The Nightingale: Louisville

The Nightingale: Louisville

By Richard Nightingale

“ The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy it’s victim” – Sun Tzu (Art of war)

A moment of lapse defending from Pittsburgh saw Louisville City take all three points on Saturday. Louisville dispossessed Maloney who was making his debut on loan from Columbus and a well placed cross from Brian Ownby found a grateful Spencer to tap in from two yards out after just seven minutes. While Maloney lost the ball both Okai and Souto in the Pittsburgh midfield failed to react quickly enough and get back goal-side of their ‘runners’. That forced Abubakar at the heart of the Pittsburgh defense to leave his marker, Spencer and go the ball. To be fair Ownby had multiple options for the cross that would have resulted in a goal but it was Spencer he chose and picked out expertly.

A decisive counter attack, just like the well timed swoop of a falcon.

It’s been both an encouraging and frustrating last two weeks for Pittsburgh. We expected them to take care of Harrisburg and Toronto at home. They did, job well done. The road win in Ottawa was one I didn’t see coming and thought a point would be massive. Three wins on the bounce in league play and up to third in the Eastern Conference. Not top flight opponents but you still have to go out and beat any opponent. Lot of momentum, confidence must have been high.

Then loosing on the road mid-week to an NPSL team in the US Open Cup. You knew once Nick Thompson was starting that the focus wasn’t there. Kerr and Hertzog on the bench. Pittsburgh was awful, deserved to get beat and showed a lack of quality and professionalism in the approach and in the playing squad. Turns out the ‘unaffiliated’ Christos FC would have been the next round opponent (at home) with the winners reward an away game at DC United of the MLS.

Observing from afar there seems to be some underlying issues with the squad. Ten games or a third of the way into a season and I have never known a team with so many injuries. I’ve said in past articles that you can’t train on surfaces like Highmark Stadium day in day out, as it will take its toll. The style that Brandt employs, this high pressure or ‘press’ is very demanding. Brandt seems to be a ‘tinkerer’, constantly changing the lineup and that can wear on players psyche. How would you feel being Kay Banjo for instance? Players often need an extended run in a team to produce their best. Player (‘Man’) Management is hard with so many diverse personalities and as this season progresses, certain players will feel left out in the cold, and we shall see how Brandt’s philosophy and style translates from the Collegiate to Professional game. After the next three games – Harrisburg (A), Orlando (H) and Toronto (A) the remaining schedule is brutal.

I’ve seen enough to change my mind and believe Pittsburgh is a playoff contender. They will have to take chances like they got Saturday against Louisville and be more clinical. Hertzog showed Saturday why he won’t play in the MLS. The best forwards finish consistently and especially when a game is on the line. He did in Ottawa but not against Louisville. Kerr was guilty also, but what an inspiration he is. Someone who doesn’t play for money but for the competition and love of the game. Kerr delivered some real quality with his crosses on Saturday and but for the outstanding and brave Louisville keeper would have resulted in goal scoring opportunities.

Great to see Abubakar back playing with Pittsburgh and I like the pairing with Greenspan at the heart of the defense. Pittsburghs fate is down to how its midfield fairs. Okai and Souto are the same player, neither can go ‘box to box’ and neither can give you ten goals a season. Without any other options Kerr should play center midfield with Okai if they persist with this 4-4- 2. Where will the goals come from against the really ‘premium’ teams? Lets face it, there are two leagues within the Easter Conference and for Pittsburgh to achieve a return to the playoffs or a top four finish that will result in a first round ‘home’ playoff game need to consistently pick up points against the likes of Tampa, Cincinnati, Louisville, St Louis, Rochester, Orlando and Charleston.

It was ‘Military Night’ at Highmark Stadium for the game on Saturday and while wearing ‘Camo’ was a nice touch, it’s no time for players to blend in. The likes of Romeo Parkes who got this second chance needs to exceed everyone’s expectations and reward the faith showed to him.

In its basic form Soccer is eleven personal battles and if everyone wins their own personal battle game in – game out, the war (season) is won.

The mid-week game in Harrisburg will as always have the feel of a ‘Cup Final’ and a further checkpoint regarding the potential of this squad and coaching staff. Harrisburg always start the season slow, quietly add players week in week out and will not be the same team that showed up at Highmark Stadium earlier in the season.

Going to be a cracking game and let’s hope it is not lost by Pittsburgh through careless mistakes but won through decisive, inspired and bold play. I’ll be watching.

Lastly, let me give my congratulations to the Tartan Devils on their great run in the US Open Cup. Goliath won as expected on Wednesday night but credit to all who played for competing and character showed from the first to last whistle. Scores irrelevant, did yourself proud!

Mike Sparks

In addition to watching, coaching, and occasionally playing soccer, Mike also enjoys talking all things soccer over at the Mon Goals podcast. Go give the show a listen and let him know what you think