Sports (although particularly baseball) always have those weird little statistics. ‘Has eight non-penalty goals.’ ‘Leads the league in home runs on Tuesdays.’ ‘Scored the first goal in history for three different teams.’
This Hounds matchup versus Charlotte Independence has one of those quirky stats that sort of doesn’t mean anything, but sort-of does, too. The Riverhounds have an 0-5-7 (WDL) record against Charlotte – we are winless in *twelve* tries against Charlotte. That’s pretty strange, especially when you consider they aren’t historically a particularly strong team – they have two winning seasons in five, and have never gotten past the Conference semi-final in the playoffs.
This is the second regular season matchup – and final match at Highmark Stadium – between the two squads; they are set to meet one more time, on September 18, in North Carolina. So if the Hounds are going to beat Charlotte, they really ought to do it soon.
For all outward appearances, there is no indication that Charlotte is anything other than an ok-not-great USL team. Attendance is a little lower than usual – they’ve averaged 1367 fans per home game, which is below their 1750 average in 2019. If it persists, they’d likely be the worst attended non-‘two’ team (two teams are the minor league / reserve team affiliate of an MLS club) in all of the USL Championship. On the field, they’ve been pretty respectable in a tough division. The team even announced a five-year deal with Pepsi this week.
But of course, you and I know better. The Independence have a shaky ownership situation. Their previous owner, Dan DiMicco, was forced out* due to racist, transphobic, and antisemitic tweets. The new owner … was the guy that was financially strapped enough that he needed to bring in Dan DiMicco in the first place. The Independence have one strong competitor in their market right now, NISA club Stumptown FC, and an MLS club coming into the market next year. I don’t see how they financially make a go of it in 2022.
Which means this match is likely the last time any of us in Pittsburgh will ever see the Charlotte Independence. I would say thats kind of sad, except most of you USL oldheads are really used to it. You no longer cry over the loss of the Harrisburg City Islanders, Wilmington Hammerheads, Puerto Rico Islanders or Rochester Rhinos. Teams disappear in this league.
However, it would truly, utterly suck if Charlotte Independence went under at years end without the Riverhounds ever actually beating them.
We need to beat these guys.
Tactics and Personnel
In the section below, I raved a few weeks ago about former Chicago Fire midfielder Brandt Bronico. That was correct. Bronico leads the Independence in Goals Added – an advanced metric created by American Soccer Analysis which calculates the value of every pass, shot, tackle, dribble, and action a player takes as it relates to producing a potential goal. G+ is, for every player other than strikers or goalkeepers, the one stat to rule them all. Bronico is clocking a +0.47 Overall G+; the next-nearest player, Kevin Riascos, has a +0.09. Central midfielder Bronico especially excels in the defensive measure ‘interrupting’, with a +0.39 G+. So the Hounds will need to occupy him, over load him, or play around him.
On the other end of the G+ ledger is winger Marcelo Palomino, who started against the Riverhounds in the last clash of these clubs. His -0.96 Overall G+ is the team worst, and 13th-worst in all of USL, and is highlighted by a really poor -0.45 Receiving G+. Soft feet, kid.
Finally, Charlotte added a new player this week, FC Lorient midfielder Sylvain Marveaux. The 35-year-old Marveaux hasn’t started regularly since the 2017-2018, and played just 200 minutes in 2020-2021. He’s probably cooked, and likely not in game shape after crossing the Atlantic just last week. He probably won’t play against the Hounds, but you never know.
(reprinted from my preview of Charlotte on May 22nd)
Charlotte, coached by Mike Jeffries this year, played a 4-2-3-1 that was tight defensively against Charleston Battery last week. They don’t get stretched out or pulled apart easily and keep their shape well. They look particularly prepared to transition into defending in the event that they lose the ball – meaning they’d rather be cautious then be caught in a bad position in transition. That might be an anecdotal observation, though, since the Independence took a lead early and built off of it to get a 3-0 win. Teams often look well-organized and cautious when they lead.
They retain a few veterans from past campaigns – familiar faces like Enzo Martinez and Hugh Roberts and Joel Johnson – but amongst those names only Roberts has appeared in the first two matches. The 30 year old Martinez, formerly the club’s talisman and an MLS player in 2017, has declined significantly, getting just 2 goals and 1 assist in 2020.
The exciting players to watch this year are 20-year-old attacking mid Marcelo Palomino and striker Irwin Parra. Palomino is on loan from Houston Dynamo, and is a three-time academy player of the year for the orange and black. The 27-year-old Parra is an experienced USL striker. You’d be forgiven for not knowing Parra’s name, since he’s spent his entire USL career on the left coast, playing for Sounders 2, Orange County, Las Vegas Lights, and San Diego Loyal. He’s racked up 30 goals and 19 assists with these five teams though, including this one from last week:
Parra header for Charlotte against Charleston. pic.twitter.com/Sh3408myzV
— Soccer Rabbi (@soccer_rabbi) May 22, 2021
The Independence also have Orlando City academy product Jordan Bender on loan, as well as former Chicago Fire midfielder Brandt Bronico. I rate Bronico quite highly – he does a little of everything well as a mid – and he’s a paradigmatic ‘quad A’ kind of guy, who might likely bounce back into MLS and back to USL again; although he’s already 27 years-old.
Lastly in the category of ‘hey I know that guy!’ for Hounds fans is Austin Pack, who was the Riverhounds backup GK in 2019. He backs up starting netminder Tyler Miller, a Charlotte native, who was also the starting keeper for Bob Lilley’s Rochester Rhinos from 2012-2015. Bob and Tyler won the USL Championship Trophy in 2015, if you recall, so expect a hug after the match between the two.
Oh yeah, and they also added 30 year old all-time USL leading scorer Dane Kelly this past week. Kelly had been in Israel with Bnei Sakhnin, the only team in Israel’s top division from an Arab-Israeli town. Sakhnin barely staved off relegation this year, finishing a single point above the drop. Kelly has 88 goals in USL, but has just *4 minutes* playing time in MLS, for DC United back in 2018, making him the league’s real-life version of Crash Davis.
Despite the fact that this team has been in a bad way off the field for a few years (and still is, really), on the field they seem to a competent and capable. The Hounds may be feeding off of a tremendous amount of energy, but this Charlotte team is completely capable of escaping from the three-rivers adjacent area with a point, or perhaps even three.
Last Week’s Lineup versus Miami FC
Date: Saturday, July 3
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pa.
TV: 22 The Point
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: Pittsburghsoccernow.com; Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #PITvCLT
— — — — — — — —
* ‘Forced out’ is not how the departure was publicly presented. Simply put, Dan DiMicco sold his stake and left. But based on the widespread outrage about his behavior before the sale, it seems likely that nobody – not his staff, not the fans, not the players, not the league – wanted him as the team’s owners.