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Columbus Crew veteran keeper Evan Bush on playing Open Cup Round of 16 match in Pittsburgh: ‘It’s going to be difficult’

Photo courtesy Columbus Crew

The Columbus Crew have already won a pair of matches in its quest to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, defeating two USL Championship teams who the Pittsburgh Riverhounds know very well, Indy Eleven and Loudoun United FC.

Crew veteran goalkeeper Evan Bush has seen his share of tough, hard-fought U.S. Open Cup battles, and he is fully expecting his team to have its hands full against the Riverhounds at Highmark Stadium on Wednesday night before what should be an overflow, sellout crowd as Pittsburgh will be facing a Major League Soccer club for the first time on its home field in eight years.

On Monday, Bush, the elder statesmen on the club, at age 37, said that he’s been telling his teammates that it’s going to be a tough test.

“We’re going to go into Pittsburgh, and it’s going to be difficult,” Bush said.

The Crew are coming off a disappointing 3-2 ‘Hell Is Real’ Derby loss to FC Cincinnati on Saturday.  The Crew are currently 5-3-5 (W-D-L) overall in MLS.

You could say that it’s a week from hell for Columbus, who will be going from ‘Hell Is Real’ match to a City once described by the Atlantic Monthly in the 1860’s, in the heyday of the Steel industry, as ‘hell with the lid taken off’.

The Steel Army in the Paul Child Stand and a packed house at Highmark Stadium will do everything they can to disrupt the Crew, but Bush acknowledged that his team’s main concern is having to outplay a team and minimize mistakes against a side that’s in very good form right now, as the Riverhounds have won three straight, and are unbeaten at home.

“Loudoun is a different opponent than Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh has more maturity, experience. Their coach is really good at this competition.  He’s been doing it for a long time.  Our job, maybe a lot of younger guys may not understand, that this is not going to be a difficult game, a difficult environment,” Bush said.

“MLS, USL, it doesn’t matter.  It’s going to be very good competition. We’re going to have to be very sharp.”

After Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win vs Las Vegas on Saturday, Head Coach Bob Lilley spoke glowingly of the Crew’s Head Coach Wilfried Nancy, who has replaced Caleb Porter this season. Ironically, both coaches previously coached the Montreal Impact, though for Nancy, it was more recent, as he led Montreal to a club-best, regular-season record of 20-9-5. Lilley was at the helm of the Impact 20 years ago.  Under Nancy’s direction in 2022, the Impact finished with 65 total points, second in the Eastern Conference and third overall in MLS, just two points shy of the Supporters’ Shield winners.

In Columbus, Nancy’s had some hiccups early in his tenure, but still, has the Crew in the middle of the MLS Eastern Conference pack and they enter the last 16 of the US Open Cup having posted a record of 2-1-2 in the past five matches, all while dealing with some depth issues along the back line.

Nancy put the onus of his team’s loss to FC Cincy on his shoulders, as his club trailed 2-0 early in the match.

“Listen, this is our job to come back,” the coach told the media after the game. “

“Again, I really like the second half the way we played. As you know, Cincinnati, it’s not easy to play against them. Again, we saw really good things. We saw also a lot of things that we have to be better at, but this is not about tactic or technique. This is about try to be more present and believe in yourself. For me, again, the good example was the second half because they believe in them.”

“They have lots of players that can hurt you,” Lilley said of Columbus on Saturday night.

“Columbus is going to pick you apart. They’re going to make you run over here, then pop-up, and it’s over here. We have to be committed to getting in their face when we can. Pressing when we can. Doing more work than we’ve done all year, and that’s where the crowd can help us being at home.”

Lilley, who has been coaching in Open Cup matches going back to 1997, when he took the Hershey Wildcats into battle with DC United, knows how important it will be for his squad to take the match to the Crew on Wednesday.

“The challenge for us is going to be that we can’t sit back and chase all game and not think they don’t have the quality to break us down,” Lilley said.

“We’re going to have to disrupt, which means a lot of work. We’re going to have to be willing to press, go forward and make them defend, because if they dictate the entire game on our field, we will not have a chance after 90 minutes.

“We’re going to have to work hard just like we did in New England and be brave to win balls and press higher up the pitch. We’ll need the crowd to spur us on and give us energy. I believe that’s our best chance. Having 6,000 people in here giving us that emotion and energy to go out there and compete.”

The two clubs have played once before in the Open Cup, in 2019, when the Hounds, with just 16 healthy players on its roster, ventured to battle the Crew, coming up short in a 1-0 loss in the Open Cup’s Fourth Round, as David Accam scored the only goal of that match.

PSN’s Matt Gajtka covered that match.

‘Gutsy’ Hounds run out of steam in Open Cup loss at Columbus

Despite holding the Crew to three shots on frame in 90 minutes — the Hounds were unable to string together three consecutive Open Cup victories for the first time in their 20-year history.

“I think we limited their chances,” Lilley said that night.

“We knew they’d have more of the ball. I actually liked the amount of times we got out clean in the first half, but I think if we passed it a little better, there were more clean chances we could’ve carved out.

“I think we worked together well. We covered for each other well. We put up a ton of resistance and had the ambition to try to break out.”

Although the Hounds didn’t create many chances that night, Kenardo Forbes was staring at a golden chance in the 83rd minute to hit the equalizer.

Forbes accepted a square ball from Robbie Mertz and struck his shot cleanly from the edge of the Columbus Crew SC penalty area.The ball blew past the outstretched glove of Crew keeper John Kempin.

And then it sailed over the crossbar.

That was the only shot attempt of the second half for the Hounds that night, who gradually fell off the pace after a promising first half.

“I think we executed the game plan well for the most part,” Forbes said.

“Unfortunately I hit it over the (bar). Just one of those days.”

Now, the Hounds-Crew will add another chapter in this history on Wednesday, and for Pittsburgh soccer fans and the Riverhounds, it may be one of the biggest matches in club history.

Lilley took his team to face Columbus at the start of the preseason in early February in what already seems ages ago.  There was no scored shared from the match by either club.

But the veteran coach knows that his group will be ready for the challenge.

“We played them in the preseason. We know how good they are, but hardly any of our guys played, it was mostly our trialists.  Most of them were there, and they know it, and know it will be a different challenge. They’re ready to put their best foot forward.”

PSN’s Open Cup Match Coverage 

Look for much more to come, as we look ahead of the Riverhounds-Crew clash.  Not only will we have on-site coverage, but we’ll also be previewing this match and sharing more on Tuesday and Wednesday prior to the match.

Fun Hounds’ Open Cup Factoids

  • In the Highmark Stadium era (since 2013), the Hounds have posted an 12-8 overall record in the Open Cup. (this includes its 2nd round forfeit win vs Rochester NY FC).
  • All-time, the Hounds are 17-17 overall in the Open Cup.
  • The club the Hounds have faced the most in Open Cup?  None other than former Old Guard Shield rival Rochester (losses in 2000, 2008, 2009, 2010).  The forfeit win in 2023 technically was its first ever against Rochester in the competition.
  • Other clubs the Hounds have faced more than once in the Open Cup
    • Chicago Fire (2001 & 2014)
    • DC United (2003 & 2015)
    • Michigan Bucks (2006 & 2012)
    • RWB Adria (2013 & 2014)
    • FC Cincinnati (2018 & 2022)
    • Maryland Bobcats (2022 & 2023)
  • In seven matches vs MLS opponents, the Hounds have posted a 2-6 record
    • The Hounds’ wins vs MLS foes came vs Colorado Rapids (2-0) on June 27, 2001, at Bethel Park Stadium and vs New England Revolution, 1-0, on May 9, 2023, at Gillette Stadium.
    • Three of their losses came in matches that went to Extra Time (3-2 loss vs Chicago in 2001, 3-1 loss vs DC United in 2015 and 2-1 loss at FC Cincinnati in 2022)
  • Against lower division teams, the Hounds have mixed success with an overall record of 10-7
    • After losing to Fourth Division Chicago FC United in 2017 and amateurs’ Landsdowne Bhoys in 2016, the Hounds have rebounded in the Bob Lilley era with wins against the Erie Commodores (2018) and Dayton Dutch Lions (2019), Maryland Bobcats (2022 and 2023).
    • In the Bob Lilley era, the Hounds are 7-3 in the Open Cup, with losses coming to FC Cincinnati (in 3rd Round in 2018 and 3rd Round in 2022) and Columbus Crew (in 4th Round in 2019). Wins have come versus Erie, Dayton, Indy Eleven (2019), Maryland Bobcats (2022 & 2023), Rochester (2023) and New England (2023).

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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