This time of year, we’re typically getting ready for the Riverhounds annual Independence Day home match — which has been a regular tradition since Highmark Stadium opened in 2013.
This year has been anything but normal, with plenty of challenges for the players and team officials enduring through COVID-19 suspension and limited training sessions. The most soccer excitement this week has come in the form of schedule announcements culminating with Thursday’s full schedule release as the USL Championship released its regular season schedule upon return to play in a16-game slate.
Placed in Group F, the Hounds will face division opponents Hartford Athletic, Loudoun United FC, New York Red Bulls II and Philadelphia Union II three times each. In addition, Pittsburgh will play Louisville City FC and Saint Louis FC once each, as well as Indy Eleven twice.
The real excitement for the Hounds organization and Pittsburgh’s soccer fans will come with seeing their squad featured prominently on two nationally televised matches on ESPN 2 during the span of the first 10 days of the new season.
FIRST THOUGHTS ON SCHEDULE
The Hounds will have a challenging slate in July, playing three of four matches on the road as they’ll face three squads that made the USL Eastern Conference playoffs. These road trips will include extensive precautions during a pandemic. If you want to know how extensive these precautions will be, click here to read the USL Championship’s 51 page return-to-play protocols which was released in late June.
Playing a match in front of fans in Louisville in the new stadium is going to be a very interesting experience, during a time when many states, like Pennsylvania, are currently disallowing large gatherings of people.
Dear Bob and Tuffy please have the Riverhounds play in space suits and shower in hand sanitizer every 20 minutes https://t.co/ckomzB0Sbv
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) June 30, 2020
Of the four games scheduled against teams out of the group, Pittsburgh will have to play Indy Eleven twice, Louisville City FC and Saint Louis FC. Based on last year’s results and the rosters that those clubs have assembled for 2020, those will all be tough matches. The Hounds will continue on the road three more times in August to start the season with six of nine matches away from Pittsburgh. In its final stretch of six matches in September and October, the Hounds will be home four times.
If Bob Lilley’s club can endure the difficult early portion of the schedule, and dealing with all that travel in these uncertain times, they’ll be in good position for strong finish.
In this current climate, the teams that are being smart, and keeping their players healthy will be the ones that may be in the strongest position come early October when, if all goes well, the playoff tournament will take place.
I always believe the top coaches always find a way to be ahead of the competition. Bob Lilley has probably thought of all the scenarios, and is doing his best to prepare his club. Much like a Bill Walsh or Joe Gibbs, two NFL coaches that were prepared when their league’s players went on strike and found a way to still have the best teams when they used replacement players or shortened seasons in 1982 and 1987, or Gregg Popovich with the 1999 San Antonio Spurs, who won the NBA title in a shortened season, Lilley should have his team ready for what’s to come.
The top two teams in each group will make the USL Championship Playoffs.
Earlier this week, it was announced the Hounds will have two matches nationally televised on ESPN2. This consists of their season opener at Louisville City FC on Sunday, July 12 and their home opener against Indy Eleven on Wednesday, July 22. Pittsburgh is the only USL Championship team to have multiple nationally televised games on the station after the league’s ESPN2 linear schedule announcement.
Another challenge that exists for the club will be not having fans in attendance for July home games at Highmark Stadium.
The club is working closely with the state of Pennsylvania and local government and health officials to determine the ability to accommodate fans in future home games, and updates will be issued at a later time. The safety and well-being of players, coaches, employees and fans are Riverhounds SC’s first priority. The club’s ticketing department will work with ticket holders directly regarding options for future games.
As for Pittsburgh Soccer Now’s coverage of the Hounds, we’ll be here as much as we can to provide the latest news, updates from trainings and we intend to have coverage of every game — and certainly plan to be on site for all home games. Of course, we’re still waiting to get the details from Riverhounds officials. As of now, all training sessions are limited to players and coaches, as they’re still closed to the media due to health and safety precautions due to COVID-19.
The full 16-game regular season schedule is below. Kickoff times are subject to change and others are to be determined.
2020 Revised Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Schedule
Sunday, July 12 | 5 p.m. – @Louisville City FC
Saturday, July 18 – @Philadelphia Union II
Wednesday, July 22 | 7 p.m. – Indy Eleven
Sunday, July 26 – @New York Red Bulls II
Saturday, Aug. 1 – Philadelphia Union II
Saturday, Aug. 8 – New York Red Bulls II
Saturday, Aug. 15 – @Indy Eleven
Wednesday, Aug. 19 – @Loudoun United FC
Saturday, Aug. 22 – Saint Louis FC
Friday, Aug. 28 – @Hartford Athletic
Tuesday, Sept. 1 – Loudoun United FC
Sunday, Sept. 6 – @New York Red Bulls II
Saturday, Sept. 12 – Hartford Athletic
Saturday, Sept. 19 – @Loudoun United FC
Saturday. Sept. 26 – Hartford Athletic
Saturday, Oct. 3 – Philadelphia Union II