The Riverhounds are in the midst of preparing for their final regular season home match against Tulsa FC with plenty of work to do, though they have increased their lead in the Eastern Conference table thanks to a 2-1 win vs New Mexico United on Saturday.
With Saturday’s win, Pittsburgh has assured at least that they’ll be hosting one playoff match and they have the inside position to claiming the USL Championship Players Shield for most points.
“That’s what we’re pushing for,” Joe Farrell, veteran center back said earlier this week.
“We want to lift trophies.”
Center Back Scoring Arsenal
Head Coach Bob Lilley wants to see his team convert on their chances — and they made the most of their set piece opportunities on Saturday, as Kenardo Forbes service on two corners led to goals from two different center backs, Arturo Ordonez and Joe Farrell.
“It’s great to see us convert tonight,” Lilley said.
The 28 year-old Farrell was used as part of the Hounds’ rotation of center backs, splitting time between starts and coming off the bench, but has been in the starting lineup since the start of September. Versatile second year man, Nate Dossantos, has been the valuable third wheel in what appears to be the primary center back grouping that Lilley has settled into penciling into the starting eleven as the season hits the most important stretch.
Farrell, a former LaSalle standout from Blue Bell, PA, who has won a Players Shield Trophy when he was with Phoenix Rising, is a valuable veteran presence on a squad that has championship aspiration.
When Lilley signed Farrell, who played for him when he was still coaching the Rochester Rhinos in 2016 and 2017, he knew that he had a player with a nose for the goal.
“Joe’s a guy that’s always going to get his goals. He’s had a few chances that have either just missed or were saved by the keeper, so it was nice to see him get an early one,” Lilley added.
Farrell has scored twice this season, with the first one coming as the Riverhounds’ milestone, 1000th goal in club history.
In honor of last night's 1,000th goal, we've got a limited time offer of $10 Supporter Section tickets for the rest of our August home games!
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) July 30, 2023
Now that the season has hit the home stretch, and every match feels like a knockout stage contest, the Hounds have players like Farrell and Forbes, who’ve raised trophies, who have made big plays when the stakes are highest.
In Farrell’s case, he’s going to come up on every set piece, and try to make an impact.
“At this time of year, most matches are going to come down to the last 10 minutes. If you can find a goal on set pieces, and be very, very sturdy in defending set pieces, that bodes well for winning.”
Ordonez had a stretch earlier this season, where he scored four goals in a three-game span. While the second-year defender who helped lead to Pitt to its first ever College Cup appearance, has been steady as a rock for the Hounds’ back line this season, leading the team in minutes played and starts, he’s added another element to his game by coming up and being dangerous on set pieces.
In this column, it’s been a theme to tout Ordonez to earn All-USL Championship recognition this season, as he’s clearly showing that he is one of the best all-around defenders in the league.
“Arturo is just better this year. He scored three games in a row earlier this year and two of them were on headers, but I think today’s was the best one in terms of how high he got and the timing of it,” Lilley said.
Although Dossantos hasn’t scored this season, he’s shown his ability to be interchangeable and has been a valuable defender with ability to play the ball out of difficult situations. The Canadian was former holding midfielder early in his college days at Duquesne before transferring to Marshall, and then played much of his rookie season in Pittsburgh as an outside back. It was a Marshall, where Dossantos excelled as a center back, helping lead the Thundering Herd to a national championship.
Adding Forbes’ deft touch on every corner, or when he comes in, Robbie Mertz, also provide quality service on every set piece that have put Ordonez and Farrell — and their teammates with great opportunities to convert.
“I thought we created some chances in the run of play, but the extra offense on set pieces is good,” Lilley added after Saturday’s win.
“Kenny had good service on those. It was the difference in the game tonight.”
The Hounds Are in the Drivers Seat
Lets take a deeper dive into where things stand in the final three weeks, as the Hounds have three matches remaining
From this view, the Hounds are in the driver’s seat as far as the Eastern Conference race is concerned.
As Pittsburgh took care of its business, Charleston jumped ahead of Tampa Bay and into second place for a few days, with a 2-1 win vs Tulsa. But the Rowdies dropped points Saturday, losing at home vs Memphis, 4-2, but they bounced back on the road, beating Hartford, 2-0, on Wednesday night to jump back behind Pittsburgh.
With three weeks to go, the slate is wiped clean, as all three teams in contention for the top spot have three matches left.
With a three point edge on Tampa Bay, and four points ahead of Charleston, the Hounds have a cushion, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that they can get passed, especially with a match vs Tampa Bay looming large in St. Petersburg on October 7.
However, if the Rowdies slip up at home vs Loudoun then the Hounds will be in very good position. Of course, Charleston is still lingering there too, with a favorable schedule if the Hounds’ and Tampa play each other to a draw and drop points in other matches.
Here’s everyone’s schedules the rest of the way, along with some help from the Steel Army in outlining the remaining ‘Magic Numbers’:
- Pittsburgh (9/30 – vs Tulsa; 10/7 – at Tampa; 10/14 – at Detroit)
- Charleston (9/30 – at El Paso; 10/7 – vs Miami; 10/14 – vs Birmingham
- Tampa (9/30 – vs Loudoun; 10/7 – vs Hounds; 10/14 – at Louisville
The way things have gone for the Hounds in late stages of games this season, and making things interesting, means nothing is assured, even a four point lead with three weeks to go.
Lilley said a few weeks ago that he has been proud of how his team has been able to keep producing results since ascending into the Conference lead in June.
The Hounds have their sights set on staying home for the entire playoffs.
“Fort Highmark has been very awesome. I think back to the Columbus Crew Open Cup match, the house was rocking, and ever since then, it seems like we’ve had sellouts every week since then. Even this past week, it was rainy. It was cold, and you look up in the stands, and it was still packed.”
Now, with three weeks to go, they have to finish the deal, starting against Tulsa FC, who come into Pittsburgh on Saturday, desperate to stay above the playoff line.