Welcome back Hounds fans! Man, am I glad we’re talking about real, actual, regular season USL soccer. Or should I say ‘regular season USL CHAMPIONSHIP soccer.’ If you’re scoring at home, that’s the sixth different league name that the Riverhounds have played under in their illustrious 20-year history. USL has experienced more name changes than Jason Bourne and a mob boss in witness protection combined.
Steel City’s finest footballers start the season with four matches on the road in a row, traveling to Tampa Bay this week, followed by away matches to Swope Park Rangers, Bethlehem Steel, and Louisville City before finally starting with the dead last home opener in USL on April 13.
Before we talk about our opponent the Tampa Bay Rowdies, you might want to read a quick refresher on the Riverhounds, who have made some changes since last season. John Krysinsky’s ‘Week 1 Notebook’ is a must-read for some important details on the team’s latest news.
Read ‘Week 1 Notebook: It’s Go Time’ here
You might also want to check out some details on our newest players, like Rachel McKriger’s profile of Anthony Velarde, or details of the loan acquisition of Columbus Crew goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard, who will battle with Kyle Morton for time between the posts.
Other than that, if you watched the Hounds last season, you’ll be more than familiar with most of the starting lineup. The Hounds returned 11 players from the 2018 team: forward Neco Brett, midfielders Mouhamed Dabo, Kenardo Forbes, Noah Franke, Kevin Kerr, and Thomas Vancaeyezeele, defenders Tobi Adewole, Jordan Dover, and Joe Greenspan, and goalkeeper Kyle Morton.*
The club added big burly center forward Steevan Dos Santos and fleet-footed fullback Ryan James, as well as a bunch of recent trialists.
It is a good team by almost every account. The consensus amongst Hounds analysts and media types is that a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference looks like a solid bet.
But what about the Rowdies, Rabbi?
Right! I’m supposed to scout the Rowdies for you.
In short, there’s been a lot of turnover from 2018 to 2019 for the green-and-yellow. The last time the Hounds played Tampa Bay was August 22, 2018. I was there! I had just moved to Pittsburgh. It was muggy and I had one duffel bag of stuff and one book. Ah, memories.
Only four players from that lineup were back for last week’s opener in Memphis: midfielder Dominic Oduro (No. 18) and defenders Pape Diakite (No. 44), Tarek Morad (No. 4), and Leo Fernandes (No. 11). The team lost veteran presences Joe Cole and Georgi Hristov to retirement and turned over a lot of other underwhelming performers.
They added two solid USL performers in Zach Steinberger (No. 8) and Yann Ekra (No. 7) to hold down the middle. Steinberger spent time with North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven in 2018, while Ekra was with the Charlotte Independence, so expect Hounds players to know the book on those guys pretty well.
They also added former Philadelphia Union keeper John McCarthy (No. 1), who is a excellent keeper and wears the distinctive soft-helmet made famous by Petr Cech. McCarthy also spent 2014 with the Rochester Rhinos with Hounds coach Bob Lilley. TB also has former MLSer Chris Konopka (No. 33) on the roster at GK.
The Rowdies manager, Neill Collins, is a former Scottish player who was a solid center back for the Rowdies and was pulled in midseason last year after the club fired Stuart Campbell.
Here’s how the Rowdies lined up last week.
— Rowdies Gameday (@RowdiesGameday) March 9, 2019
It’s a 5-3-2 formation, which typically uses speed on the wings and passes and crosses to create offense.
Their first game was on the road to Memphis, who was a little over-excited because it was their first game *ever*. Memphis 901 FC played too aggressively on defense and hacked down TB’s striker Juan Tejada in the box to earn a penalty. That gave the Rowdies a penalty kick in just the 4th minute, which Uruguayan Sebastián Guenzatti converted easily. From then on, the Rowdies could sit a little deeper and defend, and Memphis looked a little disjointed and sloppy. The Rowdies decided to exert their authority after the 60th minute and began getting great chances, typically driving down the wing and cutting the ball back into the box from near the end line. In particular Fernandes, Ekra, and Tejada like to combine down that wing; confounding that troika, or at least guaranteeing they can’t send the ball across to anyone, might be the key to stymying them.
Tampa Bay are fast and physical, but they also lack technical precision – or at least they did last week in Memphis. They had a fair amount of bad touches and unsecured passes. The Hounds, meanwhile, have a number of technically sound players, and so this game will simply come down to not getting beat wide for pace, and then making good, solid passes and dribbles. Sloppy passing can also lead to goals-in-transition, if Pittsburgh’s midfielders can pounce on so-called second balls and recoveries fast enough. Tactics are nice, but sometimes, have 11 more technically sound players on the pitch will get the job done.
Expected Starting XI
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Barry, Morad, Diakite, Richards, Fernandes;
Steinberger, Oduro, Ekra;
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Dover, Adewole, Greenspan, James;
Vancaeyezeele, Dabo, Forbes;
Brett, Dos Santos
Date: Saturday, March 16
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida
Television: Pittsburgh’s CW
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #TBRvPIT
image care of the Tampa Bay Rowdies via Twitter
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* Did you count the number of players and find that I said ‘they returned 11’ but then you saw that there are only 10 names? I’m not crazy. They signed eleven players including Christian François, but then sold him off to the Ottawa Fury.