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Preview and Scouting Report: Riverhounds renew rivalry with lurking Louisville City FC

Photo courtesy Louisville City FC

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC have been very successful thus far this season on the field, boosted by an impressive Open Cup run and now they’re on a nine-match unbeaten streak in league play.

Still, there’s more than half of the regular season to go for the club, as they currently sit at the top of the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings.

If there’s one team that Pittsburgh would love to distance themselves from in the standings is Louisville City FC, who have been a regular nemesis for the Hounds since they’ve come into existence, especially in the postseason.

Both mainstays at the top of the Eastern Conference standings in recent years, the two clubs have met in the postseason three of the past four years, including 2022’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, which Louisville won in a penalty kick shootout.

It was a bitter loss for the Hounds, who held a 2-0 lead as late as the 82nd minute, then despite holding on against all the momentum through the end of regulation, and extra time, the Hounds would fall in the penalty kick shootout.

FINAL: Louisville City FC 2, Riverhounds 2 (LouCity wins PK shootout, 5-3)

It was bitter defeat that stung for much of the off season.  It also set Bob Lilley on a course of rebuilding his roster to become younger and deeper, which Louisville has done successfully in recent years.

The Hounds are 3-1-3 in regular-season matches against Louisville and 3-3-4 in all matches since the start of 2018, and they are the only two USL Championship teams to qualify for the postseason every year in that time frame.

Now the two sides will meet twice in less than 10 days, putting the roster depth they’ve both built and young legs to the test.

The Hounds aim to keep their impeccable Highmark record rolling this season, as they seek a 10th consecutive win in all competitions on home turf and to build on a 6-0-1 home record in USL Championship play. Tola Showunmi has scored in his last two home matches for the Hounds with top scorer Albert Dikwa (clavicle) still out but nearing his return, and the Hounds will soon receive a boost in midfield with Robbie Mertz (foot) returning to a full training schedule this week. It also appears that Nate Dosantos is unlikely to play as well, as he’s been listed on the injury report too, and PSN’s Dom Campbell reported that he sat out training on Thursday.

Hounds Notebook: Despite injuries, next man up mentality fuels Pittsburgh’s unbeaten streak

Louisville City FC: Scouting Report

It has been an up-and-down season for the boys in Purple and Gold, especially for their high standards.

Currently, Louisville City FC are sitting fifth in the table, with a 7-4-4 record that includes a minus-2 goal differential predicated on two early season blowout losses (by a combined 0-8 score line) to the top two teams in the USL Championship’s Western Conference, El Paso and Sacramento.  Otherwise, Louisville City have continued with their usual traits of being difficult team to score goals against, and while they will play direct at times, they still boast some of best young talented players in the league.

Though their goal scoring hasn’t been consistent, they still possess threatening players in leading scorerWilson Harris and dynamic forward Enoch Mushagalusa, who netted the game winner in Lou City’s last match against Las Vegas.

Danny Cruz has been at the helm of Lou City for the past two years, and is very well aware of what every match against a Bob Lilley coached team in Pittsburgh is going to be like.  When he was in Pittsburgh, was a preseason match in early March, following an intense, scoreless match, Cruz shared his thoughts with PSN.

Cruz came away from Pittsburgh once again believing that the Hounds will be one of the toughest teams on their schedule.

‘Strong. Organized tactically. Both with the ball, and without the ball. And a winning mentality,” Cruz explained.

As soon as the whistle blew last week, as Lilley’s squad had escaped Highmark with a come-from-behind win, the veteran coach immediately went into preparation mode (as he usually does) with an extra level of intensity for Louisville City FC.

The Hounds will have to keep former Sporting KC homegrown talent, 23 year-old Harris (4 goals) in check.  The youngster had a breakout campaign in 2022, with 15 goals in Cam Lancaster’s absence

As an organization having massive success in the past half decade or more, Lou City has kept some of its venerable veterans around.  One of those is Brian Ownby, who had a brief stint in Pittsburgh when on loan with Houston Dynamo in 2014.  With a non-stop motor, Ownby has been instrumental as a key winger, and leads the team with three assists this season.

However, much like the Hounds, Lou City is dealing with a handful of injuries, including to Ownby and former Hounds keeper Kyle Morton.  Defender Jordan Scarlett will be out, while another familiar name, Niall McCabe is questionable.

Scarlett underwent knee surgery this week and will miss the rest of 2023, while fellow center back — and highly touted USMNT prospect and homegrown talent — Josh Wynder has moved on to Portugal’s Benifca for the next step in his career.

Still, the Lou City back line has experience. Another longtime USL experienced hand and Lou City carryover is defender Sean Totsch, who remains a steady presence out of the back, starting all 16 league games this season. An All-League First Team selection three years running, Totsch has carried his form over to 2023. The center back — who has also consistently worn the captain’s armband — is the only LouCity player to have logged all 1,350 possible regular season minutes so far this season. As a result, Totsch leads the team in a number of statistical categories including passes (925), clearances (42) and blocks (17).

Totsch and Wes Charpie are the regular starters on the back line, while rookie Ramzi Qawasmy is a backup option along with Jabari Rasheed, a LouCity Academy standout entering his senior year of high school.

While Lou City has scored only 16 goals in 15 games, numbers indicate an attack on the upswing they’ve shown some bite in its attack, scoring twice against Phoenix two weeks ago, and earning a 1-0 victory against Vegas last week.

One of Louisville strengths in recent years has been its depth, often times having players come off the bench who don’t miss a beat, especially rotating its wingers regularly.

When they faced a halftime deficit against Memphis, prompting two changes at the break. While Mushagalusa and Ray Serrano didn’t score, they brought life back to its attack, by quickly creating a pair or near misses from their winger roles. City took 12 of its 13 second half shots from in the box and created three big chances, according to Stats Perform.

Having dipped into its roster, they’ve also relied on newcomers and youngsters, including Maarten Pouwels and LouCity Academy grad Owen Damm

In the Memphis match, Pouwels got in behind the defense to have a breakaway shot saved in the 20th minute of his first club start, while Damm marked his first start of the year by registering his first goal contribution, assisting Harris’ strike.

Mushagalusa, especially dangerous on the wing, having scored a career-high 10 goals in 2022, has been hot of late, first with the opener in LouCity’s friendly against Germany’s FC Kaiserslautern before he notched the game-winner in a 1-0 weekend win over Las Vegas Lights FC.

The 23-year-old forward has worked himself into a starting role of late on the left wing coinciding with his production.

With Morton being out, Lou City has been relying on rookie goalkeeper Oliver Semmle, who is tied for the league lead in clean sheets, matching Oakland Roots SC’s Paul Blanchette with seven entering the weekend. The German out of Marshall University has his back line to thank. Semmle has saved 23 of 32 shots faced but didn’t see an attempt on target last weekend against Las Vegas. The lights managed to hit the cross bar in the first half but didn’t get a shot on frame.

A Danish newcomer to LouCity’s squad this season, Rasmus Thellufsen is going to be the primary option in the attacking midfield position. Thellufsen worked himself into a starting role and has appeared in all 15 games so far.  Thellufsen ranks fifth on the team with 10 shots and now has three on frame, but has yet to score a goal.

Louisville City FC’s Starting XI vs Las Vegas (6/24/2023)

Match-Ups To Watch

The Hounds have followed a formula which has seen strong early starts this season, then holding on for victories even as they concede disadvantages in possession by staying highly organized, forcing most teams to be patient and possess mostly through the fringes of the central part of the field and width.  Last week they threw a monkey wrench in their winning patterns, as the early goal didn’t come, then they allowed too much space in surrendering its first goal in more than 400 minutes of action against San Diego.

Louisville City has talented pieces in its attack, but with just 16 goals this season, they’re still searching for answers, and that doesn’t seem to bode well against a club that has been very strong defensively.

Cruz also knows that the Hounds won’t make things easy for his team.

“It’s usually a group that’s going to fight for one another. Going to fight for Bob. They’re just tough to break down,” Cruz told PSN after that tough preseason battle.

“They haven’t conceded many goals.  That’s a testament to him.”

After surrendering the first half goal to San Diego last week, Pittsburgh clamped down, and didn’t allow many opportunities for the rest of the match.

Harris, Mushagalusa, Thellufsen and company will be players the Hounds defense and midfielders will want to keep in check.  Pittsburgh has shown a bit more improvement in possession rate in recent weeks, and will need to extend possession a bit more in the final third, as last week’s performance they didn’t do that much until late in the match.

Remarkably, the Hounds most durable player this season has been 35-year old Kenardo Forbes, who will once again be a key player in this match, as he’ll look to create opportunities in the final third to add to his all-time league leading assists total, but also be the leader among a midfield group that has seen Danny Griffin, Marc Ybarra and Junior Etou get the majority of playing time recently.  As a group, they’ve been cohesive, always moving and rotating with strong overall play on both sides of the ball.  When they’re sharp, and connecting passes, the Hounds midfield should give them an advantage at home, against a Louisville City midfield that has not been as consistent.

On the attack, in the absence of Dikwa, the Hounds have used Edward Kizza and Tola Showunmi as the featured target forwards.  Showunmi is the hot hand, as he’s scored in two of the last three matches, and earned the start last week.  We’ll see if Lilley opts to keep the lanky Londoner as the starting striker, or will he go back to Kizza, who wasn’t even in the 18 last week?   Tony Lopez appears to be getting more playing time again, as he came off the bench in the past few matches, missing on a golden chance late last week.

John K’s Hounds Projected Starting XI

PSN Match Coverage 

John Krysinsky will anchor PSN’s live coverage from Highmark Stadium, and Ed Thompson will provide photography.

Riverhounds (8-2-6) vs. Louisville City FC (7-4-4)
Date: Saturday, July 1
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium
Tickets: Ticketmaster
Odds: Hounds -105 / Draw +230 / Louisville +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: #PITvLOU 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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Glory on the Grass

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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