It had been a while since Thomas Vancaeyezeele booted a strong take on target from an attacking-friendly position.
Last time out against Louisville City FC, the rookie lined up a faulty clearance from the opposition and sent a powerful shot at the goalmouth from just beyond the 18-yard box. Although his take was saved, it was a welcomed sight to see Vancaeyezeele jump back into the attack.
Now following its 1-0 victory over the reigning USL champions, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (7-1-7) will look to build upon this momentum in a home date with North Carolina FC (5-7-3) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Highmark Stadium. As he remains the only Pittsburgh athlete to play every minute (1,350) of the 2018 campaign, Vancaeyezeele now figures to see additional time in a holding midfield role after spending the bulk of the season at center back.
“[Joe Greenspan’s] a leader on the team, so he went back on defense and gave us strength in the back,” Vancaeyezeele said. “I came back into the midfield, and try to win balls, play forward and keep possession for my team.”
Missing time due to injury since early April, Greenspan returned to the starting lineup against the Charleston Battery on June 23, the first match of the team’s recent two-game road trip. At this time, Vancaeyezeele moved from the backline into the midfield.
“Tommy is a great player,” defender Jordan Dover said. “One of our most versatile players. I think he’s played almost everywhere in the midfield, everywhere at the back. It’s great to have a player like that because it gives our whole team a lot more flexibility and it helps with our depth as well.”
Moving into the holding midfield spot still allows the Caen, France native to utilize defensive skills that have propelled him to lead the Hounds with 42 interceptions, but now he is one step closer to the frontline at a position that is friendlier to catalyzing offense.
This season in USL play, Vancaeyezeele has recorded one goal and one assist. He also posted a tally in the squad’s earlier Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victory against Erie Commodores FC of the National Premier Soccer League.
“When I get the ball, I try to find [the forwards] and look for the runs,” Vancaeyezeele said. “I try to create passes in their runs and then they can score goals. That’s what we train to do.”
As the Hounds prepare for North Carolina FC, they will face one of the higher-scoring attacks in the Eastern Conference. This season, the USL newcomer ranks fifth of 16 teams in the conference with 23 goals forwarded.
Despite their offensive success, scoring goals could be hard to come by for North Carolina FC. Pittsburgh has allowed just one goal on its home turf in eight games at Highmark Stadium this year and has three clean sheets in its past five seasons hosting an Independence Day match.
“I think it’s going to be pretty fun,” Vancaeyezeele said. “That’s going to be my first Fourth of July game, so I don’t really know what to expect, but I look forward to seeing the fireworks and the game.”