Pittsburgh Riverhounds (4-3-4, 16 points) at Charlotte Independence (2-4-3, 9 points)
Eagle Field at Winthrop University, Rock Hill, S.C.
Saturday, June 13 at 7 p.m. EDT Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr. Assistant Referees: Rick Rogers, Mark Buda
ABOUT THE INDPENDENCE
The Independence joined USL this year after acquiring the league’s franchise rights for Charlotte from the Eagles, who are now competing at the fourth division PDL level. Head coach Mike Jeffries has steered the team in its expansion season in a somewhat respectable start in their opening nine games.
Coming off two games against two of the top three teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference, Charlotte held on for 1-1 draw with Charleston and lost 2-1 to Richmond.
Former Columbus Crew forward Ryan Finley leads the Independence attack with three goals and an assist. Jorge Herrera has pitched in with two goals and two assists. The veteran Colombian playmaker is well known to the Hounds’ coaching staff having played under Mark Steffens for eight years at the Charlotte Eagles. Bilal Duckett and on-loan Colorado Rapids defender Ben Newnam also played under Steffens in Charlotte last year.
Defender Andrew Ribeiro, who had a stint with the Riverhounds during their failed playoff run in 2014, has started every minute of all nine USL games for the Independence – leading the squad with 810 minutes played. RIVERHOUNDS GAME STORYLINE
It’s a Homecoming Weekend for Pittsburgh Riverhounds Head Coach Mark Steffens.
Steffens returns to the city where he coached for 18 seasons with the Charlotte Eagles, winning two USL championships – and nine title game appearances, earning a USL Hall of Fame induction. He brings his new team to the Queen City, as the Riverhounds sit fifth in the USL’s Eastern Conference and riding a six-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
“It’s a totally new organization in Charlotte so there’s no rivalry between the teams yet,” Steffens said.
“It’s going to be like any other game where we’re just trying to get the three points.
“It will be fun to go back there though.”
The Riverhounds’ offense remains the most potent in USL with 26 goals in 11 games coming into the weekend. English midfielder Rob Vincent continues to lead the league in goals, goals-per-game, points and points-per-game with his haul of nine goals and four assists. Jamaican goalkeeper Ryan Thompson is absent this weekend – and indefinitely due to his national team commitments.
The Reggae Boyz open their Copa America campaign Saturday against Uruguay in Chile, as it’s conceivable that Thompson could be starting in one or more game. (and by the way Uruguay’s Luis Suarez is still serving his international games suspension for biting incident at the World Cup last year)
Word has it that the Riverhounds have been in talks with Major League Soccer coaches this week in an effort to bring in an additional goalkeeper on a short-term loan while Thompson is unavailable. There could be a new face guarding the Hounds’ net in Charlotte if an agreement can be reached. ****UPDATE**** The Columbus Crew announced that they have loaned Goalkeeper Matt Lampson to the Riverhounds.
As of now, the Riverhounds sit in fifth place, four points behind Louisville F.C. and two points ahead of their Keystone Derby rivals, Harrisburg City Islanders. INJURY REPORT Matt Dallman remains sidelined with a hip flexor injury that is expected to keep him out for another week. Rookie Amara Soumah will not travel after twisting an ankle in training Thursday.
Brazilian forward Vini Dantas is also expected to stay home after missing most of the week through illness. WHAT TO EXPECT The Hounds came back to earth a bit following their “Miracle on the Mon” victory over Harrisburg on May 30, as they played to a 1-1 draw against St. Louis F.C. last Saturday, June 6, at Highmark Stadium. The Riverhounds will look to reignite their attack on the road. They’ve certainly spent a lot of time in the early part of the season at Highmark Stadium (eight of their first 13 games in all competitions), and have had inconsistent results in five games on the road (1-2-1). Their last road result produced one of their best wins of the season, as they jumped out to an early two-goal lead, and held on for a 2-1 win at third-place Richmond. With the exception of flip-flopping 3-0 win/loss results vs Richmond, Charlotte has played in low-scoring, tight matches this year – usually by a one goal margin either way. They are tough at home (2-1-1), seem to play physical (have twice as many yellow cards than opponents this year and more fouls), and will try to Most scouting reports around the USL are now focusing on both Vincent and Kevin Kerr, who’ve led the Riverhounds attack. After a brilliant game against Harrisburg, attacking midfielder Lebo Moloto was pretty quiet against St. Louis. A well-organized, physical St. Louis team did a nice job of limiting and taking away openings – particularly in the center of the attacking third — for Vincent to unleash any dangerous shot attempts. When bottled up in the middle of the field, the Riverhounds opted to send long balls to the flanks – particularly to Kerr on right side. They scored their only goal, on a play from a long pass into the box as midfielder Stephen Okai was fouled – setting up a Vincent penalty kick. On the defensive side, the Riverhounds appeared to put a lot of focus on staying organized for long stretches in the St. Louis game, after giving up five goals against Harrisburg. The back line that included Anthony Arena, Willie Hunt, Tyler Pasher and Mike Green was pretty solid, and yielded only one goal on a play that was botched by rookie goalkeeper Ryan Hulings. With speculation that the Riverhounds are looking to add a keeper on loan due to Thompson’s national team duty and Calle Brown’s uncertainty, the goalkeeper position will be a big question mark on Saturday night. It’s a chance for the Riverhounds to stay above the playoff line – and get another road win. The Independence will be a formidable opponent at home. These are the type of games the Riverhounds need to win if they are going to take the next steps in becoming a legit contender in the Eastern Conference. Mark Steffens is only concerned about his team.
“We have to go and play our best game. We don’t really focus on the other team that much, we don’t change our system or style of play. We play our game. We have to play it the best that we can, and if we do, we think that we’ll be competitive with any team.” By dictating the tempo, they give themselves the opportunity to dictate the outcome of the game. “We just have to take care of our own business and figure out every day how to be the better team and put teamwork on the field by moving the ball quickly and having a cohesive unit and having some good chemistry. It takes a long time to build that. We’re still working on that.”
WHERE TO WATCH
Fans can watch Saturday’s game live on Riverhounds.com and/or the Independence’s YouTube feed. There will not be a viewing party at the Highmark Stadium sports bar this weekend due to preparations for Sunday’s Steve Miller Band concert. U.S. OPEN CUP – Riverhounds-D.C. United Clash Update
The Riverhounds will be hosting Major League Soccer’s D.C. United in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Highmark Stadium on Wednesday, June 17. Club Level and limited standing tickets are still available. Call the box office on (412) 325-7241 to speak to a representative regarding entry to the Club Level. Standing tickets can be purchased through the box office or via Ticketmaster.com.
Charlotte remains in contention in the Open Cup too — as they will travel to Foxboro, MA, on Wednesday to take on the MLS New England Revolution.
John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).