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Preview and Scouting Report: Back on the West Coast, first-place Hounds face Oakland Roots

Marc Ybarra will play a large role for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in their game against Louisville City FC

The Riverhounds will be looking to keep its winning streak and unbeaten run going, as they look to stay in first place in the USL Championship standings when they face Oakland Roots on Saturday night in Northern California.

The most pressing personnel issues for the Hounds (7-2-5, 26 points) come in the way of goalkeeping and forward rotation depth.

The team’s leading goal scorer, Albert Dikwa, won’t be available due to clavicle injury that will likely have him sidelined for a while (no official timetable given), and the team’s clear-cut number one goalkeeper, Jamhali Waite, will also not be available, as he’s with the Jamaican National Team, as they prepare to complete in the Gold Cup.  This will leave Pittsburgh with three options for the starting goalkeeper: Luis Zamudio, acquired this week on loan from D.C. United; Christian Garner, who has two starts in his first pro season; or Jonathan Gomes, Waite’s No. 2 for the past three matches but still awaiting his pro debut.

Hounds Notebook: Goalkeeping depth will be put to test while Jahmali Waite is with Jamaican National Team

More on the Oakland Roots

The Roots (6-4-3, 21 points — 5th in Western Conference), are yet another team in a City who’s sports teams have been dealing with stadium woes.

Tonight, the Hounds won’t be playing the Roots in Oakland proper, but rather in Hayward, as the Roots have been forced to move the remainder of its home matches for the 2023 USL Championship season due to unfit field conditions at their regular venue Laney College.

The Roots have played subsequent home games at California State University, East Bay in Hayward. Initially, the team said it would continue to play home games at Cal State East Bay through April, but that has been extended through the rest of the season.

“We explored all options and expert opinions to return to Laney College this season,” in a Roots announcement.

“Unfortunately, our turf field is incompatible with Laney’s new field that was recently installed, meaning we cannot meet United States Soccer Federation and United Soccer League standards for our games.”

The Roots come into Saturday’s match in decent form, without a loss in its last three matches, and the only losses they’ve been handed since April have been two setbacks vs Western Conference leading Sacramento, once in the Open Cup and again in league play.

Oakland is coached by Bay Area native Noah Delgado and a relative newcomer to the pro soccer coaching ranks.

The former Fresno State standout turned professional in 2002, embarking on a career that spanned more than a decade where he most notably played for the Puerto Rico Islanders and the Puerto Rico national team. After retiring, Delgado moved into coaching youth soccer before moving to the pro game as an assistant with the Roots in 2021. He also served on the El Salvador staff during 2022 World Cup qualification before being named the interim head coach for Oakland in August.

Under Delgado, the Roots came up just short of a playoff appearance last season in the season finale in Pittsburgh, when the Hounds took a 3-1 win in the only previous meeting between both clubs.

Delgado has his club moving in the right direction this season, as they’ve posted road wins at San Diego and Colorado and posted a 2-2 draw vs Phoenix on Saturday.

Much like some of the other league sides the Hounds have met recently, the Roots are yet another strong possession unit, as they’re near the top of the league in total passes (8th with 6,158) and passing accuracy (82% is second in USLC), but they’re also near the top of the league in goals scored (20) with a nearly identical conversion rate as the Hounds (17%).

One interesting note about the Roots, is they recently dealt Edgardo Rito, the team’s top player in 2022 (voted the team’s MVP), to Hartford Athletic for cash and Jeciel Cedeño, a former NY Red Bulls Academy product, who scored two goals in 36 appearances with Hartford.  Rito is in the midst of a career-season with 10 appearances, seven starts, and already reached career-highs of 576 minutes, two goals, and one assist. One of his goals came in Hartford’s win over Roots.

Listed as a midfielder, Cedeño can potentially step into the central role, as they need the help following Danny Gomez and Irakoze Donasiyano’s injuries.

Oakland also is shorthanded at the back due to Gold Cup call-ups, as defenders Neveal Hackshaw (Trinidad & Tobago) and Bryan Tamacas (El Salvador) both are unavailable for the hosts. Still, they have plenty of punch going forward, led by Polish striker Dariusz Formella and California native Johnny Rodriguez, each of whom has found the net five times this season.

Taking a closer look at the squad, much like the Hounds, the Roots have gone 18 to 20 players deep, as they use a heavy rotation of players, so they’ll have to turn to some of their key role players against the Riverhounds while their experienced back line players will be unavailable for selection.

it narrowly missed out on a third consecutive win after conceding a late equalizer to its hosts at Phoenix Rising Stadium. Oakland took the lead twice through goals by Dariusz Formella and Lindo Mfeka,

Systematically, Oakland tends to play in a 3-4-2-1 (or a 3-4-3), with center backs and wing backs who push up very high, but as previously mentioned, they do possess the ball very well too.

The question is, can the Hounds clog and limit space while disrupting Oakland enough to create dangerous moments as they look to get into transitional opportunities quickly? With Oakland having to play without two of its most consistent defenders, Pittsburgh will look to add pressure into the final third, an area where they’ve been inconsistent in its last two league matches.

It would make sense to see Oakland is play aggressively and push its wingers forward at home and against a keeper who hasn’t played much this season.  The Hounds will have to improve, despite posting three straight shutouts in league play as they’ve allowed Phoenix and Charleston to have the advantage in both possession and shot attempts.

With the Hounds adding a new keeper to the rotation, including the addition of Luis Zamudio, it’s anyone’s guess as to what Lilley and goalkeepers coach Jon Busch are thinking for their selection of a starting keeper, as they’ve been very reliant upon Jahmail Waite for much of this season.  While he’s not seen much action this year, Zamudio has the most experience among the current group of keepers, and with the Hounds in the thick of a race for first, they’re not leaving much room for chance as Lilley continues to breed competition for playing time at every position.

The Hounds back line has been suburb this season, especially during the team’s five-match win streak.  With a change at the keeper position, they’ll have to especially be on their ‘A’ game.

John K’s Projected Hounds Starting XI 

Riverhounds (7-2-5) vs. Oakland Roots (6-4-3)
Date: Saturday, June 17
Time: 10 p.m.
Location: Pioneer Stadium, Hayward, Calif.
Odds: Hounds +200 / Draw +240 / Oakland +110 (FanDuel)
Streaming: ESPN+ (national)
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #OAKvPIT 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).

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Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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