Hey, the Hounds are back! Also, hey I’m back! It’s been a few weeks since I did a preview or an article for PSN. In my other soccer writing life, you may know, I write about the Colorado Rapids for the Denver Post, and well, if soccer writing was hospital triage, the Riverhounds are a guy with a sprained ankle and a broken finger while the Colorado Rapids are a dude that rolls in the front door on a gurney with an ax sticking out his head and a live piranha gnawing on his foot screaming “OH MY GOD IS THIS AS BAD AS IT LOOKS?” while all the other doctors are like “Yes. Yes, that is bad.”
The Rapids have tied the record for the longest winless streak to open a season in MLS history – a record they are likely to break tomorrow when they face the LA Galaxy on the road. They fired their coach. They got into a brouhaha with away fans over an Antifa symbol on a rainbow flag. Like I said, it’s been an interesting piranhas-and-axes-filled three weeks. Meanwhile the Hounds have had three draws in a row, a bye week, and a US Open Cup win, which is interesting, but not ‘sack your coach, the team is on fire’ interesting.
So if I have neglected you Hounds as of late, forgive me. But we’re back now, and I can focus on the black-yellow a little.
Tactical Outlook and Personnel
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are taking on their second USL expansion team of the year with this game against Memphis 901 FC. Memphis is famous for barbecue, Elvis Presley, some ducks that swim in a hotel fountain, and being the 43rd largest metropolitan area in the United States. It is also in the Central time zone, which is why the game starts at 8pm EST tonight, in case you were confused.
Memphis have a 2-3-6 record, and only 10 goals for. Their second win of the season came last week against winless Hartford Athletic on the road, which may give Memphis a little more oomph going into this game against the Riverhounds.
Memphis play a pretty straightforward 4-4-2 formation, with Elliot Collier and Jochen Graf at striker, or sometimes Duane Muckette instead. Collier is certainly dangerous at times, both coming out of midfield on a run and in getting into prime poaching locations, as he did in Memphis’ last USL match in the 70th minute when he scored the game winner. Muckette can also play wide.
The Memphis attack is steady, meant to retain possession, and capitalizes on the team’s width in order to create chances. After moving the ball up the pitch into the opponents half, the team will either play wide to inside, wide to inside combos looking to shift the defenders and create spaces to thread through new passes, or will bring in one of their better-attacking pieces like Adam Najem to dribble in or create 1-2 combos. It’s fun to watch, although as their goals-for record indicates, a lot of teams have stymied them. A major flaw of the 4-4-2 formation in the modern game is its big tradeoff: the formation creates lots of width by putting lots of options wide. Conversely, you’ve only got two midfielders centrally. That means that a defense that makes use of three central midfielders has superiority to defend centrally in the most dangerous spots on the field. Watch for this against the Hounds, who often play a 3-5-2 attack with center mids that can really muck up the midfield.
That said, two of Memphis’ midfielders are very good. Center mid Cam Lindley is on-loan from MLS’ Orlando City, while sometimes central, sometimes wide midfielder Adam Najem was property of the Philadelphia Union and Bethlehem Steel until this year. Najem is a saucy attacker who loves a good roulette or backheel, and to be honest, those kinds of Eden Hazard/Lionel Messi mids are my favorite thing to watch. Of course, it’s a little terrifying when they’re doing it against your team. Najem is a native of New Jersey but plays for the Afghan National team. I highly recommend a fantastic interview he did with Extratime Radio’s Bobby Warshaw about his experience playing for Afghanistan this past Fall.
Memphis are captained by former MLS journeyman and man-bun aficionado Marc Burch. Burch is a natural left back who has been moved inside to centerback for Memphis. His distribution out of the back is impeccable, and he can hammer a 40-yard pass to a breaking winger with deadly accuracy. He’s also probably the league’s only centerback who takes free kicks for his team. He can hit a ball with atomic force and devastating swerve. He may be 35 years old, but he plays like a man in his 20s. Do not sleep on Marc Burch.
Last Week’s Lineup
Memphis 901 FC lineup at Hartford Athletic, 5-10-2019
GK Jeff Caldwell; Abdi Howard, Tristan Hodge, Marc Burch, Wesley Charne; Duane Muckette, Cameron Lindley, Dan Metzger, Adam Najem; Jochen Graf, Elliot Collier
Date: Saturday, May 18
Time: 8 p.m.
Location: AutoZone Park, Memphis, TN
Television: Pittsburgh’s CW
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #MEMvPIT
Photo of Adam Najem from Memphis 901 FC via twitter