RICHMOND, Va. — Momentum isn’t on the Riverhounds side after going the past five matches in all competitions without a win, which puts some added importance on their 7 p.m. Saturday meeting with the Richmond Kickers.
With a 14-day break until their next match, June 16 against the New York Red Bulls II, it could be a long two weeks of trying to figure things out in training if the Hounds (4-1-6) can’t come away with a result in their one trip this season to the Old Dominion.
Bob Lilley said after Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Nashville SC that his team had been getting by well enough to get at least draws, but he hopes the first league loss will be a “wake-up call” to help drive home some of the areas his team needs to improve if they want to be contenders for a top-four place and a USL title in October.
1. Anticipation needs to improve to close down space.
One of Lilley’s ongoing complaints has been gaps developing between his midfield and defense. While the natural tendency is to assume this is because the midfield isn’t getting back to help defend, it’s not always that simple.
Looking back on the Nashville match, Lilley cited a few instances where center back Tobi Adewole was hanging near the midfield stripe while the Hounds were in possession deep into Nashville territory. The problem, Lilley said, is that there were no Nashville forwards near Adewole, who could have been in a more effective position by pushing up near a Nashville player or working toward space to possibly receive the ball.
A second, similar instance happened near the end of the game when Jordan Dover was moved to right back. The Hounds were in possession close to the corner flag, but Dover was nearly 40 yards away from providing support for a backward pass from Romeo Parkes and Neco Brett, who were basically playing 2-on-2 out wide. Lilley was shouting to Dover from the bench, but by the time Dover got into play, Nashville had broken up the attack.
Lilley made it clear he wasn’t singling those players out, as it has been a problem all over the field during the Hounds’ recent winless run. And on the field at Richmond’s City Stadium, which is slightly longer and wider than Highmark with a slower, natural surface, the Hounds need to anticipate and start closer to play, otherwise they will be making long recovery runs to track back all game.
2. Avoid the halftime lull.
The past two matches have seen the Hounds have their worst spell of play immediately after halftime.
Against Penn FC, it didn’t end up costing them the match, but it did cost them about 25 minutes of creating chances to score. Against Nashville, the result was giving up too much of the space described earlier, which led to counterattack chances, which in turn led to the corner kick that set up Brandon Allen‘s 69th-minute goal.
“It was another decent performance, but I think the first 20 minutes of the second half, we weren’t defending. But our backs were so deep there was acres of space in the midfield,” Lilley said. “I just don’t think we were getting out quick enough, and I don’t know if our front guys were getting back enough to help.”
Why the Hounds have come out flat in the second half has been a mystery, but it’s one Lilley wants to solve quickly. In seven May matches, the Hounds outscored opponents 6-3 in the first half but were outscored 5-1 after the interval.
3. Early confidence could be key.
History between the two teams, especially when meeting in Richmond, shows an early goal could be in the works.
The Hounds last won at City Stadium in 2015, when Lebo Moloto and Miro Cabrilo had the visitors ahead 2-0 after just 18 minutes. The next season saw one of the most sadly flukish games in Hounds history, when Richmond took an early 2-0 lead on own goals just four minutes apart, and last season it was Fred Owusu Sekyere who put the Kickers ahead 1-0 in the 15th minute.
Adding to that, the Kickers this season have allowed 16 goals in just nine USL matches, so an early Hounds tally would both relieve the guests’ scoring woes and could give a “not again” feeling to the Kickers’ back line. With just four wins all-time in 20 trips to Richmond, any boost to the Hounds will be a welcome one.