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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

View From The Booth: What’s next after Atlanta laugher?

For both the team and the individuals, it’s quickly becoming harvest time.

Tommy Vancaeyezeele and Neco Brett
Neco Brett (left) and Thomas Vancaeyezeele celebrate in a recent game. - RACHEL MCKRIGER

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC play-by-play broadcaster Matt Gajtka brings his perspective on the team throughout the season in his ‘View From The Booth’ column.

Prior to last Saturday, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC had scant opportunity to breathe this season.

To wit: In the team’s first 11 USL Championship matches, the Hounds had been either tied with or within one goal of their opponent for 89.6 percent of total time played, or 887 of 990 minutes. Throw in U.S. Open Cup games and the percentage ticks up to an even 90.

Even without any corresponding numbers from around the league to provide context, I’m willing to say the first third of the Hounds’ season was extraordinary in that way.

So when Neco Brett punctuated a dominant opening 13 minutes in suburban Atlanta with an opportunistic strike, it felt like the latter stages of USWNT-Thailand.

The only other time Pittsburgh had experienced a three-goal lead this season was in second-half stoppage time against USL League One’s Dayton Dutch Lions in the first Open Cup tilt. It counts, but barely.

Since I’m in the mood to dig, here’s another way to look at it: In 46 previous league matches under Bob Lilley, the Hounds had led by three goals for — wait for it — a total of 52(!) minutes. That’s barely more than a half of soccer, or 1.2 percent of available match time.

No wonder I heard the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ ringing in my ears last Saturday. Needless to say, leading by (at least) three goals for 77 minutes provided a rare respite from the razor’s edge for a Pittsburgh (3-2-7, 16 points) side in need of results.

A pesky dichotomy still lives, though. While the Hounds have lost just twice in 12 league decisions, they’ve still won just three times with more than a third of the season in the rear view.

But while we could say the team is fortunate to not have lost a couple more, maybe they’re just as unfortunate to not be in the top half of the Eastern Conference table.

That’s a telltale sign of a season still very much in the balance.

Conveniently for the Hounds, they’ve survived playing eight of 12 USL matches away from home. Starting this Saturday against the always-entertaining New York Red Bulls II, Pittsburgh plays three in a row, five of six and seven of nine at Highmark Stadium.

(What’s that saying about making hay? Forgive me, I’m about the furthest thing from a farmer.)

Carrying a record of 9-3-2 to the South Side, the second-place Baby Bulls are a far cry from the disorganized Atlanta United 2 side the Hounds made quick work of last weekend. Out of the handful of MLS ‘2’ teams in this league, traditionally New York is the most consistent performer.

Still, there’s got to be some positive carryover from the Hounds’ not needing to grit their teeth for 90-plus minutes. Pressure like that can more than bust a pipe; it can burn out an entire team before the heat of the summer even sets in.

And if we’re talking individuals, I’d bet that Steevan Dos Santos is probably feeling about treinta pounds lighter this week. The freshly-named USL Championship Player of the Week once again shined in a Hounds victory, chiming in with a goal and an assist against Atlanta.

Putting aside the Open Cup action — in which the rangy Cape Verdean was a bit player — Dos Santos has come up with the goods every time the Hounds have been victorious this season.

In a 1-0 result at Louisville back in early April, he was dominant in the air, even though he didn’t notch a point. The next week, against Hartford Athletic in the home opener, his early-game header put Pittsburgh on the front foot for the rest of the match.

And last week, he reminded exactly why the Hounds had restructured their attack around him. At 29 years old, it’s entirely possible his best years are behind him, but he’s shown enough to indicate the offseason pivot could still bear much fruit.

For both the team and the individuals, it’s harvest time.

Matt Gajtka (pronounced GITE-kah) is a columnist, analyst and reporter for Pittsburgh Soccer Now. In addition to his four-year role as play-by-play broadcaster for Riverhounds SC, he has experience covering pro and amateur sports for over a decade. Matt got his start in soccer while calling games for the Marshall University men's and women's Division I teams. He fondly remembers attending Hounds matches at Bethel Park High School, although he lapsed during the Moon and Chartiers Valley years. Like many, the construction of Highmark Stadium in 2013 rekindled his passion for the club and local soccer in general.

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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