Hounds squander early lead, tie Ottawa


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This Riverhounds team is almost really, really good.


They're not there yet, a point illustrated painfully and clearly in front of a rowdy, disappointed crowd Saturday night at Highmark Stadium, where the team drew Ottawa Fury FC, 2-2, moving its record to 2-2-7.

"I think we're playing pretty well against good teams, but we're making mistakes at critical times," Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley was saying after the match. "We're not managing the game as well as we would have liked."

You can say that again, coach.

Because early on, there was a lot of this:

Good vibes. Laughter. Cheering. Smoke bombs pouring across the turf, courtesy of the ever-boisterous Steel Army. That celebration came after Hounds midfielder Kevin Kerr opened the night's scoring with this absolute beauty from defender Ryan James.

And later there was a lot of this:

That's forward Neco Brett — who scored the Hounds' second goal off a feed from hometown kid Robbie Mertz — missing a PK and the follow-up chance late in the game. That kick would have almost certainly won the game, but it didn't. And yeah, the referees were terrible. Awful. The crowd knew it. I knew it. Lilley knew it.

"It's a tough game today, because I felt like..." Lilley paused for a solid five seconds before continuing, "You know, they got a lot of calls that there was not even contact. I felt like we were in a difficult situation all game with those moments."

Don't take Lilley's statement as an excuse. He's right. The Hounds received no favors from the officials in this one, but officiating alone doesn't cause a team to give up two goals in the span of five minutes. Seeking further clarification,  I used his mention of officiating as the entry for a follow-up.

All he did was shut down any notion that officiating was the problem before I could even finish my sentence. Watch and listen — and pay particular attention to the long pause he takes to gather his thoughts and to collect his emotions about halfway through:

Stuff like that matters. Lilley cares. The team cares. They're right there. They've been right there all year. Seven draws is just crazy. No. 17 Charlotte Independence has the second most at six, and no team in the top 10 has more than five.  It's starting to get old, and it's starting to add pressure to the team to convert ties into wins and to advance in the USL Eastern Conference standings, where they currently sit at No. 12.

Kerr feels it.

"We're craving it. We're working hard for it," Kerr was telling me after the game. "It feels like we've thrown a few away recently, but you've got to keep going. We made a couple silly mistakes. The world's not against us. There are things that we can take care of and we can fix. We can't wait forever to get our season better."

Put another, more visceral way, there's this from Lilley:

"We haven't been tight enough. And it's why we have a lot of draws and, you know... only two wins," he was saying. "We seem to be a resilient team because most teams that let someone off the hook struggle. We come back for more abuse it seems. We keep doing the same thing and just shake it off and play well again and put ourselves in good positions. I don't know why you would put yourself through it. I don't enjoy it."

Yep. We know, coach. We know.

• Want to add an extra dose of weird for the Hounds' season? Ottawa Fury FC's first goal came on a PK, and the second came on a clear blunder from goaltender Austin Pack. He made the initial save on Aidan Daniels' long-distance boot but failed to collect the rebound. The ball just... trickled across the line for the goal. Pack did make a late effort to stop it, but it was all just strange. It's unclear if he thought a teammate was coming to clear or if he simply didn't realize what was happening. At any rate, it was an unfortunate error noted by both Lilley and Kerr postgame that will need to be cleaned up as the team moves forward.

• Next up for the Hounds is Columbus Crew SC in Round 4 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. That goes down Wednesday, June 11, at 7 p.m. ET.

• Next up in league play for the Hounds is No. 11-ranked Atlanta United 2 Saturday, June 15, at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga.

• The Hounds' next home game, Saturday, June 22, against New York Red Bulls II, is blackout night. Break out the black shirt if you snag a ticket.


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