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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Preview: Back on the West Coast, Riverhounds face stern test vs red hot Orange County SC

Photo courtesy Orange County SC / USL Championship

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC have spent a lot of time this season on the West Coast, so why not one more trip for Bob Lilley and his crew.

On Wednesday night (10 p.m. ET kickoff) they’ll be making their third trip to California this season when they face Orange County SC at the Championship Soccer Stadium, in the Orange County Great Park of Irvine.

It’s a short turnaround for the Hounds, but Orange County have not played since August 5, and should be well rested.

This is a match-up of two teams in excellent form and it’s also a showdown between two of the original USL Pro clubs that began as a Third Division league on U.S. Soccer pyramid in 2011, when they were known as the LA Blues. With Charleston sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference and Sacramento on top of the Western Conference, it’s a litany of USL Pro era clubs who are making waves this season.

The teams have played seven times, but only once in the past 10 years. The last time the Hounds played an away game in the series came 10 years ago, in a scoreless draw at the team’s old home at Cal State Fullerton.  In the most recent match, which came last season, they played to a 1-1 draw in Pittsburgh, when the Hounds conceded a late goal in stoppage time, to an Orange County squad that finished in last place in the Western Conference in 2022. (Hold that thought — I’ll have more on that match in a bit).

This will be yet another match where Pittsburgh (13-4-8 | W-L-D – 47 points) is facing a top-tier Western Conference side.  The Hounds are winners of three straight, but Orange County (10-9-4 – 34 points) are riding an even more impressive four game win streak.

While Bob Lilley has shaped the Hounds into the top team in the Eastern Conference this season, OC’s Morten Karlsen is doing pretty good things in Irvine after they got off to a very slow start this season.

How bad was it for OC to start the season?

OCSC was playing at a 0.75 PPG pace, which shakes out to 26 points over a full season.

A club that had won the USL Championship in 2021, but finished last in 2022 and were sinking fast to start this season, had to make a move.

They fired coach Richard Chaplow, a former OCSC player who led them to the remarkable title run.

Taking over in early May, Morten, who was brought on as an assistant at the start of the season and a former Danish defender who has very little prior experience in the States as a player or coach, has led his men not only to a 4-1 month of July, but to a 8-2 record over the past ten matches, no team in the league has a better record in either stretch. Subsequently, Orange County has shot up the USL Championship Western Conference standings, moving from 11th into playoff position currently in 4th place.

“My goal when I took over was to create a clear playing style as well as increase the competitive mindset/edge in the group,” Karlsen said

“We now have a group of players that understands their roles which gives us more cohesion. I see an Orange County team playing and competing with pride.”

Before each match, Lilley always likes to look at an opponent, and see what are the team’s strengths that the Hounds will have to neutralize.

In Orange County’s case, they have the USL Championship’s 2023 Golden Boot winner, Milan Iloski, who is getting back into solid form once again.

Iloski is slightly off his 20-goal scoring pace from a year ago, but with 10 goals and four assists in 2023, he’ll still be the No. 1 man in the Hounds’ sights defensively.

It was Iloski who wrecked the Hounds’ shutout bid last year in stoppage time, as he crashed the box unmarked following a long, direct ball over the top.

On Saturday, the Black and Orange claimed all three points behind a brace from forward Thomas Amang, in his return to Torero Stadium against San Diego, and a stoppage time sealer from substitute forward Korede Osundina.

Amang has been relatively quiet this season, after coming over from the Loyal, where he scored 11 goals a year ago, but with added confidence, the Hounds defenders will not want to sleep on the OC forward.

Look for the hosts to line up in a 4-1-4-1 formation to start the match.

Defensively, they have been a bit up and down, even in the most recent winning stretch, they’ve allowed five goals in the past three matches.

How OCSC lined up vs San Diego (3-1 win on August 5) 

What to Watch For

While the Hounds have been dominant at home (10-1-3) in league play, they’ve been fairly pedestrian on the road (3-3-5).

Pittsburgh will likely look to lock things down with a strong defensive shape to slow down the OC attack, as they’ve rediscovered their stifling ways with back-to-back shutouts of Tampa Bay and Hartford to make their total a league-leading 12 as a team.

The only road loss the Hounds have suffered since April came in late July when Charleston blitzed them with three unanswered goals in the first first half and early season half.

Left back Dani Rovira earned a Team of the Week nod, and center back Arturo Ordóñez was on the bench of the USL Championship honors this week after the latest clean sheet, a one-save shutout for Jahmali Waite that was his eighth in USL play and 10th in all competitions this season.

These are two teams that are among the lowest in overall passing accuracy (OC 78%, Pittsburgh 73%) and pass attempts, so it will be interesting to see how the two teams which have produced heavily on quick counters and opportunistic chances will do in this match up.

It seems like the teams are fairly similar with the exception that the Hounds, have been a bit better defensively and riding solid form of Albert Dikwa, with some help of late from Tola Showunmi and JC Obregon are a bit better with their conversion rate (Pittsburgh with 18%, while OC is 14% for the season).  But OC have been sharper during the 10 match streak.

If things get open-ended, and there’s a lot of space to be had, the Hounds could find themselves in another match when they were outpaced at Charleston, who really did take it to a heavy-legged Pittsburgh squad on the road.

As he has all season, Lilley will go with a lot of squad rotation.  It’s been commonplace for 34 year-old Kenardo Forbes to come off the bench in midweek matches, but the USL Championship’s all-time assist leader didn’t start Saturday’s match at home vs Hartford.

It appears that Lilley is saving Forbes for this tough road match in which he’ll want the Hounds to be smarter with the ball and have more time in possession against a dangerous countering unit.

John K’s Projected Hounds Lineup 


Riverhounds (13-4-8) vs. Orange County SC (10-9-4)
Date: Wednesday, Aug. 16
Time: 10 p.m.
Location: Championship Soccer Stadium, Irvine, Calif.
Odds: Hounds +150 / Draw +230 / Orange County +155 (FanDuel)
Streaming: ESPN+
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #OCvPIT 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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