On Sunday, the Riverhounds played what was probably their most entertaining match of the preseason in defeating University of Akron, 4-2.
The teams exchanged four first half goals before the home pro club surged ahead in the final 45 minutes.
Taking a look at the bigger picture, after three weeks of preseason the Hounds are prodding along — and for head coach Bob Lilley, it’s all part of the process.
“We’re getting there. We haven’t put a full game together yet, but I like that we played with some urgency at the beginning, and despite giving up a goal,” Lilley said after the friendly against a college club that made it to the NCAA Final Four last December.
“We took step forward today. The games have gotten tougher. We have another two good games next weekend (at Pitt on Friday, then travel to Bethlehem Steel FC on Sunday), and then we’ll know a lot more.”
The Hounds were controlling possession throughout much of the first thirty minutes as they came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation (more on that below), but were still a bit sloppy in connecting passes — and getting forward with any efficiency.
Lilley has said from the since arriving in Pittsburgh, he will do things differently than he did in Rochester, where he built some of the strongest defensive units seen in U.S. pro soccer in the past 20 years.
Lilley feels that he’s in the process of building a roster that will have enough explosive players for the Hounds to be attack minded.
While the Hounds in recent years have been mostly aligned to specific formations (most recently Mark Steffens‘ 4-2-3-1 and Dave Brandt’s 4-2-2-2) — under Lilley, this will likely be a team that is constantly adjusting tactically with each game and opponent.
Don’t get used to any one formation when watching the Hounds this year under Lilley’s direction.
“We have a number of good forwards, there are four of them on the roster, plus some people consider Christiano (François) one too,” Lilley explained. “Where they line-up, how we utilize them depends on opponents, on how we utilize our midfielders.”
After a quiet first thirty minutes on Sunday, things got pretty interesting.
First, the Hounds allowed the Zips to break through the left side of the box for the game’s first goal.
Then Kevin Kerr scored a fabulous second effort tally after he was fed a nice ball ball for a breakaway. When a speedy Akron defender cut down Kerr’s run and stopped an initial shot attempt, the veteran volleyed a spinning ball over the extended arms of the Akron keeper.
Here’s a look at all of the Hounds’ goals on Sunday.
Despite surrendering its first goal since the first preseason match against Spring Arbor, Lilley said his defending unit is still a work in progress.
“Defensively our biggest issue is that we’re not collective yet. We getting efforts, we’re getting energy,” Lilley said. “There’s always a loose link in the chain that’s causing the problems sometimes.”
One player the Hounds expect to be a steel-like link in the back line this season is Joe Greenspan, who played 10 games with them on loan from Minnesota United FC a year ago.
Again on Sunday, playing with the starting eleven, Greenspan stood out and was in command in the back, not fazed in one-on-one situations and was the vocal leader among the group.
Greenspan has already jumped into a role as one of the team’s primary center backs and as Lilley’s counting on, the former Naval Academy standout will be a key player in the core of the back line.
“Every preseason it’s long days. It’s a lot of work,” Greenspan said. “In the USL there’s a lot of turnover, and here this is a pretty new group. We’re feeling each other out, figuring out the systems we want to play, but overall I think it’s going well, and we’re growing each day.”
Lilley reached out to Greenspan soon after taking the job in Pittsburgh.
“I was really excited when Bob reached out to me in the Fall,” Greenspan added. “He really laid out what his vision was going to be, and how I would fit into that. I am excited about that because for the first time in my professional career, a coach came to me and told me ‘here’s what I want to do, and here’s your role in it’.”
It’s clear that the 6-foot-6 Greenspan has attributes in his game that Lilley is looking to build around.
“We feel like he’s got an edge to his game, he’s a young player. He’s trying to find his identity, and he’s going to be asked more this year than he’s been asked any time in his career,” Lilley said. “He’s resilient. I need someone in the back to lead, and that’s the expectation. He’s been handling a lot of intel from me.”
While the Hounds defense is still a work in progress despite Greenspan’s rock-solid presence, they turned up the attack a bit more at the end of the first half.
After Kerr’s goal, Romeo Parkes, who Lilley acknowledged a few weeks ago was hoping would start to create more chances in using his speed and skill in open spaces, took a touch near midfield and made a run to the edge of the box, where he found Neco Brett to his left. Brett played a ball right back to fellow Jamaican just inside the 18, and with a solid one-time strike from Parkes, the Hounds were back in the lead, 2-1.
One of those ‘loose links’ in the chain fence Lilley spoke of after the game contributed to allowing Akron’s second goal.
Trialist and former All-USL defender Hugh Roberts completely whiffed on a clearance, leaving the ball and a path to the goal uncontested for Akron to level the game in the 42nd minute.
Lilley had a 15 minutes worth of messages for his players at the half.
Here was one of them he shared afterwards.
“Offensively we’re not recognizing opportunities to get behind. We’re pulling it back and letting the defense get reorganized,” Lilley explained. “And we have work in every area to do.”
In typical preseason fashion, the Hounds made a host of substitutions at the beginning of the second half and in the 60th minute.
Among the new faces in the line-up, newly acquired Dennis Chin, who broke through to give the Hounds a 3-2 lead in the 62nd minute after a ball in from a corner kick went to the near post area. At first, defender Nick Groenewold poked the ball past the keeper and across the box — leaving it to Chin — who put a one-time finish into the back of the net.
“Good to see Chin get a goal today. Some of the things, with his movement — being able to get behind defenders,” Lilley added. “He’s going to take some time, he just got here, but his movement and his ideas are going to a plus for us.”
Midfielder Joe Holland provided a dazzling final tally — delivering a free kick from about 25 yards outside the left side of the box that bent and placed perfectly into the upper left corner.
Still, for the Hounds, a lot of work remains.
The Hounds have 14 players signed to the roster — and will likely be adding about five or six more to the roster in the coming weeks.
“We’re making progress,” Lilley said. “We have basically four weeks left to get it together. You have to get to the final step to see over the other side of the mountain. Right now, we’re still climbing the mountain, and we’re still rolling the rock up the hill.”
Here’s a look at the line-ups the Hounds used on Sunday as they lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation along with some additional notes on the trialists below:
First Half – Dan Lynd (G) – Ritchie Duffie, Joe Greenspan, *Hugh Roberts, Ray Lee – *Dom Oduro, *Mouhamed Dabo – Christiano François, Romeo Parkes, Kevin Kerr – *Neco Brett
Second Half – Kyle Morton (G) – Tobi Adewole, *Nick Groenewold, *Todd Pratzner, Ray Lee (*Nijee Cooper) – Oduro (*Joseph Holland), Dabo (Jordan Dover) – François (*Colin Stripling), Dennis Chin, * Howell – Kay Banjo
CLOSER LOOK AT THE TRIALISTS
Duffie – a Hound a year ago, but on trial, played right back in 1st half and was beaten a few times, and the first goal came on his side.
Roberts – the former Richmond Kickers and Steel FC standout was paired alongside Greenspan in the first half, and had a glaring mistake that led to goal.
Oduro & Dabo – were paired as the two holding midfielders in the starting lineup, and both provided solid work-rate, connected well with the wings and the backs. Oduro showed some explosive capabilities.
Brett – once again, the former Robert Morris standout was instrumental at the top of the attack, with a nice give-and-go with Parkes for the second goal, and also provided the pass to spring loose Kerr on his goal.
Groenewold & Pratzner – paired up in the second half at center back, and had a solid showing. Groenewold contributed to the third goal with a quick reaction to send ball to Chin.
Howell – like Duffie, a Hound last year who’s trying to make the team, was on left wing, and showed a few decent moments.
Holland – did you see that goal? Enough said. He’s been solid for much of the preseason, but word has it that Lilley is hoping he can be a better two-way midfielder.
Stripling & Cooper – came into the match later — after the 60th minute. Didn’t do anything to stand out, but were solid on ball and were part of solid second half unit showing.
Bakie Goodman – did not play — but has had strong showing thus far in camp.
SOCCER SCRIBE’s 91st MINUTE
- On Sunday, it was yet another game where Chevy Walsh was in attendance, sitting the stands. However, this time it was after the USL announced on Friday that the Jamaican striker’s contract dispute with the Hounds was ruled in his favor. Essentially, the Hounds will have to absorb his contact which was through this season, though the Hounds have opted to not include him on the team’s roster as the new coaching staff didn’t want to bring him back. As Lilley indicated to me, he is satisfied with attacking players he currently is working with on the roster and in camp. There’s nothing else to this story — although some folks may want to believe there is.
- I am looking forward to sharing more material later this week including a few features after interviews from today’s scrimmage with Lilley and Greenspan — and previous interview with Kerr.
- And finally, I would like to add a small note to acknowledge that — if you didn’t already know — my colleague, and friend Matt Grubba, who has also been a regular on the Hounds beat in recent years with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, will be taking on the Hounds beat (along with Pitt men’s hoops and football) for DK Pittsburgh Sports.
- After turning them down a few times before, it was a positive and unique opportunity for me to cover the Hounds beat with DKPS last year, and into the past off season. However, due to a number of other obligations, including my full-time job, in addition to the subscriber-based site’s ambitions to employ a full-time staff person to take on the Hounds beat, I will no longer be handling any Hounds coverage for DKPS.
- That being said, I am really looking forward to sharing some announcements and being part of some exciting developments coming down the pike with regards to coverage of the Hounds — and the entire Pittsburgh soccer scene in the coming weeks. All I can say is — stay tuned!