Pittsburgh Riverhounds (0-1-1, 1 pt) vs Charleston Battery (2-0-0, 6 pts)
The Riverhounds come into this match showing sings of improvement from a year ago, but still seeking an elusive first win. It won’t be an easy task for the Hounds, as they’ve only won once in the past 14 head-to-head meetings between the two clubs (1-7-6) – a 2-0 victory at then Blackbaud Stadium in 2011.
Charleston, a perennial USL playoff team, have started out strong this season, winning its first two games, including an impressive 2-0 win at Charlotte Independence last week.
The Riverhounds are on track to keep up with a regular early season tradition of putting themselves in a hole.
Going back to the opening season at Highmark Stadium in 2013, the Riverhounds have been a dismal 2-10-8 in March and April. The only two wins came in the same season, 2015, when they qualified for the playoffs.
While it’s early in the season, with a grinding seven-day stretch that includes games against teams (at Charleston, home vs St. Louis FC and at Richmond) that have started the season 4-1-1, picking up points on the road would be imperative to keep from falling too far behind in USL’s Eastern Conference.
Last year, these two teams played close contests. In late April, the Hounds showed some fight, battling the Battery to a 1-1 draw in Chucktown.
In the return match at Highmark Stadium, even a goal-scoring, triumphant return of Rob Vincent on a one-game loan couldn’t ignite the Hounds, Pittsburgh lost 2-1 to Charleston in early June.
This will be the first match in the “Old Guard Shield” Series of games between the five long-standing USL franchises, Pittsburgh (1999), Charleston (1992), Richmond (1992), Rochester (1994) and Harrisburg (2004). In the winter of 2016 five supporter groups briefly put aside their differences to come together and celebrate their five historic clubs through the creation of a new supporters shield.
This will be the last game that veteran Danny Earls will be sitting out as part of his eight game suspension after pushing a league official at Harrisburg last August. Also, sitting out this week for the Hounds will be Gale Agbossoumonde, who was sent off last week vs FC Cincinnati for accumulating a pair of yellow cards. Defender Ryan Adelye (hamstring) and midfielder Stephen Okai (knee) will also be not in the line-up for the Hounds.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Charleston has always been a stingy defensive unit, and this year appears to be no exception.
Despite conceding an equalizer to FC Cincinnati in week one on a set piece, they went on the road in week two and then blanked a playoff team from a year ago — Charlotte Independence 2-0.
The Battery make the most of their chances and in two games have been the better second half team.
They capitalized on FC Cincinnati mistakes in the opener, scoring on a corner kick and a rebound on a penalty. Against Charlotte, despite being out-possessed (only had 37% of possession according to game stats), Charleston scored twice again.
In fact, the Battery’s leading scorer at this point in the season is also a defender, Forrest Lasso, who’s scored twice on the end of Justin Portillo‘s pinpoint passes, one on a corner kick and another on a cross.
Look for Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser to get his troops to press high, and try to force the Hounds into making its back line to make mistakes early.
The question will be what the Hounds back line will look like, particularly the center backs, as Brandt won’t be able to pencil in either Agbossoumonde and Adeleye into the line-up card. The Hounds picked up Columbus Crew’s first round SuperDraft pick — Lalas Abubakar — on loan this week and look for the 21 year-old to get his first official pro action on Saturday.
After scoring three goals against NY Red Bulls II in the opening day 3-3 draw, the Hounds were shut out by FC Cincinnati, playing with only 10 men for the final 48 minutes of the 1-0 loss.
With 11 men, the Hounds should have reason to feel confident in their attack having looked like the better team against FCC in the first half of that game, and scoring three goals against NYRBII. Despite being on the road, they should look to create scoring opportunities with a young, skillful central midfield combo of Ben Swanson and Victor Souto looking to link up with attackers like Marshall Hollingsworth and Jack Thompson on the outside/attacking midfield spots along with Kevin Kerr and Corey Hertzog.
In two games coming off the bench, Key Banjo, who looked impressive in the preseason, hasn’t generated many quality scoring chances yet as a sub — and could be a decent option to pair with either Hertzog or Kerr at the top for a full 90 minutes. I am wondering if Brandt will want to give the Hounds another creative attacking midfielder to link to the forwards — and possibly Kerr?