The Pittsburgh Riverhounds have their work cut out for them if they want to turn things around after three games in which they’ve earned one point (road draw at Toronto) and two home losses.
They begin a two-game road string facing a strong Louisville City FC side that were a USL Eastern Conference finalist a year ago and have risen to the top of the standings again this season after five games.
The Riverhounds early season struggles compounded during Friday’s 2-1 loss, as team captain Kevin Kerr was sent off after a straight red card after a slide tackle in the first half.
USL officials confirmed that the Hounds appealed Kerr’s mandatory ensuing suspension for the Louisville game, however, the USL Disciplinary Committee ruled to uphold the original decision. Kerr will have to sit out this game.
With or without Kerr, the Hounds are struggling to find any rhythm and are not in-sync the way they want to be in their attack. They showed some signs of knocking the ball around better, after giving up the first goal to Orlando.
Possibly the most mystifying statistic about the Riverhounds first three games is that after being among league leaders in goals in 2015, they have yet to hold a lead at any point in the young 2016 campaign.
Jamaican Romeo Parkes has been the Hounds most dangerous attacking player thus far, having a hand in all scores with two goals.
Louisville City has been one of the top scoring teams in USL thanks primarily to Chandler Hoffman who’s catapulted to top of the league goals race with six tallies, including a hat trick before an USL record setting crowd at Cincinnati on April 15. Hoffman had played in MLS with Philadelphia, LA Galaxy and Houston.
HOUNDS HOPE FOR ANOTHER WIN AT SLUGGER FIELD
A season ago,the two teams played three times, each getting one win and a draw. But it was the last game, in August at Slugger Field, which Riverhounds can point to for some confidence.
At that time, the Hounds were a struggling, desperate team, but trying to stay in the playoff race, while City were in comfortable position near the top of league standings.
The Hounds responded with an impressive defensive performance including solid goalkeeping by Calle Brown and were the recipients of a beneficial call, drawing a penalty kick in the 45th minute as Rob Vincent delivered the game’s lone goal. The 1-0 win gave the Hounds momentum for a late season push that they rode right into the playoffs.
They’re hoping for the same result in Louisville on Wednesday.
ABOUT LOUISVILLE FC
- LOUCITY’s Last Game: Louisville took a dramatic 3-2 victory against the Harrisburg City Islanders last Friday, as Mark-Anthony Kaye’s 90th-minute goal earned his side its third consecutive victory. City had taken a two-goal lead in the first half behind a pair of goals by Chandler Hoffman, but Harrisburg rallied to tie the game late on before Kaye’s winner.
- Hoffman leads the USL with six goals this season, all of which have come in the past three contests.
- Although City lost its MVP and leading scorer, former Riverhounds forward Matt Fondy — they still return a lot of familiar players from last season’s 14-8-6 team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to Rochester 1-0. Among these include Scott Goodwin is back in goal, Ben Newnam, who played for Pittsburgh at the end of the season, Kadeem Dacres, and George Davis IV, who was a fixture in Richmond. Mark Anthony-Kaye is another dangerous threat near goal to watch out for in his first season in Louisville after coming up with Toronto FC.
- Louisville is tied on 12 goals with the LA Galaxy II for the most goals in the USL.
MATCH-UPS & TACTICS
Being that the Riverhounds have yet to take a lead this season, Head Coach Mark Steffens would love nothing more to see his team come out with some urgency and play aggressively in the attack.
Getting an early goal could be the thing that this team needs.
One thing about Louisville this season is that maybe even more than last year when they were successful playing with high pressure, that they’re not defending as strongly as last season, when they were second in league in goals against.
City have been playing in games early this season that has seen play open up quite a bit. First, against Cincinnati, they fell behind early, but fought back for a 3-2 win. Then last week’s game at Harrisburg, after taking a two goal lead, but thanks to a late goal salvaged another 3-2 win.
On paper, this has the possibility of being a very open game — something along the lines of 4-3 with a late goal being the difference. However, if Steffens has his way, he would love to get an early goal or two, and hope they finally can really knock it around — and his defense can stay mistake free.
If Louisville brings high pressure, the Hounds will need to do a better job of playing the ball out of the back more efficiently than they did last week when a young and athletic Orlando forwards gave the back line fits, especially early in the game. Goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap and the back line had some communication problems as they were trying to get on the same page.
I am sure that Louisville Head Coach James O’Connor would like to see an improvement in his team’s defending — especially after surrendering two late second half goals to Harrisburg.
The Hounds starting XI may look a lot like the one that took the field at Toronto FC on Sunday April 17 that also didn’t feature Kerr. Still, it looks like Steffens is still trying to find the right combination for success.
There will be some semblance of the core of players who’ve started every game this year including: Hunter Gilstrap (GK), Jordan Murrell, Willie Hunt, Stephen Okai, Romeo Parkes, Marshall Hollingsworth. A return of Lebo Moloto is possible, as he did train with the team this week, but it will likely be a game time decision.
The attacking midfielder and one of the Hounds leading scorers a year ago has been struggling with hip flexor and only played 45 minutes in the opening game at Rochester.