The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC came a lot closer to facing Lionel Messi and his Major League Soccer Inter Miami squad than some may have realized, but an Open Cup loss to FC Cincinnati earlier in the Summer doused that possibility.
However, the Hounds have an important trip to Miami this weekend nonetheless, as they face The Miami FC, in a key match in the homestretch of the season with plenty of implications for both sides.
Practically erased from our memories, these two sides played in what was a physical, ‘smashmouth’ draw in the Hounds home opener back on March 24, in which Pittsburgh salvaged a point thanks to a late strike from sub Burke Fahling.
Burke with a BANGER! 💥
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) March 25, 2023
The Riverhounds (54 points) hold onto a precarious lead in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference race to finish at the top of the table, as Tampa Bay (53 points and facing a road test at San Antonio) and Charleston (52 points, home to Loudoun United FC) look to keep pace or overtake the Pittsburgh on Saturday as five weeks remain in the regular season.
The Hounds and Tampa control their own path to the top spot with the Oct. 7 head-to-head meeting in St. Petersburg looming large, but neither team can afford a major slip-up before then, especially with third-place Charleston coming on strong. That means the Hounds will be out to get full points from their first trip to Florida this season, something they have only been able to do once in three previous visits.
Also, Albert Dikwa remains in the top spot in the race for USL Championship’s Golden Boot, as his second brace in four matches thrust the Cameroonian past New Mexico’s Danny Trejo for the league lead with 15 goals.
This week, Pittsburgh Soccer Now profiled Dikwa, who has persevered through despite injuries and various setbacks in his career, to become the Hounds go-to forward on a team having a historical season.
Looking ahead to facing Miami, Dikwa knows that every match will be a challenge the rest of the season.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Dikwa said. “Miami’s a good team, and we’ll have to play even better against them than we did against Loudoun.”
Miami is looking to keep from being eliminated from playoff contention, as they’ve lost three straight matches heading into this contest, including a 2-1 defeat to Detroit City FC last week.
Head Coach Bob Lilley wasn’t pleased with his team’s overall performance last Saturday vs Loudoun, despite a 3-1 win.
With top-of-the-table and Championship aspirations, Lilley believes that his group must reach another level, and they didn’t show it last week.
“It’s not a little tweak now here and there. We’ve got a lot of work to do to, hopefully, understand and go into Miami (next week) with the right habits and mindset,” Lilley said.
“This is stuff that you get frustrated with in preseason. Maybe some is the opponent, but some of it is our guys taking shortcuts, and the reality is you only get away with it so many times.”
With no more two-match weeks remaining on the schedule, the Hounds won’t be forced to rotate their squad as much as through the middle of the year –– as Bob Lilley acknowledge on Sounding Off On Soccer Podcast.
Thus, a similar lineup to the 11 that won 3-1 over Loudoun last Saturday is likely. One change to be expected is the return of goalkeeper Jahmali Waite, who returned to training Thursday — along with midfielder DZ Harmon — after being away on international duty. The only player on the injury list for this week, is Tony Lopez (OUT- Knee).
Here’s how the Hounds lined up and players were utilized last week vs Loudoun.
Riverhounds SC lineup (5-3-2) — Christian Garner; Junior Etou, Nate Dossantos, Joe Farrell (Luke Biasi 86’), Arturo Ordóñez, Dani Rovira (Pat Hogan 86’); Kenardo Forbes, Danny Griffin, Marc Ybarra (Robbie Mertz 63’); Edward Kizza (Tola Showunmi 63’), Albert Dikwa (Illal Osumanu 90+1’)
Waite needs one more shutout to become just the third Hounds goalkeeper to have 10 clean sheets in a single league season, and the Hounds will be looking to add to their USL Championship-leading 13 shutouts overall.
That will be objective No. 1 for the side when facing a Miami team that is near the bottom with just 32 goals on the season, ahead of only Detroit, Loudoun and Las Vegas.
Still, Miami has some potent attacking players, led by top scorer Joaquin Rivas (six goals) and Kyle Murphy, a former 20-goal scorer who scored one of his five this season in the teams’ first meeting.
On the attacking end, the Hounds will need to be more clinical than they were in last weekend’s win, a tight contest that could have been a rout with some better finishing. Though the Hounds scored three, they also posted a season high 19 shots with eight on target, and the chances were there to have the game put away sooner than Albert Dikwa‘s 89th-minute goal.
Dikwa enters the match leading the Championship with 16 goals, and his next goal will surpass former teammate Russell Cicerone for the best goal-scoring season by a player in the Bob Lilley era with the Hounds. He has a chance to become the Hounds’ first Golden Boot winner since José Angulo achieved the feat exactly 10 years ago, but he will need to keep up his scoring pace with just a one-goal lead over Phoenix’s Danny Trejo and four other players — including Sacramento’s Cicerone — within three of the lead.
While Dikwa has been the runaway top scorer, the service for the Hounds has come from a variety of places.
Kenardo Forbes has seven assists to lead the team and has an outside shot at his second straight 10-assist season, but defenders Dani Rovira and Luke Biasi have four assists each and midfielder Marc Ybarra has three, highlighting the ball movement when the Hounds are at their best.
Riverhounds (15-5-9) vs. Miami FC (7-13-8)
Date: Saturday, Sept. 16
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, Miami, Fla.
Odds: Hounds +145 / Draw +230 / Miami +160 (FanDuel)
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #MIAvPIT and #HOUNDTAHN