With a 1-0 win this weekend against Birmingham, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds jumped back up to second place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference.
They’re the tactical chameleon of the league and coach Bob Lilley loves nothing more than trying out a new look to shock an unsuspecting opponent. This time around, Lilley broke a weeks-long streak of back-three deployment and utilized a 4-2-3-1 formation. What’s more, he used holding midfielder Danny Griffin in the middle of that attacking line of three. Griffin normally generates something like 0.17 expected goals plus expected assists per 90 minutes, but he certainly made the difference in earning the win.
What went into the choice to move Griffin to the No. 10 spot and why was the decision effective?
As seen in his heat map from the match, the 23-year-old brought two-way utility to the midfield. When the Riverhounds were defending in their own half, the midfielder sat deep to form a flat midfield five that was almost impenetrable. When the side pressed up, Griffin was something like a traditional No. 10, man-marking the Legion’s defensive midfielders.
Birmingham relied on holder Anderson Asiedu to drive play forward and to whip passes across the pitch, but Griffin had the Ghanaian in his back pocket.
Despite his usual deep-lying starting position, Griffin brings a surprising amount of intelligence and guile in his attacking movement. Usually best as a late runner against deep-set defenses, Griffin sat in the hole against Birmingham and slunk around the box to find the space opened by Pittsburgh’s narrow wingers. The Legion normally push their fullbacks high and wide – so that mixed with Pittsburgh’s narrow form opened up overloads that let Griffin cook. He earned four shots and created a chance over the weekend.
The Riverhounds make these kinds of moves every week. They’re as comfortable in a boilerplate 4-2-3-1 as they are in a wildly idiosyncratic 3-6-1, and this flexibility lets them meet almost any opponent in a unique manner. Though they faced a shellacking at the hands of red-hot Louisville last week, Pittsburgh is in second place in the East and enjoys a top-five xG differential for a reason.
Bob Lilley’s side is endlessly flexible, and it makes them a major threat.