By Richard Nightingale
Mark Steffens was probably sitting at home in Charlotte watching this game and wishing only the very best outcome for The Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Dave Brandt.
When the final whistle blew, at ninety plus three on Saturday evening, The Hounds had lost and stayed firmly planted one spot from the basement of the USL Eastern Conference having secured ten points from eighteen games. A three game home stand against Richmond, City Islanders (Harrisburg) and Charlotte had yielded no points and more questions than answers.
Man of the Match for Pittsburgh was Gene Klein in the commentary box who kept searching for nuggets of inspiration on the field. A beacon of positivity and hope.
The truth is that Pittsburgh in the end was out played. This was a good Charlotte team that did the simple things very well, minimized mistakes and drew on their USL experience to see the game out once they lead by two goals at the half. Nothing spectacular, just a good group of pros with a very competent coach who adapted to the day and took care of business. Pressure was firmly on Pittsburgh to take the game to Charlotte, and they did that, which in turn created a game made for counter attacks and plenty of space in midfield for creative players to shine.
Pittsburgh created more chances than previous outings and forced Charlotte’s keeper, Berner, to answer the call on a couple of occasions. Most notably was Branson’s shot in the second half where he went low to Berner’s left after a nice “give and go” in the box. Berner having made the save and showing his class and experience, ensured he parried the ball wide and out of danger.
The two Charlotte goals in the first half were soft. Vargas getting beaten at his near post from that angle and distance by Calvert is inexcusable. Yet Calvert went by Earls far too easily before he pulled the trigger, highlighting Earl’s lack of pace. It was made even worse because Danny was on his heels. Was that yellow card from the first minute in the back of his mind?
Then the second goal from Hilton beggars belief. Surrounded by three Pittsburgh players, Hilton finds space to “miss hit” a shot that takes a strange bounce, evades Vargas and finds the corner of the net. Hilton was almost apologetic walking back to the center circle.
Herrera added a third late on in the second half for insurance. As Pittsburgh pressed to find a goal, Charlotte had a couple of “sitters” that nine times out of ten would score.
It was good to see a more traditional 4–4-2 employed by Brandt and bringing Okai back into the line up was wise. I thought Okai played well and was puzzled when he was substituted out of the game. Pittsburgh’s passing lacked quality and they gave the ball away cheaply after they had worked hard to recover. It’s one thing to move the ball quickly forward but at times they resembled a “broken ice machine” as passes were over hit, had too much pace and were going everywhere but the intended recipient. Possession is nine tenths of the law and you rarely loose if you have the ball. Moloto and Campbell were the chief culprits. Eventually Pittsburgh employed the desperate long ball again, and Charlotte’s defenders Duckett, Kalungi, Slogic and Johnson all had size at the back and must have thought Christmas came early. Stop this madness and play to your strengths, not the oppositions.
The new forward Pittsburgh signed mid week, Aguilar, had a couple of half chances but ran out of gas early in the second half. Seems like he needs to be introduced to Hertzog; they both played like they were islands. Going to be very difficult for Aguilar as Pittsburgh play nothing like they do in South America, where he has played his entire career. Expectations are high and Aguilar is going to feel like a sherpa carrying those expectations if he doesn’t find the net sooner rather than later.
I don’t understand why Pittsburgh had to “go to” Costa Rica to find a forward, then turn around and immediately start him. I understand he is your “marquee” signing and you’re trying to inspire fans, but starting him after he arrived mid week, with minimal training, and really no knowledge of USL? I would have sat him on the bench during the first half so he could watch the game, get a few pointers from the coaching staff, and then send him on at halftime. Of course we are presuming that Aguilar speaks English (?). If he doesn’t then the signing really doesn’t make sense. Vargas probably speaks Spanish, but third party interpretation is dubious. Instead would have started with Boggs and have him soften up the Charlotte defense. I know Brandt talks about getting that first goal and not playing from behind, but let the guy “soak up” the game for forty-five minutes and then unleash him. I wonder what Aguilar’s conversation was like with his agent after the game, when he had his feet up and was thinking about his debut and experience? Unfortunately there can be no patience and “needs time”, because the “need” was yesterday and you spend good money to rush through a P1 visa and pay his wages. He must offer value from first minute. This is not a time for projects, especially with talented goal scorers that could have brought in from Europe.
Lastly, where is the quality service coming from that the goal scorers need to feed on? It’s like owning an America’s Cup yacht in the middle of the Gobi desert. Service was better against Charlotte, but it’s still not there yet.
Thankfully Jack Thompson at left back was pulled off at half time. He had a torrid time defensively against Richmond, City Islanders (Harrisburg) and now Charlotte. The opposing coaches week in and week out have identified him as a weak link and are loading up the right side. Hollingsworth needs to play the left back role. Period. He’s smarter and has more pace.
Charlotte played with purpose and Pittsburgh played with hope.
Charlotte played with purpose and Pittsburgh played with hope.
All said and done, Charlotte played with purpose and Pittsburgh played with hope. Brandt rolled the dice with his subs and Jeffries used his tactically. Granted, Jeffries also had better players to call on, that does help. While Pittsburgh called on Nick Thompson, Charlotte called on Jorge Herrera. One guy is three years removed from playing anywhere close to USL level and the other guy is proven, and has a renowned career in USL. It’s like the Hounds are putting deck chairs out on the Titanic.
Dave Brandt probably signed a two-year contract. He’ll be back next year, especially if his contract is guaranteed. Then again coaches ultimately serve at the pleasure of the team owner and rely on their patience. If you ever hear of an owner or board give the coach a “vote of confidence” then there’s a high probability they’ll be fired sooner rather than later. Consistency is important and Dave Brandt SHOULD be given the rest of this season as a “hall pass”. The second season is where he’ll prove his worth. Let him show us his recruiting skills, extent of his network, have a pre- season etc. IT’S NOT IN OUR INTEREST TO SEE BRANDT FAIL.
The type of player that Brandt needs to recruit was personified by the Charlotte right back, Joel Johnson. Championship teams are built around players like Joel. Check out his bio, at twenty-three years old he’s a present and future investment.
Then look at the experience of Mike Jeffries, the Charlotte coach. Is he better “set up” than most to succeed right away in the USL? Absolutely. Charlotte would have made the playoffs in his first year had Pittsburgh not won at Harrisburg in the final game of the 2015 season.
From National Team player, D1 college, PDL and MLS he then goes to USL. He’s smartly added to the squad he inherited and will finish no lower than sixth when the season is over.
Let me offer up some solutions, goals and objectives to Pittsburgh for the balance of the 2016 season.
- Go to Wilmington Hammerheads this Saturday and get a draw. It’s not important to win, if we do it’s a bonus. If it’s 0 – 0 and we never touch the ball or get a shot, that’s fine.
- Make the Saturday, August 13 game at home against Bethlehem Steel FREE. It’s a 7pm kick off. Get Carlsberg to promote their beer, you’ll be able to offer it for $3 a pint. Margaritas for $3. Hot dog and drink for the younger fans for $2. Coke will partner.
- Pack 4,500 fans into Highmark Stadium and deliver the fan experience, a taste of “the future”. Players will appreciate playing in front of a loud, full house.
- Invite Dave Brandt back to the Mon Goals podcast and hear from the man himself the plan for rest of season and next year. What’s the vision? End the speculation. I would be happy to do the interview and he can screen the questions ahead of time if wishes. I’ll be gentle with him.
- Hire Paul Child to work with Pittsburgh’s Midfield and Forward players. Even if he only works with certain individuals, he’s an extremely bright soccer mind and has vast experience with Pro soccer at all levels. I’m not suggesting that Paul leaves his day job, but he can bring ideas and experience to show Pittsburgh how to break down defenses and do better in opponents box. Often good and relevant solutions are right under your nose.
- Stop playing “zone defense” on set pieces. Insanity!
- Hire a General Manger for player personnel, even if just as a consultant. Have them work with Dave Brandt to start identifying players now for 2016 and start to work behind the scenes, planting seed with agents etc. Identify who is “free agent” and will be out of contract.
Definitely rays of sunshine in how Pittsburgh played against Charlotte. On to Wilmington.