distance — and in the box — and a group of players on the same page.
All the motivational speeches and line-up changes in the world can’t make up for good chemistry, goal scoring and talent — both which are clearing missing from the Riverhounds at this point in 2016.
On the defending side of things, with a team that is not scoring many goals, the Hounds can’t afford to make costly mistakes on the defensive end.
Brandt continues to move people in and out of spots, and has kept his most experienced defender, Willie Hunt, out of the starting XI. The team picked up a new player with signing of Adeleye, and keeps shuffling the starting goalkeepers.
The first goal was unfortunate — and could have been avoided.
Moloto under pressure, tried to play the ball back to one of the center defenders — but both of them seemed to converge on the ball, and collided with Fernandes. Derrick Jones rose up to head the ball toward the right of the box in Burke’s direction. Unmarked Burke quickly raced toward the end line, and from a difficult angle snuck his shot under Gilstrap’s leg for the early Steel FC goal.
Overall, it was sloppy defending to say the least — as marking in the box was poor, Moloto made the decision to face his own goal with the ball, and Gilstrap was beat to the ball — and then by Burke’s low shot from a difficult angle.
Gilstrap made a few decent saves in the game and defense played well enough to keep the Hounds in the game for stretches, but they didn’t have help from a lackluster attack.
The starting back line included Sergio Campbell, Adeleye (at the other center back spot), Mike Green and Marshall Hollingsworth. Hunt entered in the second half as a sub, after being benched for Monday’s game.
In stoppage time, Campbell, who’s been one of the team’s better players this season, got beat and was called for a foul in the box that set up the second penalty kick goal by Fernandes — who also suited up for MLS Philadelphia Union on Saturday.
THREE GAME HOMESTAND PROVIDES TWINKLE OF HOPE
With three home games coming up in a stretch of 10 days — the Hounds will have one last chance to make a run at salvaging the season and make a run at the playoffs.
At the moment, the Hounds now sit 13 points behind the playoff line (Richmond, Wilmington and Orlando City B all sit in three-way tie for 7th place with 23 points). Bethlehem Steel FC, Toronto FC II and Harrisburg all sit in front of them as well.
The three games are against Richmond this Thursday, then Keystone Derby’s second leg vs Harrisburg on Sunday, and finally Charlotte the following Saturday. Anything less than seven points — and that will pretty much assure that the rest of the season may be a lost cause.
A win against Harrisburg will be important too — as the Hounds can get a leg up in keeping the Keystone Derby Cup in Pittsburgh for another year. The teams played to a scoreless tie in their first encounter on July 4, and will have a final match in Harrisburg on August 27.