The Riverhounds first preseason under Bob Lilley has been a process — and one that the veteran coach continues to keep working through to prepare his team for the rigors of an unprecedented 32-game season that kicks off in two weeks.
There have been sluggish outings early on.
There have been some high scoring affairs, like the 4-2 win vs Akron a few weeks ago.
There were games played in adverse Winter weather, like the windy, freezing conditions at Ambrose Urbanic Field last Friday evening.
And then on Saturday, things got a bit testy.
The Hounds overcame a few careless fouls, and a physical match against in-state rival — the newly renamed Penn FC — for a 3-2 win that extended the club’s unbeaten preseason record to 8-0, with goals scored by Kevin Kerr, Joe Holland and Romeo Parkes.
“We’ve been moving in the right direction. We’ve made improvements every week, getting a lot sharper in the back, making sure everyone needs to be on the same page,” Dan Lynd, Hounds starting goalkeeper who played the first sixty minutes of the match. “Today, we gifted them two goals that might come back to bite us during the season. I suppose it’s good to make those mistakes now — so that we can learn from them — so won’t happen again. Overall, we should be happy with where we are.”
Indeed, the Hounds were clearly the better team throughout the match in terms of creating attacking chances and keeping possession — while toying with yet another formation — imploring a 4-1-4-1 — with a starting line-up that looked much like what the Hounds may be rolling out in the season opener in two weeks.
In a preseason heavy with friendlies against college competition, the Hounds have looked pretty impressive in its past two tests of sorts against fellow USL in-state opponents Penn FC and last week in a 2-0 win at Bethlehem Steel FC.
On Saturday, the Hounds and Penn FC traded chances in the match’s opening minutes before the Hounds broke through in the 11th minute.
Parkes received a looping ball in from Ray Lee, that was played right to his feet, then made some nifty moves in the box, but was tripped up by two defenders as he turned to shoot.
Kerr took the penalty kick and picked out the bottom left corner for his fourth goal of the preseason.
Then, things then got a little rancorous between the two in-state rivals.
Following a few hard challenges on both sides, the Hounds cleared away a corner kick attempt, and former City Islanders midfielder Muhamoud Dabo came out of the box to challenge for a ball, and was booked for a dangerous tackle.
While Penn FC set up its free kick attempt, one that they would actually convert to tie the score at 1-1, in the 24th minute as Jorge Rivera put in the equalizer, Lilley and Penn FC’s rookie coach Raoul Voss exchanged a few heated words on the sideline.
“It’s preseason — guys still getting in late for a couple of challenges,” Lynd, who played under Lilley in Rochester last year, acknowledged. “Harrisburg-Pittsburgh, a little rivalry too. We’ll clean up. I know Bob doesn’t like to give up silly fouls in the back. We did that a couple of times today. I think that’s something that can be cleaned up. It’s better to be getting into challenges than backing off.”
In the second half, the Hounds, with a mix of signed players along with some trialists, turned up its offensive attack and struck twice.
In the 52nd minute, Holland got tripped up in the box and scored in similar fashion to Kerr by finding the back of the net with a shot to the bottom left-corner and breaking the 1-1 tie.
The Hounds’ third and final goal came in the 68th minute when Thomas Vancaeyezeele, the lone trialist to start and play most of the match, found Parkes with a nice through-ball and Parkes split two defenders on a breakaway then used the outside of his left foot to place the shot past the charging Penn FC keeper.
In stoppage time, a handball in the box led to the match’s third penalty kick goal and the first for the opposition.
Next Saturday, March 17, the Hounds conclude their preseason schedule against Villanova University.
The 1:30 p.m. match at Highmark Stadium is free for all fans to attend.
DEEPER LOOK AT THE HOUNDS LINE-UP (4-1-4-1)
GK – Dan Lynd (Mike Kirk) –
D – Raymond Lee (Andrew Lubahn*), Todd Pratzner (Hugh Roberts), Joe Greenspan (Tobi Adewole), Jordan Dover (Caleb Duvernay*)
HOLDING MF – Mouhamed Dabo (Dover)
ATTACKING MF – Kevin Kerr (Bakie Goodman), Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Joe Holland (Todd Pratzner), Christiano François (Noah Franke*)
FORWARD – Romeo Parkes (François)
- With Kenardo Forbes still playing in MASL playoffs, and recent signee Ben Zamanski needing to get up to speed with his fitness and into sync with training with his new teammates, Dabo has been the primary option for the Hounds at holding mid.
- While he only was credited with one goal, Parkes created the first goal scoring chance, and is looking very much like the play maker that the Hounds are counting on him to be in getting behind defenses and creating havoc in the final third.
- Neco Brett was held out of action on Saturday due to an injury that was nagging him during the warm-ups. In the second half, Lilley opted to go with François at the forward spot.
- Alongside Greenspan at center back, Pratzner started, while Roberts and then Adewole each played in the second half. The competition for playing time at the center back next to Greenspan will continue through the beginning of the regular season. While the Hounds only have two outside backs, Lee and Dover, Adewole has played some this preseason, and they may sign another player or two at that position.
- Of all the trialists, it was Vancaeyezeele who stood out on Saturday, and may be a versatile enough player that Lilley could keep who can play both in the midfield and provide depth at outside back.
- I will have much more from my full interview with Lynd, and goalkeeper coach Hunter Gilstrap, most likely early next week. Lynd started for the fifth straight preseason match but the Hounds have made it clear that all three goalkeepers, Lynd, Kyle Morton and Mike Kirk are continuing to complete for starts heading into the season.
- As of now, here’s my projected opening day starting XI:
GK – Lynd; D – Lee, Dover, Greenspan, Roberts; MF / F- Kerr, François, Holland, Dabo, Brett / Parkes
QUOTABLE – HUNTER GILSTRAP ON WORKING WITH THREE KEEPERS
“I think early on, when we made the decision to sign all three prior to the season starting, we were comfortable — thinking that these three guys will be able to do it for us,” Gilstrap said after the match. “More so than any other position on the field, we felt good about goalkeepers early on. There’s a little danger in that, we kind of made our bed, all the guys were signed before we even played games. You are going to see guys make mistakes in the preseason, they have to feel a rhythm, they have to get comfortable again. It’s an enviroment where it’s competitive every day, and competitive in not naming a starter, or a number two or three. There’s stress in that. Those things will flush there way out as we get into the regular season. These guys are very much on edge, and there’s no certainty right now for any of them. It’s been tricky to manage, as it’s a highly psychological position. Big picture, is that there’s going to be growing pains. We’re still all on front end of getting to where we want to be.”