It's been more than a calendar year since the Riverhounds have lost at Highmark Stadium.
And somehow, if I'm being candid, it felt like it might take even longer than that on this otherwise sweetly summery Saturday night for them to poke through a Memphis 901 FC side so passive one would think they were getting penalized by the touch. But the Hounds persisted, poked through and ran up precisely the type of rout -- 4-0 -- they should have.
“We’re getting better. We’ve been building up," Bob Lilley, the head coach, would say afterward. “Hopefully, we keep taking care of games like this. We don’t have to keep all of the games interesting.”
That's about as blunt as it gets. But that's also about right. Memphis has won four of 20 matches, and it's mindboggling after witnessing this that they've won that many.
Still, I don't intend to strip credit where deserved: The Hounds utterly dominated in attempted shots, 23-4, and shots on target, 11-1, as well as holding a 58.1 possession percentage.
"We played the way we should," Kevin Kerr, midfielder and captain, told me. "Sometimes when you're facing a team that's playing their style, you can get frustrated, but you just have to keep pushing."
"Keep going. Keep going," was how fellow midfielder Kenardo Forbes described it.
Which is how it unfolded: After two early golden chances, including an insane five-on-none in the Memphis box -- a terribly timed offside trap by the visitors -- that didn't result in a shot, Tobi Adewole headed home this corner in the 27th minute:
And in injury time of the first half, the 47th minute, this pulsating sequence ...
... saw Steevan Dos Santos bang one from distance off the bar before Robbie Mertz's follow-up redirected dramatically upward for the 2-0 lead.
"Steevan almost knocked the goal up out of the ground," Lilley said, and he wasn't exaggerating. Watch that part again.
But here's the play I most want to highlight, Jordan Dover's deft chip of a through-ball from Forbes in the 65th minute:
Watch the buildup. The patience. The precision. Kerr's look from the perimeter. Forbes' head fake, followed by the feed. The Hounds completed 570 passes in the match -- Memphis had 417, for perspective -- and connected on 71.9 percent of those. Independent of the opponent, that's a high grade of soccer, one befitting a team that's now won three in a row, seven of the past nine, and has an overall record of 9-3-8 that's moved them into sixth in the USL's 18-team Eastern Conference. The top eight qualify for the playoffs, and the top four get home field advantage.
I asked Lilley about that buildup:
I asked Dover, too.
"It's huge when you can do that," he replied. "It sets a tone for the whole game. You can always find confidence from having buildup like that."
It's promising. For right now, let's leave it there. Because the Hounds haven't been a slick passing team, second-lowest in the conference, and they need to demonstrate better movement, better accuracy as they progress. This is doubly true of the middle of the pitch. But if they do, so many other components to their game are already in place that they can be legitimately dangerous in the playoffs.
Dos Santos' finish of a Ryan James cross in the 69th accounted for the final goal.
Also extended was the Hounds' increasingly remarkable regular-season home unbeaten streak, now 10-0-9 since a 1-0 loss to the Charleston Battery on July 21, 2018. There was a home loss, of course, in the playoffs to Bethlehem Steel FC.
Next up is the conference's cellar dweller: Swope Park Rangers (3-10-7), next Saturday, 7 p.m. at Highmark Stadium.
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