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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Preview and Scouting Report: Hounds looking to keep momentum going vs the flickering Las Vegas Lights FC

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

If there was ever a trap game, this Saturday’s match vs Las Vegas Lights might just be that for the Riverhounds SC.

Pittsburgh enters the contest on a bit of a roll, having defeated Birmingham 2-1, at home last Saturday following an emphatic Open Cup win at New England on May 9.  That big Open Cup win also means that the next Round of 16 match-up at Highmark Stadium vs the Columbus Crew is looming next week, on Wednesday.

Ironically, and for whatever it’s worth, this is the second consecutive season the Hounds will face Las Vegas ahead of an Open Cup match vs a Major League Soccer side.

Last year, a lifeless Hounds attack couldn’t get any momentum going, as they dropped a road match at Las Vegas, 1-0.  Danny Trejo (yeah the same name as the actor but different guy), scored the lone goal in the match. Have no fear Hounds fans, Trejo has moved on, as he’s with Phoenix Rising this season.  After getting off to a 4-0-1 start in 2022, the loss in Vegas turned out to be the Hounds’ first loss of the season.

“I am not the type of coach that does too much advance scouting. I know enough, and have a pretty good idea about Columbus, that we’ll focus on that right after the game (vs Las Vegas) is over,” Lilley said last week after defeating Birmingham.

“Right now, we have to focus on Las Vegas, to get another three points at home.  It’s an important match for us.”

More on the Las Vegas Lights

The Hounds opponents on Saturday (7 p.m. kickoff) are currently in last place in the Western Conference and as the only club in the USL Championship without a win this season although they’ve been a tougher out for opponents in the last five matches, posting a 0-2-3 record, giving up only five goals in this stretch.

Most recently, as they hosted Doggie Olympics Night (of course they did — it’s Vega$$$ after all) at its home, Cashman Field, the Lights played FC Tulsa to a 1-1 draw last Saturday.

For a club without a win, it was another relatively positive display, but another result where they failed to pick up three points.

Despite being winless, there have been some encouraging signs that the Lights will pull through with a win.  Every one of its last four matches have been tight, hard-fought contests, and that much should be expected when they take on the Hounds at Highmark.

They battled defending champions San Antonio FC twice in two tight contests — a 1-1 draw on the road in April, and then two weeks ago, putting up a record for its most shots on target in a game this season (6) among 15 shots overall, despite losing, 2-1. The Lights followed that loss with a 1-1 draw vs Tulsa last week.

Head coach Isidro Sanchez, who returned to Vegas in the offseason after serving as the franchise’s first head coach back in 2018, is searching for both offensive and defensive consistency in his homecoming season.

The club has seen significant roster turnover, with 25 new faces who were not part of the squad last season as the club is in rebuilding mode following the severance of its affiliation with MLS’ Los Angeles FC in the offseason.  Like most USL Championship teams, the Lights have some veterans sprinkled into a lineup that also features many young players between ages 20-25.

One of the big offseason pickups for the Lights, was the addition of Erick “Cubo” Torres, a former Mexican international, who also played in Liga MX and Major League Soccer.

Thus far, in nine appearances, Cubo has just one goal.

The veteran mainstays in the lineup include Emmanuel Ledesma, who you may recall from his couple of seasons with FC Cincinnati, when he scored 16 goals when they were still in the Championship, in 2019, Torres, defenders Lucas  Zach Carroll, who has eight years of USLC experience under his belt, as a champion with NY Red Bulls II (in 2016), with Reno and most recently Memphis), and 28 year-old Lucas Stauffer (eight starts and tied for team lead with two goals), and 26 year-old Mexican forward Pato Bortello, who played with Detroit City FC last year, scoring eight goals in 2022.  Bortello also has two goals for the Lights, including last week’s penalty conversion equalizer.

A player the Hounds will have to monitor on the right attacking wing spot is Tabort Etaka Preston, a Cameroonian winger who has started each of the past two games and been lively on the right side.

In the central midfield, has been the team’s most consistent player, starting all nine league matches, Andrés Jiménez Aranzazu, a 23-year old from Miami, who has been key in carrying the ball forward and getting the ball out to the attackers and wingers.

On the opposite side, is a player Pittsburgh may be more familiar with, Andrew Carleton, a one-time USYNT standout, who was signed as a teenager with MLS’ Atlanta United, but now at 22 years of age, has already been well traveled, with the Lights being his fifth USL Championship club.  That’s right — he’s been with Atlanta United 2, was loaned at different times to Charleston and Indy Eleven, and spent last season with the San Diego Loyal.

Carleton is an x-factor for this team, as a high-level talent, as a facilitator and winger, who currently leads the club in chances created (11) this season, as they’ve been, as a whole, not able to create a lot of consistency in the final third.

The Lights FC ranks 19th out of 24 clubs with eight goals scored while conceding 13 goals, the fifth-most in the league.  Despite being 12th in shots attempted, their conversion rate is near the bottom of the league, at just 11% (what a discrepancy from Monterey Bay, who the Hounds faced two weeks ago, who carry 32% conversion rate).

The Lights try to play a 4-2-3-1 formation this season, but when they go on the attack, it looks more like a 4-3-3 or even a 4-2-4. Things haven’t been working out too well for them, as they’re last in total passes in the USLC (2,569), and second to last in passing accuracy (only 64%), but they’ve come close to connecting dots with a mix of players really trying to mesh well in their first season together.

This could be a physical match, as the Hounds are second in the league in fouls (157) while Las Vegas sits in 10th, with 138 total fouls.

Match-Ups to Watch

The Hounds are in excellent form, and have found its rhythm as a midfield with the addition of Danny Griffin and defensively, they continue to minimize opponents chances.

This should give them a solid advantage against a Las Vegas team that has struggled to create quality chances and have one of the league’s worst conversion rates.  Vegas has experienced defenders in the back, and on the surface should not be rattled by Pittsburgh’s high press that always seems to come in games at Highmark Stadium.

The Hounds will want to limit the number of touches to Andrés Jiménez Aranzazu, and the midfield trio of Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz and Griffin need to continue to have more touches in each and every game.  The more time that trio has on the ball, good things will happen for Pittsburgh, and more chances can be created for the league’s top goal scorer, Albert Dikwa.

Lilley hinted that he has a lot of faith in going with heavy squad rotation, especially with three games coming in eight days.  I fully expect the Hounds to pull Forbes and Mertz — and likely their wingers — to keep fresh legs on the pitch for this match.  That seems to be the substitution patterns that Lilley has used in recent weeks.

Pato Botello Faz and Emmanuel Ledesma, who is now 34 years of age, are dangerous players that Las Vegas will likely bring off the bench.

Las Vegas Starting XI last week vs Tulsa: 

John K’s Projected Hounds Starting XI 

#PITvLVL PSN Coverage 

Look for on-site coverage at Highmark Stadium from Dominic Campbell (reporting) and Ed Thompson (photography).

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).

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