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Preview: Hounds face formidable Louisville City in Eastern Conference Semifinal

Image c/o USL via twitter

Preview: Hounds face formidable Louisville City in Eastern Conference Semifinal

After delivering a 7-0 drubbing to Birmingham Legion FC on Saturday night, you’d really like to be able to relax about your team headed into the next round of the playoffs. As if the next round of matches was impacted by the previous one; or there was some kind of aggregation of scores from match to match; or pounding the ever-living snot out of the 10th-best team in the USL East had any bearing on the Hounds next match against defending USL Champions Louisville City.

But let us be clear – annihilating Birmingham means absolutely nothing going forward. Every game is a universe unto itself.

Louisville City compiled a 17-8-9 in the USL Eastern Conference this year, which was good enough for fourth place. They scored 58 goals on the year, which tied for fifth-best in the USL East with our very own Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Defensively, they conceded 41 goals, good enough for a less-impressive seventh in the USL East. Most importantly for the Hounds purposes, Lou City were formidible on the road in 2019, with a 7-5-5 record that was sixth-best in all of the USL Championship. In those road games, Louisville scored slightly less often than your average USL team does on the road, but conceded much less than your average team; an average USL team in 2019 gave up 1.83 goals against per game on the road, while the Coopers surrendered just 1.18 GApg.

That’s a lot of number-salad (is number-salad a thing? It should be a thing). It all means this: Louisville City are not likely to come into Highmark Stadium on Saturday and get blown out quickly. Rather, the big purple machine will likely be patient and defensive, and the result of Saturday’s matchup will likely be a 1-goal match or a draw that goes into extra-time, rather than a one-sided affair for either team.

Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley agreed with those sentiments at training on Thursday. “Against a good Louisville team, I expect both teams to play well and I expect a tight game.”

Come prepared for a fight, Hounds fans.

 

 

Personnel

This will certainly be a bit of a chess match in terms of the coaches. Lou City’s man-in-charge, John Hackworth is a crafty coach that will deploy various lineups and formations to fit the situation. In the Hounds first meeting with LCFC they saw George Davis IV and Brian Ownby directing a lot of the offense, while Speedy Williams did the defensive midfield work of cutting off passes and winning duels. That mostly hasn’t changed.

In goal, the season began with Ben Lundt as the starting keeper. He played 12 games before his coach yanked him for Chris Hubbard, who started 21 matches in the regular season and was also between the pipes for Lou City last week against Tampa Bay. I can’t tell you whether one is better than the other, but I suspect this is a team that has a weakness at this position in comparison to, say, the Riverhounds.

Another interesting change Louisville made was a midseason trade, when they sent USL journeyman Lucky Mkosana to Tampa Bay in exchange for former Harrisburg City Islander Antoine Hoppenot. Hoppenot is a center forward that can poach and also make the well-timed run, as opposed to Mkosana who was more of a wide midfielder or get-in-behind winger. Hoppenot was also in the Philadelphia Union system for a while, so he might just be a ‘Hackworth guy’.

Bob Lilley had this thought: “There’s a good chance they don’t start Luke Spencer. They’ve been playing (Brian) Ownby. With Ownby there, he’s quick, and he gives them the threat over the top.” Ownby started as the left wing against Tampa, but often was found deeper and behind Magnus Rasmussen, who nominally lined up as a midfielder.

Striker Magnus Rasmussen had a brace last week. Here’s those goals:

The first came from his left foot, the second with his right. He lines up as a winger but cuts in or swaps positions with other forwards and strikers (I’ll say more in ‘Tactics’ below). The 26-year-old from Denmark is in the prime of his career; as evidence, I present the 15 goals he scored in the regular season. Somebody on the Hounds should mark him. Closely.

Regarding the defense, I will quote my preview from March this year. The factoid below will likely be in every preview of Paco Craig I ever provide until the end of time. Yes, I really want to hurt you. Yes, I really want to make you cry.

“Centerbacks Paco Craig and Alexis Souahy didn’t have their best matches last week. Craig is one of the better defenders in USL, but his real claim to fame is that his father Mikey Craig was the bassist for UK New Wave/Reggae/Soul band Culture Club. He and Souahy will be hoping that the karma chameleon will return to them once again to help them clear balls out of the middle.”

Tactics

The main thing to know about Louisville City is that they essentially play what is known as ‘Total Football’ – any player in any starting position will drift into a different spot, and their teammate will fill or overload as needed. It’s an easy system to exploit on a counter-attack if it’s done wrong, but Lou City doesn’t really get it wrong. They’re good at this, and they produce results. They tend to do more this early, lock down the lead, defend intelligently and get their one-goal result. If you are watching this game, you should pay attention to this. Bob Lilley saw this and described it thusly: “Louisville interchanges better than most teams. They will interchange. They won’t play in fixed positions.”

Check the pre-game lineup and where players are supposedly supposed to be on the pitch. During the game, you might see somebody pop up in a spot and say to yourself ‘Hey! He’s not supposed to be there!’ Exactly. Total Football.

Louisville played Tampa Bay last week, effectively playing a 4-1-4-1 in defense and a 4-3-3 in attack. They did an excellent job in controlling the midfield and fighting for second balls, which forced Tampa to play wide. By the time the Rowdies reached the final third, LCFC were set up in their defensive block in the middle to deny the opponent chances.

Lilley added “They typically like to break you down in that space between the midfielders and the defenders and gain momentum and run through you by sending multiple runners.”

“They’re pretty crafty.”

The other thing that happened last Saturday night was that Lou City used man-to-man pressing against Tampa when they played out of the back, as well as using an overlapping fullback on the left side to create mismatches and pressure. They forced a turnover in a bad spot for the Rowdies, crossed it and scored. It was an early rabbit-punch that really hurt Tampa. Will the purple dudes try a sneak attack like that again at Highmark Saturday?

Last Week’s Lineup

Match Information

Date: Saturday, November 2

Time: 7 p.m.

Location: Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA

Television: WPNT 22 The Point

Streaming: ESPN+

Live Statistics: USL Championship Playoffs Center

Live Updates: PittsburghSoccerNow.com; Twitter at @pghsoccernow, @RiverhoundsSC and #PITvLOU

Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men's and Women's teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

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