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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Preview: Lineup tweaks may be in order for winless Riverhounds in showdown with Rowdies

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

When the smoke cleared a season ago, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and Tampa Bay Rowdies finished in the top two spots in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference — and it was the Hounds who came out on top in both matches between the clubs that ultimately earned the franchise’s first ever Players Shield.

This season, through a combined six matches — two of perennial Eastern Conference contenders have produced one win.  It’s the Hounds though, who are in a bit more of desperation mode as they’re without any points, while the Rowdies have chugged through a 1-0-2 start, building up a five-point total to start the season.

The clubs will renew their rivalry on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium.   Pittsburgh return to action for the first time in 14 days, eager to pick up a full three points.  The last time out — the Hounds were defeated 3-1 by East-leading Louisville.

With two weeks to prepare, Hounds’ Head Coach Bob Lilley and his players have used the extra time to get things in order, but they’re eager to right the ship.

“When (a team is) on bit of a slide.  You want to play. You don’t want to sit in it for two weeks,” Lilley told PSN in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

“Having a week off though, has been helpful to go back and work on things and bring things up before the Tampa game,” Lilley explained.

Despite fielding a roster that has included 11 returnees from last season, the Hounds have been struggling as a unit, even as Lilley has penciled in a very similar line-up in the first three matches.

Heading into this showdown with Tampa, Lilley confirmed that he will have all of his rostered players available for selection.

“We’re at our strongest, right now,” Lilley stated.

“It’s going to be big challenge for us.  Guys are going to have to feel the heat. It’s a good character check for us to have a good performance.  There is a sense of urgency and it will be important to have good performance.  It’s important to win.  All of these things, we addressed with the team. We have to put out good performance. Wins will take care of themselves if we do our job better.”

In their first three matches, Pittsburgh has trailed at halftime in each contest, allowing two first half stoppage time goals and a goal in the third minute of the home opener.

“Hopefully we have a little bit better start. This is not the first team to have successful season, then fall flat the next year. Think with a focus on consistency and with the overall quality of group, we can pull ourselves out of this.”

The Rowdies, tied with a bunch of teams for the second highest number of goals this season (7) and tops in conversion rate (28%), bring plenty of attacking options to Highmark Stadium, with returning 2023 Golden Boot runner-up Cal Jennings and USL veteran scorer Manuel Arteaga, a new addition who scored 15 goals in helping Phoenix lift USL Cup last season.  Each have two goals in the young season for a team that has scored seven — but allowed four — in its first three contests.

Tampa is coming off an impressive 4-1 victory against Rhode Island FC.

Rowdies Jordan Doherty was recognized for his outstanding shift in last week’s win with a spot on the USL Championship Team of the Week. The 23-year-old defender netted Tampa Bay’s third goal of the night with a header off of a free kick delivery from Joshua Perez. It’s the fourth goal Doherty has tallied in his time with the Rowdies and his first since 2020.

Led by a new coach, Robbie Neilson, the Rowdies have a nice mix of experienced USL players (veterans Leo Fernandes, Lewis Hilton, Forest Lasso are the obvious mainstays in addition to Jennings), but also have lots of young, budding talents. By USL Championship standards, they’re deep at most positions, and should be handful for the Hounds as they appear to be playing a bit more direct than they have in recent seasons.  The former Scottish League standout, who also had a stint with Leicester City, and was highly successful as a manager, is relatively new to the U.S. and the USL, but appears to be quickly putting his stamp with this Rowdies, molding them into a high energy group that will play with an endless work rate.

Unlike the Hounds, Tampa Bay does have a handful of players listed on its injury report, as Zane Bubb, Charlie Dennis, Zach Herivaux, Nick Moon are listed as out, while Fernandes and Freddy Kleemann are questionable.

Here’s how they lined up last week vs Rhode Island — starting off in a 3-4-3 — but eventually adjusting into a 3-5-2.

All-time, the Rowdies have only won once in eight trips to Pittsburgh, going 1-4-3 all-time at Highmark Stadium.

In its first three matches, the Hounds have started 12 (of the roster’s 24) players, meaning they made just one switch in the last two matches.  Mike DeShields started the first match at New Mexico, but following an injury, was replaced by Luke Biasi along the backline. Otherwise, they’ve rolled out the same group each week.

Lilley hinted at changes in Saturday’s lineup.

“Certainly will tweak some things. There will be changes for Tampa Bay. Some guys will be asked to step in — hope they can rise to the occasion.  Never want to randomly reshuffle deck. Changes have to be thoughtful. No doubt that as a group — we need to continue to evolve.  We have to be open to reassess.  That’s part of the normal process.  If (our) record’s good — that’s not judged or looked at microscope at same level.  We win — we win against Tampa people — hopefully we’re going to have to build up on it. If we lose it’s going to grow louder. Our job is to hopefully — the team and our staff –is put ourselves in best position moving forward.”

After his absence while paperwork was completed, the Hounds could see Kazaiah Sterling make his first start to the season after coming on as a second-half substitute against Louisville City FC in the side’s last outing. After starring in USL League One over the past two seasons for South Georgia, the former Tottenham Hotspur striker will be aiming to make a big first impression in his home debut for the Hounds.

John K’s Projected Hounds Lineup

Here’s an absolutely unofficial, wild throw at the board and see what sticks lineup projection for the Hounds as we may see some changes to the starting XI.

 

Riverhounds (0-3-0) vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies (1-0-2)
Date: Saturday, April 6
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium
Tickets: Ticketmaster
Odds: Hounds +145 / Draw +260 / Tampa Bay +150 (FanDuel)
TV: KDKA+
Streaming: CBS Sports Golazo Network
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #PITvTBR 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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