It’s a Riverhounds SC match day, and the stakes are pretty high and the storylines are pretty juicy as Pittsburgh’s pro soccer team looks to continue to revel in its role as an underdog when they take on Major League Soccer’s FC Cincinnati in the Quarterfinal Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament (7 p.m. kickoff).
The winner of Tuesday’s game at TQL Stadium will face the winner of the corresponding quarterfinal match between Inter Miami CF and Birmingham Legion, another USL Championship club.
Pittsburgh Soccer Now will have on-site coverage, as our Midwest contributor, Dan Angell, will be at TQL Stadium, plus Mark Goodman will take a closer look at FC Cincinnati and provide the Match Preview/Scouting Report.
The Hounds have made this historic run in the Open Cup with lights out defense, shutting down Maryland Bobcats FC, then two MLS opponents, New England Revolution and Columbus Crew.
Now, Bob Lilley’s red-hot squad faces the biggest challenge yet, taking on the best team the U.S. Soccer’s top division in Pat Noonan’s FC Cincy club, which has been dealt only one loss in all competitions this season.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) June 6, 2023
“We’ve already played two teams like this, MLS teams, so we know what to expect,” Hounds defender Luke Biasi said.
“The best thing about this team, is that it’s just another game to us. We’re really excited about the experience. We’re going to get after it.”
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) June 5, 2023
The Hounds will look to take the match to FC Cincinnati, much like they did in the first half against the same opponent last year in the same stadium (Hounds would end up losing, 2-0, in extra time), and as they did to defeat New England and Columbus.
Among the key storylines:
- Pittsburgh could advance further than it ever has in the U.S. Open Cup (best finish was Quarterfinals in 2001, when they lost to Chicago Fire at Bethel Park Stadium (yes — that’s right!), 3-2.
- The Hounds are trying to become the first Western Pennsylvania team to reach the Open Cup semifinals since 1958, and Cincinnati is trying to equal their best Open Cup run ever, a 2017 trip to the semis in their second year as a USL team.
- The Hounds and FC Cincinnati have combined for 20 straight matches without a loss in all competitions. Neither side has lost a match since late April.
- The Hounds have shut out all three opponents in the Open Cup
- FC Cincinnati is the current leaders in the race to the MLS Supporters Shield, but in the league since 2019, and in existence when they burst on the scene in the USLC, they’ve never won a trophy.
- The team’s faced each other last season in the USOC, with Cincy coming away with a 2-0 win in Extra Time
- Will Hounds leading scorer, Albert Dikwa play? The Cameroonian forward has been recovering from a hip flexor injury, which forced him to leave the match vs Columbus near the 60th minute. He has not played in the last two matches.
In Monday’s Hounds Notebook, we took a deeper look at the Hounds approach and their current squad rotation heading into this match.
Even with an injury to the team’s leading scorer and the absence of forward Edward Kizza due to a red card suspension in the previous Open Cup match, the Hounds know they can’t sit back too much against a high-level opponent.
“You can’t just get conservative,” said Lilley.
“If you’re not running forward and you’re just trying to steal something off the other team, you’re going to have to be very lucky to get anything.”
If you think FC Cincinnati will be taking the Hounds lightly, you won’t get any indication from Head Coach Pat Noonan, who has guided this club to the top of MLS thus far this season.
“I like where we’re at in terms of going after a trophy. We’ve been kind of taking the competition game by game to see where we’re at in terms of personnel,” FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said.
“Guys have stepped up in different ways to allow us to be in the quarterfinal and we’re at home. We have an opportunity to play in a semifinal and then, depending on how the draw works out, you’re two games from being a champion. We’re approaching this like we have a chance to win it and that should be the approach. Like I said, we have to get through a very difficult opponent tomorrow and we’ll see how the cards play out with a path to the final.”
Noonan is wary of what the Hounds can do.
“So, you know, they’ve now beaten New England and Columbus as far as the MLS opponents. So our guys, you know, we’re educated on the challenge that they’re going to have in front of them tomorrow to certainly not underestimate a really good team,” Noonan said.
Following the exciting win before an overflow sellout crowd vs Columbus Crew at Highmark Stadium, the Hounds have generated a lot of positive publicity and are starting to gain more attention both locally among mainstream Pittsburgh audience, but also among the American soccer scene.
Media personality, Mark Madden wrote a column about the club on Monday, while there have been multiple features on Bob Lilley and the Hounds success in National publications and websites, including U.S. Soccer.
Sure, it’s only Class AAA soccer. But the Riverhounds are quietly becoming a phenomenon.
They are one of two AAA teams in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, the annual tournament that’s open to every team in the country. @MarkMaddenXhttps://t.co/SUEp55dppF
— Tribune-Review Sports (@TribSports) June 5, 2023
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) June 5, 2023
And for the fans watching locally, the Steel Army, the Hounds supporters group will be hosting its Viewing Party at none other than Pittsburgh Soccer Now site sponsor, The Bulldog Pub.
— Bulldog Pub (@BulldogPGH) June 5, 2023
Tuesday’s quarterfinal will be a return to Bleacher Report’s B/R Football platform for the Hounds. The match will be free to stream via the B/R Football YouTube channel, as well as directly through the B/R Football mobile app.