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Hounds Notebook: Sizing up showdown with resurgent Memphis 901 FC

Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC

As good as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC have played of late (winning six of seven in a seven game unbeaten streak), they still have some really good teams in front of the them in the standings.

If you look at the current USL Championship Eastern Conference top four teams (includng the 4th place Hounds), and run of form of for each of these clubs, in a combined 30 games, they have just four non-wins (three draws and a Memphis loss to the one of the other three, front-running Louisville City FC, 2-1 on July 16.

You can also count BIrmingham Legion as another team knocking on the door, as they’re just two points behind Pittsburgh. Detroit City FC, have dropped off a bit in the past five games.

The cream has risen to the top in the Eastern Conference.

Pos. P W L T GD Pts Form
1
Louisville City FC
Louisville City FC 22 15 3 4 31 49
WWDWW
2
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Tampa Bay Rowdies 23 14 3 6 25 48
WWWWW
3
Memphis 901 FC
Memphis 901 FC 22 14 5 3 20 45
WLDWW
4
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 23 13 6 4 12 43
WDWWW
5
Birmingham Legion FC
Birmingham Legion FC 23 12 6 5 15 41
WLWWW
6
Detroit City FC
Detroit City FC 22 9 5 8 7 35
DWDDL
7
The Miami FC
The Miami FC 23 9 7 7 4 34
LWDWW
8
FC Tulsa
FC Tulsa 23 7 12 4 -11 25
DWLWL
9
Indy Eleven
Indy Eleven 22 6 12 4 -11 22
LLDLL
10
Loudoun United FC
Loudoun United FC 22 5 14 3 -22 18
LLLLW
11
Hartford Athletic
Hartford Athletic 23 4 14 5 -13 17
LLDLL
12
Atlanta United 2
Atlanta United 2 24 4 16 4 -36 16
LLLDL
13
Charleston Battery
Charleston Battery 23 3 16 4 -25 13
LWDLL
14
New York Red Bulls II
New York Red Bulls II 22 2 17 3 -33 9
LWLLL

The Hounds are happy to be home for the next two weeks, where they’ve been on a regular Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday training schedule ahead of Saturday evening games.  In fact, the Hounds will be at home for three of the next four matches, with one road tilt at Atlanta United 2 during this stretch.

First up, its a battle for third place with Memphis.

What’s at stake?

If Memphis can get a result here, it would then have the chance to take advantage of its game in hand on the Hounds and push toward a top-three finish and first home playoff game in club history.

If the Hounds can pull off the sweep, it will be the statement win they need and push them where they want to be — right in the top three, and zone in on making a run at the top dogs, Louisville City FC and Tampa Bay.

But first things first.

CIcerone Named to USL Championship Team of the Week Again

Riverhounds SC forward Russell Cicerone was selected to the USL Championship Team of the Week for Week 22, the league announced this afternoon.

Cicerone scored both goals in the Hounds’ 2-0 win at Indy Eleven last Saturday, as the Hounds continued their strong run of results that has seen them go 6-0-1 in the last seven games. He also connected on 10 of 12 passes and took a team-high four shots (three on goal).

The two goals give Cicerone 11 on the season, which makes him just the third player in Hounds history to post consecutive double-digit goal seasons, joining Corey Hertzog (2016-17) and Neco Brett (2018-19). The Michigan native has scored 27 goals thus far in his two seasons with the Hounds, tying him with Hertzog for sixth in the club’s 23-year history.

It is the second Team of the Week honor this season for Cicerone, who also made the league’s best 11 in Week 10. The full Team of the Week can be found at uslchampionship.com.

After his brace on Saturday, Cicerone caught up with PSN’s Dan Angell.

Double Hounds’ Sounding Off of Soccer Pods This Week

Earlier in the week, PSN’s Midwest contributor, Dan Angell, who covered the Hounds’ 2-0 win at Indy on Saturday, joined me to talk about the Hounds road matches he’s covered the past few seasons in Indy and Louisville City FC.

Sounding Off on Soccer: Red-Hot Hounds with Dan Angell

Then, on Thursday, I caught up with John Varlas, of The Daily Memphian, who covers 901 FC.

Even he was as surprised as anyone else to see this team have the success that they’ve had this season.

Sounding Off on Soccer: Previewing Hounds-Memphis showdown with Daily Memphian’s John Varlas

Contending Memphis Should Be Tougher This Time Around

With this upcoming home match vs Memphis, the Hounds have an opportunity to jump ahead of the upstart 901 FC who have become a club that has surged forward to become a serious contender for the first time in its four-year existence, despite a rough start which including a Riverhounds 3-0 win in the City of Blues back in March.

FINAL: Riverhounds SC 3, Memphis 901 FC 0

The Hounds will have their hands full on Saturday when they face the resurgent Memphis 901 FC.

This is a team that has evolved since PSN’s Mark Goodman penned this Scouting Report ahead of the opener.

Now, looking at the clubs, not much separates them.  The Hounds have played one more match, but Memphis has scored more goals (Memphis – 42; Hounds -36) and conceded less (Hounds – 26; Memphis – 22)

Head Coach Ben Pirrman revamped his team’s attacking tactics and brought more international flavor to his squad, building off a playoff appearance a year ago, with even more talent. Memphis’ conversion rate is a bit better than Pittsburgh’s.

Most importantly, since that season opening loss, Pirrman has helped forge this team’s identity.

He’s been preaching his club’s internal motto: “high character and high energy.”

“We really push on that being our identity,” Pirrman said recently to The Commercial Appeal. “We want to have a selfless serving mantra. Then we want to keep getting a little bit better and better from the tactical and technical side of things.”

Memphis’ resurgence to — even reach the top of the Eastern Conference standings for a few weeks — earned him USL Championship Coach of the Month honors for May.

In addition, Jeremy Kelly was named USL player of the month.

After two seasons with Atlanta United 2, where he was teammates with Robbie Mertz, former MLS SuperDraft pick, Phillip Goodrum has really blossomed in Memphis, becoming the team’s leading scorer with 13 tallies.

This is a club which Sporting Director Tim Howard has assembled veteran presence as Laurent Kissiedou, Zach Carroll and Kelly have provided leadership (and some more goals — as Kelly and Kissiedou each have five). Along with Aaron Malloy, Kelly have been the playmakers in the middle.

Molloy will be the primary dead ball kick taker, as he’s led the league with eight assists while picking up six (!!) Team of the Week nods this season.

Kelly, a versatile player, has been at the center of the 901 FC attack since moving from the back line this season, tied for third in the league with seven assists in 20 appearances

In addition, Howard has also not been afraid to go out and sign young talent.

Case in point, recent 17-year old signing, Nighte Pickering, scored in his debut last week with a bicycle kick goal.

This is a club with balanced scoring and are in every match thanks to stronger defense that has come a long way since opening week.

“Everybody on this team is willing to go through a wall for each other,” Goodrum told The Commercial Appeal.

“I think that’s what makes this group special and the level of camaraderie that we have here. Everybody is 100% and there’s no guys that are on the fence or are selfish.”

Former Kiski Prep and Akron standout, David Egbo, who was honored as Gatorade PA High School Player of the Year in 2017, is also on the Memphis roster.  Drafted by Vancouver in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, Egbo made 17 appearances on loan with Phoenix last season, and currently has tallied one goal in seven appearances with 901 FC this season.

With Goodrum’s emergence, Egbo has been more of a spot starter and reserve with this club.  Another young forward and 2021 SuperDraft pick, who started the season in Memphis is Edward Kizza.  Again, with lack of playing time, Kizza ended up returning back to the New England Revolution, who in turn loaned him back out to the Hounds.  It will be interesting to see if Kizza gets some playing time against his former club.

Discipline Report: Ybarra Suspended for One Match

Hounds midfielder Marc Ybarra has been suspended for one game following his red card for two cautionable offenses (two yellow cards if you are scoring at home) against Indy Eleven on August 6.

Ybarra will be unavailable for selection vs Memphis on Saturday night.

This is the second red card of the season for the Hounds, as Dane Kelly was sent off in a loss at Louisville City FC in late April.

Yet, despite this, the Hounds still remain as one of the more disciplined sides in the Championship.

PSN Coverage for #PITvMEM 

Look for full team coverage on Saturday, from Highmark Stadium, as the PSN crew will be on hand for this pivotal match-up.

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

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