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ANALYSIS: @pghriverhounds on Bottom Side of #USL Eastern Conf Divide


Charlotte rolled over the Riverhounds on Saturday, 4-0 at Ramblewood Soccer Complex (photo courtesy Charlotte Independence/USL) 

That thud you may or may not have heard this past weekend was the Pittsburgh Riverhounds hitting the bottom again — after 4-0 loss at Charlotte Independence at Ramblewood Soccer Complex, as the Hounds (6-16-5, 23 points) dropped back to last place in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings.
Against Charlotte the Hounds were never really in the game — and once the Independence scored — they put the foot down on the visitors to secure a decisive win and their fifth game against the Hounds without a defeat in the past two years.  
Brian Brown opened the scoring in the 37th minute followed by two tallies by David Estrada in the 45th and 54th minute — and Jorge Herrera‘s stoppage time goal put the final nail in the coffin, as the Hounds were simply outclassed by a superior opponent.
While Dave Brandt‘s club has had a semi-positive push forward in the past month, which has included three wins in the previous five games (along with a tie and 3-0 loss at Rochester), Saturday’s loss provided a quick dose of reality and showed that there’s a clear divide between the Hounds (and the rest of the teams in the bottom of the standings) and the playoff-bound teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Hounds have a lot of holes and will head to the off season with a lot of question marks about the future as they’ve trended downward this season.   Maybe among these questions is what direction is this franchise headed — and can they ever build a consistent winner.  Since 1999, and more so, since moving into Highmark Stadium in 2013, the Hounds have never taken bigger steps forward (had some nice moments here and there) and seem to be trudging along with no real sense of direction or purpose.
I’ll be tackling some of those questions in the coming weeks, but the story of the 2016 team is still a tad incomplete — as there’s still some unfinished business.
While the Hounds reeled off some wins against some of the other teams between 8th and 15th place (Bethlehem Steel FC, Wilmington and Orlando City B) in the past month, but they’ve yet to win a game this season against any of the top seven, playoff-bound teams in USL’s Eastern Conference.
The most remarkable thing of all of this — is that while Pittsburgh has fallen to last place — they still have a mathematical chance to make the playoffs with three games remaining simply because the other teams in front of them are all equally inept.
Just a suggestion, but the USL may just want to not award the 8th seed — and give NY Red Bulls II a bye in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Looking closer at the Hounds, here’s how they’ve fared in the past five road games against top seven teams:

  • at Charlotte  Sept 10    LOSS  3-0
  • at Rochester   Aug 20   LOSS 3-0
  • at Rochester  June 25    LOSS 2-1
  • at Richmond  June 11      LOSS 3-1
  • at  NY Red Bulls   May 30   LOSS 1-0

Two goals in five games!?
In all, the Hounds have been outclassed by top seven teams in 14 games — posting a 0-12-2 record, with a goal differential of minus-25 (outscored 33-8).
But the Riverhounds are not alone.  There are some astounding differences between the teams heading to the playoffs (in 1st thru 7th places) and the remaining teams.
These disparities include:

  • Points and Goal Differential – the Richmond Kickers sit in 7th place, having clinched a playoff spot currently with 44 points and a goal differential of +10.   In 8th place, and somehow holding on to the last playoff spot, are Orlando City B, with 32 points, and goal differential of -15.
  • Essentially every team from 8th through 15th place doesn’t have a goal differential greater than -10, while all the remaining teams are all a double-digit plus goal differential with one exception — 5th place Charleston (+5).
  • The common denominator might be defense / goals allowed.  All of the teams between 8th and 15th place have surrendered 40 or more goals, while looking at the teams in the 1st-7th spots — the most any team has given up is 30 goals.
  • The Riverhounds have beaten every team from 8th to 15th place except for Harrisburg (two draws and one loss).

Seeing this clear split among these teams, might make for a good argument for something that I’ve never heard proposed before — a promotion-relegation within the USL. It’s probably a bit of an off-the-wall  idea, but might make sense if they’re seeking competitive balance and having teams having more to play for, etc.
The reality is that this scenario would almost never happen, as it would be difficult to take away regional rivalries and having teams within relatively close proximity that work well with scheduling and travel.  There could conceivably be ‘pro-rel’ system set up among a 32 USL team set up, with two 16 team leagues (A/B ?) and build a pro-rel system within those two 16 team ‘leagues’.
Teams that finish in the bottom two (or three spots) would be relegated, and teams in the top of the second division could move up to the first division. I am not sure if this would be possibile, but the USL could provide incentives/bonuses for the teams that finish in the A-division.
Orlando City B currently holds the slight edge, but they’ve gone winless in their last eight games, losing again on Saturday to TFCII.  With only two games remaining, both on road, they could lose that 8th spot.  Here’s how the race for the last spot looks with all of the teams down to Pittsburgh still mathematically alive.
8th place   OCB  32 pts – gms remaining (2) – @FC Cincy (9/17), @Beth (9/24)
9th place  Wilmington 30 pts – gms remaining (2) – @HCI (9/17),  home vs Richmond (9/24)
10th place   Bethlehem Steel  27 pts – gms remaining (2) – home vs Pgh (9/18), home vs OCB (9/24)
11th place    Harrisburg City Islanders (HCI) 27 pts – gms remaining (2) – home vs Wilmington (9/17), @FC Montreal (9/24).
12th place   Toronto FC II (TFCII)  26 pts – gms remaining (1) – @Rochester (9/24)  ELIMINATED 
13th place  FC Montreal  23 pts – gms remaining (2) – @NY Red Bulls II (9/17), home vs HCI (9/24)  ELIMINATED 
14th place  Pittsburgh Riverhounds  23 pts – gms remaining (3) – home vs FC Cincy (9/14, 9/24), @Beth Steel FC (9/18)
Basically the scenario where the Riverhounds make the playoffs would be:

  • win all three games;
  • AND Orlando City B loses its two remaining games;
  • AND hope that Wilmington, Bethlehem and Harrisburg lose at least once in each of its final two games.
  • The Hounds will take the tie-breaker with OCB if both are level with 32 points, as they hold the edge in goals, 3-2, as the teams split the season series.

The Hounds will have a chance to finish the season on a positive note and climb out of the last place position if they can break through against a playoff-bound team (FC Cincinnati), and win on the road against Bethlehem Steel FC.
The odds are very, very long indeed.

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).

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