The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are probably hoping that the old adage, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” rings true for the 2016 season.
By the time they return to the field on Sunday at Toronto, the Riverhounds will remain the only team in the USL to have played only once, while many fellow teams in the Eastern Conference will have played three or four times.
With only a lackluster 1-0 loss to defending USL Champs Rochester Rhinos on their 2016 resume, the Hounds have been dormant, while conference foes — old and new –put their stamps on the early season.
And to make things a bit more challenging, the Hounds will be without captain Kevin Kerr, as he appears to be having some Visa/Green Card issues.
RED BULLS II, RICHMOND & CHARLESTON RISE TO TOP
Three playoff teams from a year ago, NY Red Bulls II, Richmond Kickers and Charleston Battery, have risen to the top of the Eastern Conference with 2-0-1 records, good for seven points apiece.
NY Red Bulls stomped the expansion Bethlehem Steel FC 4-0 at Red Bull Arena — including getting two goals in the first five minutes of the match.
While the young, and talented Red Bulls provided a handful of highlights, Richmond beat Rochester 1-0, in a typical hard-fought stalemate in blistery conditions between two “old-school” USL teams.
This may be a sign that the defending champs have some chink in their armor, especially in that they may be lacking the opportunistic scoring last year’s team could count on in tight games. Outside of a capitalizing on a mistake by Hounds, the Rhinos attack didn’t seem that impressive in the opener.
The Kickers capitalized on its only shot on goal on a free kick that sailed behind the Rhinos defense — and found the foot of Yudai Imura in the 60th-minute.
Charleston needed a late Taylor Mueller goal to push past what appears to be a revitalized Wilmington Hammerheads team to stay at the top of the standings. Mueller earned USL Player of the Week honors for his heroics, including an assist on the first goal.
It appears that the Hammerheads, an affiliate of Major League Soccer’s NYCFC, are much improved, already earning a win and a tie in the first two weeks after being USL Eastern Conference bottom feeders for much of 2015.
Right on the heels of the leaders are last year’s Eastern Conference finalists, Louisville City FC, who bounced back after losing to NYRBII, with a 4-1 drubbing of expansion Orlando City B.
FC CINCY DAZZLES
The big buzz coming out of the weekend centered around Cincinnati, as the expansion franchise FC Cincinnati beat Charlotte 2-1 before a record crowd of more than 14,00o on Saturday.
If Mueller was the Player of the Week — Cincy’s Sean Okoli had the Goal of the Week with this scissor-kick strike…
We’ll get a first-hand look at FC Cincinnati on May 14, as the Riverhounds travel to Ohio for the teams first-ever meeting at Nippert Stadium.
FC Cincinnati are tied with LouCity FC in second place with six points after three games — as the two teams will meet for the first time this coming week. It will be a good test –and start to what could become a very good Ohio River rivalry.
AT THE BOTTOM
While it’s still early in the season, we’re starting to see some things that lead me to believe that Charlotte (3 points), Wilmington (3 pts), and even Toronto FC II (4 pts) will be teams that will be in contention for the top eight playoff spots, while the rest of the teams currently at the bottom of the standings may struggle.
Early in the season, the teams near the bottom line have telling goal differentials:
- Bethlehem Steel FC (3 pts / -4 Goal Differential)
- Orlando City B (1 pt / -4 GD)
- Montreal (0 pts / -2 GD)
- Harrisburg (0 pts / -3 GD)
Harrisburg, who’ve lost twice to Wilmington and Richmond, and Montreal join the Riverhounds as the only teams without a point.
The Riverhounds will have to look at the next two games, Sunday at Toronto and Friday at home against Orlando City B, as opportunities to pick up points and quickly climb in the standings and away from the bottom teams.
After those two games, the Hounds will have what will expected to be tough games, especially at Louisville City and Charleston, then hosting Red Bulls II.
UPCOMING EASTERN CONFERENCE SCHEDULE
Saturday, April 16
Charleston at Charlotte
Louisville City at FC Cincinnati
Harrisburg City Islanders at Orlando City B
Sunday, April 17