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Preview and Scouting Report: Back at Highmark, Hounds face another stingy Western Conference foe, Rio Grande Valley FC

File photo courtesy Ed Thompson

In the midst of a heavy road slate to the start the season, the Riverhounds SC are looking to get back on track after its first loss of the season when they take on yet another Western Conference opponent, the Rio Grande Valley Toros FC, at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night.

The match will take place 10 years and two days after Highmark Stadium made its debut.

ON THIS DAY: Ten years ago the Highmark Stadium era began for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

The Hounds (1-1-3, six points) are not quite in desperation mode yet, as it’s way too early in the season to be thinking along those lines, however, in a stretch where they’re playing two of its first nine league matches at home, and currently five of six on the road, picking up points at home is pretty essential.

In its only home match thus far, they salvaged a point with a late Burke Fahling goal against The Miami FC, settling for a 1-1 draw, back on March 27.

“In terms of travel. Playing against away fans. So much to take into with away games. It’s been a lot,” Riverhounds defender Pat Hogan said on the Mark Madden Show on Friday.

“If you look at our record to this point, we could probably have three wins by now.  Considering we’ve had only one home game, that’s a pretty great start to our season and something we really could build on.”

“We need to do better in both boxes. Something we always say. Being good in both boxes will win you game.  Finishing chances, finishing off goal scoring opportunities, putting the ball in the back of the net is one part of it, but the other side of the ball, keeping clean sheets and the ball out of the net.  if we can tighten up defensively, it’s only a matter of time before we start putting goals in the back of the net,”

Coming off a stinging loss at Colorado Springs, Pittsburgh will be without a number of players who were in the starting eleven the last time they played at Highmark Stadium.

The club’s injury / inactives report has stacked up to its largest number thus far this season, as Junior Etou (arm injury) will be joined in the stands by Robbie Mertz and Arturo Ordonez, who were both sent off in the 1-0 loss to the Switchbacks last Saturday.

More on RGV Toros 

RGV does come into the match with extra rest, having not played a league match last weekend.

The Toros’ last outing was also their first setback of the season, as they were eliminated in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup, 2-0, in a road match South Georgia Tormenta of USL League One on April 6.

The Hounds continue to find themselves playing opponents who are much like them.

Rio Grande Valley FC (1-0-3, six points) have just surrendered three goals in four league matches this season (Hounds have surrendered four goals in five matches), and even as RGVFC has struggled to generate a bevy of attacking chances with any consistency, by scoring one goal in each of its first four, they’ve picked up points in each contest.

Their first three matches were all 1-1 draws against the likes of fellow middle-of-the-pack Western Conference foes, Las Vegas and Monterey Bay.  In their fourth tilt, on the road against Eastern Conference Detroit City FC, the Toros’ Taylor Davila scored the match’s lone tally in the 23rd minute.

It was a very clever finish from Davila, who leads the club with two goals early in the season.

Goalkeeper Tyler Deric has been solid in the face of pressure, already picking up 14 saves this season.

On the road this season, the Toros appear willing to concede possession.  Detroit held the edge in the keep away department (59%/41%), but the Toros were able to generate some quality advances in transition.

In addition to Davila, Ricky Ruiz and Jonathan Ricketts are RGV’s other two goal scorers this season.

It was Ruiz who had the lone goal in the only match ever played between the teams last season in Edinberg.

Takeaways & Player Grades: Another unfulfilling road trip for the Hounds

Taking a closer look at their roster, the Toros some very interesting players to watch at Highmark on Saturday.

The Hounds will have to be on the lookout for José Torres, who at one time was a part of the United States Men’s National Team selection pool (last call-up came in 2013), while playing much of his career in Mexico (Pachuca, Tigres UANL and Puebla).

Switchbacks Sign Former United States International Jose Francisco Torres

Jose Torres | Photo Courtesy US Soccer

Since 2021, Torres has come into the USLC, first with Colorado Springs for one season, and now he enters year two with the Toros.

At age 35, much like his thirtysomething counterpart on the Hounds side, Kenardo Forbes, Torres, who goes by the nickname ‘Gringo,’ provides essential leadership in the middle of the park for the Toros.   The native of Longview, TX, and son of a Mexican father, who was eligible to play for both the U.S. and Mexico, chose to play for the Red, White and Blue, making 26 appearances internationally.  Torres did get selected for the 23-man USMNT team at the 2010 World Cup, getting one start (in Group play vs Slovenia).

Torres has created 12 chances in his four matches thus far this season, though he’s without a goal or an assist, he’ll tend to be deployed in the central midfield, often sitting back deeper, as a reliable presence sitting in front of the backline, as the Toros have most frequently gone with a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3 formation this season.

The one familiar face Hounds fans will recognize for the Toros is the Haitian dynamo on the wing, Christiano François.

Chistiano Francois when playing against the Hounds in 2021 with The Miami FC | Photo courtesy Mark Goodman

With his seventh team in seven seasons, the explosive, charismatic but maybe sometimes inconsistent François has been happy to add to his USL Championship jersey collection.

And kudos to the Cheetah, who recently officially became a U.S. citizen.

Once signed by DC United out of college (never made an appearance with the MLS club), François has made a total of 163 USL Championship appearances, with 32 goals.  His career season high came when he scored 11 times with The Miami FC in 2021, when the club was mired in an intense four-game series vs the Hounds, as François hit the back of the net three times against Pittsburgh.

Clearly, Bob Lilley will have to come up with game plan to slow down François, find a way to deny Torres from having a lot of touches, and swarm Davila when he gets near or in the box, while keeping a strong defensive overall shape.

It might start for the Hounds with its seasoned but reshuffled midfield (with Mertz and Etou out) to take control of the match on its home field by controlling possession and dictating terms from the first whistle.

“We have to do better with the ball. Defensively regardless of the back four, as a team, we’ve done well when we don’t have the ball. Now it’s taking care of the ball, making other teams work, and put them under pressure,” Hogan added.

“Once we start connecting those passes, and making the final decisions in the final third, we’ll be fine.”

Match-Ups To Watch

Last week, it was Kenardo Forbes vs Devon ‘Speedy’ Williams in the middle of the field, and this week it’s another good central midfield battle between two 35 year-old veterans, Forbes and Torres.   Will be fun to see who can be more involved in the chances created department.

In addition, what will the Hounds be doing to slow down the Cheetah on the right wing?  That task will likely come down to Nate Dossantos and the center backs having to play effective positionally.  It will be interesting to see how high the Hounds keep their defensive line through the night too.

Projected Starting XI (Riverhounds) 


Riverhounds (1-1-3) vs. Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (1-0-3)
Date: Saturday, April 15
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium
Tickets: Ticketmaster
Odds: Hounds -105 / Draw +230 / Rio Grande Valley +260 (FanDuel)
TV: Pittsburgh’s CW
Streaming: ESPN+ (national), Pittsburgh’s CW (local)
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #PITvRGV and #HOUNDTAHN


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 Kenardo Forbes

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