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Hounds Notebook: It won’t be an easy task to secure home playoff match

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Hounds Notebook: It won’t be an easy task to secure home playoff match

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC players and coaches are looking to close out the season strong as they have three games remaining.

They’ll be driven by a key motivating factor to finish in second place, which would provide a nice reward for its fans to have at least one home playoff match at Highmark Stadium.

Talk to Bob Lilley.  Talk to Danny Vitiello, who made a point to share his thoughts on this after last week’s win, or talk to any of the other Riverhounds SC players and they’ll tell you the same thing.

They badly want to play a home playoff match before the Pittsburgh soccer fans and the Steel Army.

As mentioned during this past week’s edition of ‘Sounding Off on Soccer’ on Pittsburgh Sports Live, the crowds for Hounds games at Highmark Stadium this season have been decent, and the Steel Army continues to provide a strong contingent, considing we’re still in the midst of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but the overall attendence numbers have dipped from the last full season (2019).

Riverhounds SC have averaged 3,028 fans per game this season through 14 games (down from 3,929 per game in 2019).  However, in 2019, the Hounds attendance numbers were boosted by playing two home playoff matches which drew well over the seating capacity of 5,000, including standing room only tickets being exhausted for each playoff match.

If Pittsburgh can secure a home playoff match, chances are that they’ll pack the house, providing another electric atmosphere at Highmark Stadium.  Seeing that type of atmosphere at Highmark Stadium would provide the club and this franchise with a sorely needed boost.

However, they have some work to do to.

It won’t be an easy task to beat Miami for the first time this season on Saturday, but the Hounds know they are due to put together a 90-minute performance against the only team in the Atlantic Division they have not defeated in 2021.

The Hounds have defeated each of the other six teams in the Atlantic Division at least once this season.

With a win at Miami this Saturday, they’ll take a big step toward getting that home playoff game for the third time in four years.

Back In Miami: Battle for Inside Track

The Hounds meet Miami for the fourth and final time this season on Saturday.  The winner gets the inside track to battle with Charlotte for second place in the Atlantic Division.

The Hounds have led in the 45th minute or later in all three previous meetings with Miami, but have only come away with a single point — the 1-1 draw June 12 in Pittsburgh.

Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley knows that his team needs to close out each and every game.

“I thought overall we played well, but we didn’t close out the game the right way,” said Lilley after the last loss to MIami two weeks ago. “We created a lot of good chances, and we knew they would be dangerous. We certainly need to be able to get it over the line better at the end of the game.”

As the Hounds head back to Miami on Saturday night, they’ve already scored first in each of the previous three matches, only for Miami to come back with an answer each time to secure a 1-1 draw and 3-2 win at Highmark Stadium before another 3-2 two weeks ago on home turf.

Last week, the Hounds responded impressively, beating Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0, breaking the Atlantic Division title-winner’s nine-game winning streak in the process

The optimistic Pittsburgh players, coaches and fans have to believe that win should give the Hounds plenty of confidence as they look to finally finish the job against Miami with plenty on the line.

Look for a more detailed preview and a closer look at the match-up on Saturday prior to the game here on PSN.

Getting Healthy

For the first time in early in the Summer, Albert Dikwa made an appearance in a game, as he played in the closing minutes of the Tampa Bay win.

Dikwa had to work his way back as he spent the past couple of months rehabbing a groin injury.

This week’s injury report only shows Josh Gatt, who had knee surgery after playing just six matches earlier in the season.

Having more players for lineup selections to choose from as the season winds down will provide Bob Lilley with an opportunity to be prepared to put the best possible team on the field and positioned to make a deep playoff run.

While Russell Cicerone and Alex Dixon are having strong seasons, Tommy Williamson has emerged as a solid option and Kenardo Forbes’ presence higher up on the pitch gives Pittsburgh more attacking options, Dikwa will give the Hounds’ a deeper and more talented pool to maximize their legs and scoring options.

Playoff Positioning

By clinching their spot in the USL Championship playoffs with Sunday’s 2-0 win over Tampa Bay, the Hounds join Louisville City FC and Phoenix Rising FC as the only three clubs who have clinched a playoff spot each year from 2018-21.

With three weeks to go, here’s a closer look at the Hounds and their closest rivals schedules.

Tampa (61 pts) has already cliniched the Division title, but they’re shooting to have the best overall record in USL Championship, as they’re currently neck-and-neck with Phoenix (62 points). Charlotte and Miami both have a game at hand on Pittsburgh, but the Hounds will have the inside track and control its destiny by beating Miami, then win its two final home games, while they have to hope that Charlotte has a slip (or two) in their final four matches.  The Hounds can’t afford to land in a tie and will need to finish ahead of Charlotte and Miami, because they won’t hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with those clubs (they’re 1-2-1 vs Charlotte, and 0-2-1 vs Miami).

Atlantic Division

y – Tampa Bay (61 pts) – 4 matches remaining – NY (10/15), Miami (10/20), @Loudoun (10/23), @Las Vega$ (10/30)

x- Riverhounds (51 pts) – 3 matches remaining – @Miami (10/16), Charleston (10/23), Hartford (10/30)

Charlotte (49 pts) – 4 matches remaining – Charleston (10/16), @Hartford (10/22), Loudoun (10/27), Austin Bold (10/30)

Miami (48 pts) – 4 matches remaining – Pitt (10/16), Tampa Bay (10/20), NY (10/24), @Charleston (10/30)

y – Cliniched Division Title 

x – Clinched Playoff Berth 

Odds and Ends

With a little assistance from the Hounds media department (namely Matt Grubba), here are some other interesting tidbits heading into the Miami match.

  • Hounds striker Russell Cicerone leads the team with 15 goals, and he is second on the Hounds with seven assists on the season. Through Wednesday’s play, he was on the only USL Championship player in the top 10 in both categories.
  • Midfielder Kenardo Forbes, the USL Championship’s all-time assists leader with 45, has had his shooting boots on lately. Hescored twice in the Hounds’ last meeting with Miami on Oct. 2 to give him five goals in 2021 — his highest total in a single season. He also has four goals in his last five games after going from Sept. 28, 2019 to Aug. 11, 2021 without a goal.
  • Forbes also leads the USL Championship (as of Wednesday) with 160 crosses, placing him two ahead of Louisville’s Jonathan Gomez.
  • Midfielder/winger Alex Dixon continues to be an all-around playmaking threat with nine goals and eight assists after picking up the helper on Forbes’ first goal Oct. 2 at Miami.
  • Both Dixon and Cicerone have a shot to be the first Hounds player with a 10-goal, 10-assist season; the closest to doing so was Kevin Kerr with 10 goals and nine assists in 2015.
  • Goalkeeper Danny Vitiello has seven shutouts this season after his most recent on Sunday against Tampa Bay. That gives him 12 clean sheets since joining the Hounds at the start of 2020, which ties him for fourth all-time in club history with Dan Lynd.
  • Midfielder Danny Griffin is the only player who has started every match this season for the Hounds, and he has played all but 13 minutes thus far in 2021. Four others have appeared in every match: Cicerone, Dixon, midfielder Todd Wharton and defender Shane Wiedt.
  • In 122 all-competition matches under Bob Lilley, the Hounds have allowed just 110 goals, an average of 0.90 goals per game.

 

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Pittsburgh Division I College Soccer Schedule (Spring 2021)

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