Stagnant Hounds ‘fortunate’ to draw Louisville

A main story on the season is that the Riverhounds are undefeated at home. That story continues after the team's 0-0 draw with Louisville City FC, but not in the way the team would have liked -- or ultimately needed.

Wanting to move into the top four ahead of playoffs, and currently sitting in the Eastern Conference's fifth spot, this draw kept the Hounds stagnant instead of putting them into position to leap teams ahead of them next weekend.

Knowing coach Bob Lilley wanted and expected more. Seeing the more-passionate-than-usual post-game chat with his team on the field. Watching as he took his hat to his hand while pointing and screaming throughout the match, unsuccessfully willing his players into better form.

It all led me to asking him if this draw -- one he was clearly not content with -- was "good enough" with North Carolina also drawing on the night, meaning they wouldn't drop in the standings.

I got the passionate response I was hoping for:

Vintage Lilley. And he's right. The Hounds should only look forward, and they got caught standing still.

It's not like the Hounds were without chances. A few great chances, in fact. This could have easily been a win for the home side. It would have been three stolen points, but they count the same.

The first image at the top of this piece is of Kevin Kerr reacting after his power header was deflected wide of the net. That attempt came not long after a string of corner kicks ... the first of which I could hear Kenardo Forbes shout "R.J.!" for Ryan James as the defender made a run inspired by the training ground. His same run on the consecutive corners opened space for more chances.

Then, in the run of play, Steevan Dos Santos put a boot on a well placed ball by Kerr, but his volleyed attempt was sent wide by a reactive save from Louisville keeper Chris Hubbard.

Forbes also had a pair of chances on free kicks from just outside the 18-yard box. The first was straight on from inches outside the area, the second off-center to the keeper's left, but neither found the target.

Regardless, chances are just that -- chances. The Hounds finished with a 15-8 shot advantage, the majority being blocked or sent off target, but couldn't find the net.

A split possession first half looked like the game could go either way, honestly. But it was the lopsided 62 percent possession to the visitors in the second that made the game feel like the Hounds were lucky to even earn a draw.

The most concerning part of that lopsided second-half possession was that the Hounds looked nearly eager to award Louisville more of it. At almost every opportunity to settle play and break from defending, the Hounds instead gifted a long ball up the pitch and waited for the next attacking sequence.

"We're easy to mark. I mean, there wasn't a willingness to move when we had the ball," Lilley said of the lack of possession. "So guys are getting caught dribbling. They're closing us and nobody is available early, so we're having to hit it long. And then when a longer ball is hit, you have to work to get into the areas to win the next ball. Louisville probably won 80 percent of the balls in the middle of the park. That's the bottom line."

It took timely tackles from Joe Greenspan, blocks from the defense as a whole and a point blank save from Kyle Morton to keep it even through the pressure. Ultimately, the defense did more than it should have needed.

I asked Morton about the extra efforts from his defensive partners, particularly needing to bail the team out from the continuously gifted opportunities in the second half:

"I thought we did a really good job, blocked a couple of shots in the box," he told me. "I think we just have to improve. I thought the first half we had the ball and had some chances, and the second half we kind of let our foot off the gas. I think they could have punished us."

Thomas Vancaeyezeele was unavailable due to being out on international duty. But he wouldn't have won it alone. Lilley felt handcuffed to leaving Dos Santos out there, fearful his team couldn't defend a set piece without his size to contribute.

Still, it wasn't a team-on-the-field issue, but an effort-on-the-field issue. One they'll need to work out before next Saturday's meeting with Charleston. It's a team they should handle, but it's also a team looking for a way into the playoff picture. The Hounds can't afford a repeat of this week's performance.

That one's at 7 p.m. right here again at Highmark Stadium. See you there.


To continue reading, log into your account: