Connect with us

Hounds Notebook

Top-of-Table showdown on tap; plus does Pittsburgh media ‘shun’ the Riverhounds?

Riverhounds SC's Alex Dixon runs down a ball against Atlanta United 2 on Saturday (Photo courtesy Ed Thompson)

The Hounds took care of business beating Atlanta United 2, 4-0, before a regular season record crowd of 5,202 fans at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night to return to the win column.

Back in training, they spent the week preparing to face front-running Louisville City FC in what will be a very good early season road test with implications in the race among the teams at the top-of-the-table.

With a win in the Derby City, just a week before nearby Churchill Downs hosts the running of the roses, the Hounds can jump into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh Soccer Now will have coverage of this big match including Mark Goodman’s preview and scouting report of the perennial USL Championship contenders and PSN Midwest contributor, Dan Angell, will provide on-site coverage from Lynn Famiy Stadium.

If you recall, Dan, an Indianapolis-based writer, was there last year when the Hounds brought home the club’s first-ever road win at Indy.

Top of the Table Showdown in series that has favored the visitors

That’s right — Pittsburgh vs Louisville is back!

It’s been two seasons since the Hounds and LouCity have faced each other in a competitive match.

There’s no doubt, especially since the arrive of Bob Lilley in Pittsburgh, that matches between the two sides have greater implications in the race for top spot in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference.

Louisville City FC may be the franchise that has haunted the Hounds the most in recent years, as Pittsburgh have been dealt USL Cup Playoff losses against LouCity in both 2019 and 2020.

Yet, when it comes to regular season matches, Bob Lilley’s teams have played really well in Louisville.

LouCity has posted one of the best home records in the league with 66 wins in 109 regular season contests, and only 18 defeats in its history since 2015.

Almost one-quarter of those losses, however, have come against the Hounds, who are a remarkable 4-1-1 in their travels to the Derby City during the Championship’s regular season. Among those visits was a 3-1 win in the first game at Lynn Family Stadium history in 2020 when goals by Jordan Dover, Robbie Mertz and Anthony Velarde spoiled the housewarming for the hosts.

At Highmark, the Hounds have struggled against LouCity.

In seven regular-season trips to Pittsburgh, LouCity has never suffered defeat, going 4-0-3 away from home in the rivalry between the two clubs. That makes for a combined 8-1-4 record in favor of the visiting side overall, a remarkable number considering the home strength both sides currently exhibit.

Forbes is one helper away from 50

Two seasons ago, Kenardo Forbes became the USL Championship’s all-time assists leader as he passed Cuban playmaker Maikel Chang with the 39th regular-season helper of his career.

This past Saturday, Forbes moved to the verge of a league first after recording the 48th and 49th assists of his career in the Hounds’ 4-0 victory against Atlanta United 2 at Highmark Stadium, one shy of becoming the first player in league history to reach 50 regular season assists.

Forbes’ two-assist performance was the eighth of his career in the Championship’s regular season, currently the most of any player in league history after breaking a tie with Hartford Athletic’s Danny Barrera on seven. As Pittsburgh heads to Louisville on Saturday, the Jamaican has recorded one assist in prior meetings with LouCity as he seeks his latest landmark moment.

Most Multi-Assist Games in the USL Championship’s Regular Season
1. Kenardo Forbes – 8
2. Danny Barrera – 7
T-3. Maikel Chang – 5
T-3. Solomon Asante – 5
T-3. Jose Barril – 5
T-3. Kevin Kerr – 5

Finally, a big turnout Highmark

After three home matches, two which were scheduled league matches and another Open Cup contest, the Riverhounds attendance numbers were not very good to start the 2022 season.

For the opener against Hartford on March 19, the Hounds drew 2,776 fans and two weeks later, just 2,456 attended their 2-0 win vs Loudoun United FC.

The Open Cup Second Round match, against Maryland Bobcats FC of NISA, on a Tuesday night, was scarcely attended, with less than a 1,000 fans (no official figure can be found as of 4/28/2022).

Finally, on a terrific weather weekend, Highmark Stadium delivered what the club and die-hard fans were hoping for — an official sellout (though there was room for more standing-room only fans) of 5,202 to watch the Hounds defeat Atlanta United 2, in a match that featured the return of former Riverhounds midfielder and local hero Robbie Mertz.

Fans at Highmark Stadium on Saturday during Riverhounds 4-0 win vs ATLUTD2 (photo by Ed Thompson)

“It was a great night to have the energy in the stands,” said Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley. “It’s great to see.”

“It’s a credit to our business side,” added Lilley. “The team is playing well, but I know how hard the team upstairs is working every week to reach out and get the word out to the community from a marketing standpoint. They are very important to our organization, there is no organization without a business side that can grow and prosper.”

For the record, this was regular season club record but previous postseason matches in 2019 drew more fans: 5,627 vs Birmingham Legion (Oct ’19) and 6,073 vs Louisville City FC (Nov ’19).

There were two other Hounds home matches at Highmark which drew more than 5,000 fans: 5,189 vs Bethlehelm Steel FC (Oct ’18); and 5,182 vs Hartford (Ap ’19).

There was a lot made of the big turnout this past weekend, and rightly so.

The die-hard fans were estatic with having the team play before a packed house, where for the first time this season, the Steel Army completely filled the Paul Child Stand, giving the team a fully-packed supporter section.

Club and league representatives were boasting and very excited about the turnout.

Now comes the hard part.

Can the Hounds make this the norm and expectation moving forward?

Based on recent past history, it will be difficult for the Riverhounds to pack more than 5,000 fans per game on a regular basis. The Hounds have never averaged more than 4,000 fans per game in its run at Highmark Stadium (since 2013). To be precise, the club’s average swelled to 3,729 fans per game in 2019, the last season before the pandemic. And it saw a decent bounce-back coming out of COVID-19 crowd restrictions with an average of 3,133 in 2021 and 2,616 through two games in cold weather this season.

For the Hounds, the most realistic goal for this season will be getting over the 4,000 fans per game average. They have not achived this mark since the club’s inaugural season in 1999. That alone would be a huge step forward for the organization and continue to show incremental progress that this franchise has pointed to for the past decade.

Saturday’s turnout was reminicent of the crowd in the 2019 season opener, which was the team’s fifth match that season, after opening up with four road matches. While they didn’t reach the 5,000 mark again until the playoffs, the club did enjoy its best attendance season in Highmark Stadium history.

Team President Vic Gregovits believes they’re on the right track.

“The biggest thing, is we want to make sure that everyone has a chance to sample, have a gameday experience at Highmark Stadium. Then, they’ll come out regularly,” Gregovits told Pittsburgh Soccer Now ahead of the season opener.

“We’re excited that in 2022, all of our home games will be Saturday nights. That will give us an advantage.”

In addition, team owner, Tuffy Shallenberger weighed in too.

“The media shuns us” Shallenberger included in these comments.

Another topic, for another day?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Less address this now.

Does the Pittsburgh media ‘Shun’ the Hounds?

I can understand Shallenberger’s point and where he’s coming from as the Hounds are often not featured, included or simply overlooked by many in the mainstream Pittsburgh media.

However, the Riverhounds, even with 20-plus years of history, don’t have a grip the same way the Steelers, Pirates or the Penguins. Interestingly, both the Steelers and the Penguins. started out struggling, as it took a generation or two for both franchises to really become an indelible part of the sporting culture in this City. Thus, it going to be a constant, uphill battle for the Riverhounds to gain relevance in the Pittsburgh area and with the Pittsburgh sports media at large. This is a topic addressed in the introductory pages of my book, Miracle on the Mon.

There are also other reasons, including having been a third, and now second division team, which many view the Hounds as a ‘minor-league’ team.

Taking a closer look over the years at the coverage that the Hounds have been provided by the mainstream local media, it might be hard to say that they’ve been ‘shunned’ completely, but certainly there’s a case to be made that many local media members choose to simply ignore the Riverhounds, while there are some who make an effort to provide coverage.

The Hounds have built a winning culture. They’re doing their part to help turn more attention their way. Therefore, it’s understandable that the team’s owner feels they’re being ‘shunned’ by the media.

However, they might need to win a bit more to get more attention and interest from the general public.

Lets take a closer look at Hounds coverage from the three primary avenues of local media: television (broadcast/streaming), radio, newspaper/print and internet with a bonus look at fan-based podcasts and media content.
Television & Streaming

Some infuential members of the Pittsburgh sports media will give the team coverage and provide scores/updates on the news.

On the television side, KDKA’s Bob Pompeani and WTAE’s Andrew Stockey are the only two local news anchors who will reguarly include the Hounds in their updates, and will occasionally show up at Highmark Stadium to do a feature.

Other than mentioned and occasional coverage from two of the most iconic and longest-running sports anchors, Hounds’ coverage on local TV news is mostly non-existent.

When was the last time you saw a Hounds score, news item or a feature on WPXI-TV (Channel 11)?

The Hounds have a deal with 22 The Point to broadcast most of their matches on the local television channel. In the past couple of seasons, Riverhounds games are widely available on local television, with 30 this season scheduled to appear on WPNT-TV.

This comes at a price for the Hounds though, who fill the broadcasts with advertising spots to promote its business partners (mainly Allegheny Health Network).

Modern broadcast options also include streaming and online services.

All of the Hounds’ broadcasts are also streamed via ESPN’s subscription service. ESPN-Plus.

The growth of the USL Championship to include a broadcast deal with ESPN helps provides its clubs, like the Riverhounds SC, the opportunit to produce broadcasts of games by a third-party entity with almost no additional overhead costs. This allows the teams to strike conducive partnerships to air these games on local television stations in need of content.

In addition, we can’t ignore the steady flow of videos posted to Pittsburgh Sports Live, which airs tons of content from all of our sites, including contributions from the Soccer Now team. Riverhounds SC coverage on PSL includes postgame coverage of home and even some road matches, along with interviews from trainings, ‘Sounding Off on Soccer’ podcast and post match reaction shows hosted by PSN contributors.

Radio

In the Pittsburgh market, one of the most charasmatic and successful sports radio personalities, Mark Madden, has devoted time to regularly interview Riverhounds SC players and occasionally talk about the Hounds.

Beyond Madden’s continuing coverage of the Hounds, the pickings are slim on Pittsburgh’s radio airwaves, even with multiple 24-hour sports talk stations, 93.7 The Fan and ESPN Radio (1250 AM).

Occasionally the FAN will air interviews with Riverhounds SC players. I have been a guest on Paul Zeise’s show a number of times, but have talked with him about Pitt soccer and other soccer topics more than I have actually dissected the Hounds.

Talking ‘Miracle on the Mon’ and Riverhounds on 93.7 The Fan

However, as a media platform most known for providing media personalities and fans a chance to sound off about sports, there’s very little in-depth soccer talk on Pittsburgh radio.

A big part of this is that the talk show hosts have to be informed and have an understanding of the topics they’re talking about and they need an audience that will want to talk to them about it.

We are just not there yet.

When soccer comes up on the Pittsburgh sports radio, it’s generally around World Cup time or when a controversial topic related to soccer is dominating the news.

Additionally, the Riverhounds SC do not have a deal to broadcast games with any current radio station.
Print / Internet

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh primary remaining daily print media outlets, will continue to provide gameday coverage of home games and for road games, will often post game story recaps coming from the Hounds’ media releases.

The Tribune-Review‘s Jerin Steele and various reporters from the Post-Gazette will provide occassional features and content of the Hounds. Neither outlet will provide daily coverage, but more or less a mid-week feature between games every so often.

There have been some other outlets who have provided coverage over the years. During the early years of DK Pittsburgh Sports, a digital sports media platform created by Dejan Kovacevic, Highmark Stadium served as DKPS’s home office. The site devoted regular beat coverage of the Hounds (I was that beat writer in 2017 and current Riverhounds’ media relations director Matt Grubba held the honors in 2018). Eventually DKPS left that space and have stopped covering the Hounds entirely.

Some of the other Pittsburgh print and magazines will occasionally write a story or feature the Riverhounds, but it’s pretty spotty at best.

Of course, this is one of the primary reasons why I started covering the Riverhounds in 2013 coinciding with the opening of Highmark Stadium, on a regular basis, first for Pittsburgh Sports Report, then for Pittsburgh Soccer Report, which I started up in 2015. In 2018, we transitioned to Pittsburgh Soccer Now as part of a group of networks under the Pittsburgh Sports Now umbrella.

My primary motivation was to help fill a void in the Pittsburgh area, as there were soccer and sports fans who were craving more content and coverage of the area’s professional soccer team.

It’s through PSN’s objective, unbiased coverage, we believe we can help the game grow and help provide Pittsburgh fans by delivering news, information, in-depth features and analysis of the local soccer scene. The continued incremental growth of soccer coverage in the area during the past 10 years has coincided with the Riverhounds’ growth during this same time. Our coverage has expanded to include youth, high school and college teams and other stories related to soccer in our region.

Pittsburgh Soccer Now has devoted lots of coverage of the Riverhounds through the years, and we intend to continue to do so, however, it should be noted that Hounds coverage has not been our biggest driver of clicks and views. In the past half decade of monitoring our site’s metrics, high school and even college coverage, especially Pitt men’s soccer, have driven more people to our site than Riverhounds coverage.

This is revealing that stories and features about our area’s lone professional soccer team does not recieve as many clicks and views as coverage of local high schools and colleges.

Maybe this is a dose of reality to challenging task and need for the Riverhounds franchise to continue to expand its resources and effectively and strategically market the team in the region.

Winning will help that cause, for sure.

Developing partnerships with community groups and major sponsors such as Allegheny Health Network and 84 Lumber will continue to open more doors, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Fan-Based Content

In this modern era where the multimedia universe is ever-expanding, has provided die-hard sports fans with outlets to produce content too. While it’s not traditional (nor probably fully objective news media in the traditional form), these are still forums which provide fans with content and keep the conversation going about their beloved team and soccer.

The Riverhounds SC are fortunate to have terrific support from the Steel Army, which has always used its website to share information with its members and fellow die-hard Pittsburgh soccer fans. The Steel Army have also experimented with different podcasts over the years, and again, have created a new Podcast for 2022: Houndsy – The Steel Army Podcast.

The longest running fan-based podcast devoted to the Hounds is the Mon Goals Podcast, which has been running since late 2016. The Mon Goals team provides a weekly pod (usually on Mondays after games) and will also add content such as a postgame reaction show from fellow fans.

The newest addition to the group comes with the Riverhounds UK Fan Podcast.

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).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

Subscribe to PGH Soccer Now

Enter your email address to subscribe to PGH Soccer Now and receive notifications of new posts by email.

More in Hounds Notebook