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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Preview: Lou City, Class of the USL

Our opponents this evening, Louisville City, are the gold standard by which the rest of USL measure themselves.

Lovely, appropriately sized soccer-specific stadium? Check.

USL Championship trophy? Check, twice over, in 2017 and 2018.

An NWSL team to complement their men’s squad? Check – Racing Louisville SC.

A reputation for having an exciting, high scoring offense? Check – Cameron Lancaster finished third in the 2021 Golden Boot race with 20 goals.

Fantastic supporters culture? Check – the Coopers are one of USL’s best SGs.

I would argue that nobody has gotten it as right as Louisville City SC. They put a great team on the field every year. They provide a great product for their fans. They are clean and crisp and professional. This is the barometer by which all USL Championship clubs should be judged.

Now, the catch 22 of being an awesome USL Championship team, like Lou City, and Tampa, and to a lesser extent, our own Pittsburgh Riverhounds*, is that you don’t really just want to stay an awesome USL team. You aspire to matriculating on to the first division in the US known as MLS.

Louisville City have all the pieces to go up to MLS, except for two. They don’t have a mega billionaire owner. And they don’t have a large metropolitan city that’s growing rapidly.

Charlotte FC skipped all the steps to MLS because they had both these things. They didn’t have a soccer stadium, they didn’t have a history of soccer (well, they did, but they bypassed the Charlotte Independence franchise entirely in making Charlotte FC), they didn’t have supporters or history. But they had David Tepper, and David Tepper was willing to pay $300 million in expansion fees. And they are in Charlotte, the 22nd largest metro area in the US, which grew at a robust 1.53 percent last year. So they have a team.

I expect Las Vegas, the 29th-largest metro area, will follow the same path to getting an MLS team. LV grew by 1.19 percent last year. Las Vegas has oodles of cash held by narcissistic men that love to buy shiny things like sports teams. They’ll have an MLS team before you know it.**

Nonetheless, Louisville is the king of the league. To be the best, the Hounds will need to beat the best. We need to improve our stadium to be on par with theirs. We need to sellout more games, and grow Steel Army. We need a Riverhounds USL-W or NWSL team. But most importantly, and most immediately, we need to beat them at the football tonight.

Tactics and Personnel

Because last year the Riverhounds were placed in the Eastern Division and Louisville was in the Central division, we did not play them at all in 2021. We did, however, play Lou City twice in 2020, despite it being the Covid season in which USL teams were sequestered to tiny four team groups for the vast majority of our matches. We played them July 12, 2020, winning 3-1 in Louisville, and played them again on October 10 in the Conference Quarterfinals of that year, losing 2-0 and getting bounced from the playoffs. So for some of the Hounds, revenge will be on their minds – at least the Hounds that were with the team way back then.

Louisville play in a fluid and attacking 4-3-3 that has done a great job at maintaining possession. They’ve conceded just 4 goals in 8 games – most of which they achieve through holding on to the ball so much.

Some of the key players with the squad in 2020 are still there now, and still doing the same job.

Their captain is veteran Paolo DiPiccolowho scored a 118th minute goal in the 2019 USL playoffs to knock the Hounds out. The wily veteran goes both ways well, and dribbles and passes out of trouble very well. He’ll turn 31 years old soon.

Winger Brian Ownby, a USL veteran that had a good stint in MLS with the Houston Dynamo, is incredibly low-key good. He’s the kind of wide midfielder that you only really see thrive at the lower levels of soccer – a kind of Graham Zusi, but missing some of flair and speed. Fast-enough, but not a ‘dribble at you and unbuckle your pants’ guy. His ability to receive the ball on the move is excellent; his service into the box is excellent; and he has an excellent sense of space. He’s a fine presser and wide defender. Back in 2020, Ownby was rocking an epic Viking/Hipster beard, so I’ll be tuning in today simple to see if that has changed. Ownby will be 32 years old in a few weeks.

Their big defensive midfielder is still Corben Bone. The physical dude with excellent swivel-vision was part of FC Cincinnati’s ascension to MLS in 2019, and after Cincy posted a dismal 6-22-6 record, he was jettisoned in their rebuild effort. Bone is 33 years old.

Former Sporting Kansas City and Phoenix Rising fullback Amadou Dia is a new addition to the team, and a strong one. He’s the very model of a modern major … overlapping fullback. He gets forward, directs early crosses, does the defending. A very impressive addition for this club that might help them to lift another trophy – Dia was with Phoenix when they won it all in 2019.

Last to mention is a favorite of mine, Enoch Mushagalusa, who I’ve been following since he was 16 years old. Enoch grew up in Denver, CO, went to the local high school in our neighborhood, and played in the Colorado Rapids academy. After a brief stint in college, he joined SKC II for a few years. He’s a fast, physical striker that is equally adept coming from wide areas or centrally. Very fast, good dribbler, not always fully aware of teammates to pass to in goal-scoring spots, not quite accurate enough as a finisher. For Hounds fans of a few years ago, he’s Cristiano François Jr.

It’d be nice to beat this team now. But odds are, this is just the first engagement in a long war. We play Louisville again in September, and chances seem pretty good that if we want to win the USL Championship trophy, the route to victory will run through Louisville yet again.

Last Week’s Starting XI

Morton; Leinhos, Charpie, Pino, Dia; DiPiccolo, Matsoso, Mogel; Serrano, Asensi, Mushagalusa

 

Match Info

Riverhounds (5-1-1) at Louisville City FC (5-0-3)
Date: Saturday, April 30
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Lynn Family Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
Odds: Hounds +295 / Draw +265 / Louisville -141 (BetRivers)
TV: 22 The Point
Streaming: ESPN+
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtag: #LOUvPIT

Image of Paolo DiPiccolo care of LouCity SC via twitter

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* – It is possible I have just made you mad. There is a Pittsburgh Soccer Now article that gives five reasons why MLS ought to come Pittsburgh. I quite honestly think this is sheer madness. Our owner isn’t wealthy enough. Our stadium isn’t spectacular enough. Our metro area is neither financially prestigious enough nor large enough – and it has been at a plateau in terms of population growth for the past decade. And Pittsburgh doesn’t have a reputation – as San Diego and Austin and St Louis do – of being a soccer hotbed. There is a world in which Pittsburgh gets an MLS franchise – that the Riverhounds become an MLS franchise. But a lot of things need to happen before that day, and a lot of those things seem improbable or unlikely to me. I’ll admit, by writing all of this, I am demonstrating that I am no fun at all.

**- Detroit has none of these things – no big money owner, no soccer culture, no rep as a growing city, and yet they’ve been in the mix for MLS expansion repeatedly over the past decade. Curious. It is the 14th-largest metro in the US; only Phoenix, the 10th largest, is bigger and also still lacking an MLS team.

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

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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