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Preview and Scouting Report: Riverhounds face youthful Miami FC side under new coach and Serie A legend Antonio Nocerino

Photo courtesy The Miami FC

March was cruel to the Riverhounds.

April took a turn for the better.

Now that May is here, the Hounds are hoping that they can keep positive momentum rolling, as they seek their third win in a row on Saturday night, when The Miami FC come to Highmark Stadium.

While they also hit a rough patch that included four losses in the row, this Miami squad, with a new Head Coach, Antonio Nocerino, who has overhauled the club’s roster, showed they may be a squad that could get better as the season evolves.

Thus, this should be a good test for the Hounds as they’re currently in the middle of a three-match homestand, and start a stretch of three matches in eight days.

Heading into this match, following last week’s win vs Phoenix, Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley wants his to keep putting forth a consistent effort that will continue to pay dividends.

“Look, I’m proud of the fact that they’ve been digging in,” Lilley said of his players.

“Bottom line is though, we have two wins out of seven. So next week we need to try and make it three, level our wins with our losses, and try to build on from there.”

Taking a Closer Look at The Miami FC

During his playing days, Antonio Nocerino made over 350 appearances since 2003 for global clubs including the 36-time Italian Seria A champion Juventus, AC Milan and Orlando City in the MLS.

“14 years old Juventus called me to play for Juventus Academy and I went there alone without family,” Nocerino said shortly after being hired to his first managerial post with Miami this past offseason.  “When I lose I don’t eat I don’t sleep because I am crazy…I know, I have an obsession with this sport.”

Nocerino was a quick, energetic, and hard-working player who was primarily deployed as a ball-winning defensive midfielder, or as a box-to-box midfielder, although he could be deployed anywhere in midfield. He was often compared to his even more famous contemporary from Italy — Gennaro Gattuso.

Though he made his bones in his homeland, Nocerino is no stranger to American soccer and to the Sunshine state. As a player, he spent two seasons with Orlando City SC. Following his retirement from playing in early 2020, Nocerino joined the Lions academy as a coach.

The self-described ‘crazy’ and obsessed soccer lifer probably had some sleepless nights early this season, as his club got off to a bit of a rocky start after a season-opening 2-0 win at lowly Colorado Springs. Miami would lose five of its next six matches, including an Open Cup loss to USL League One side, South Georgia Tormenta.

Suddenly though, last week Nocerino’s squad got their act together against a very formidable San Antonio side, by shaking off an early deficit with goals coming from 21-year old Brazilian Luisinho (aka Luis Pedro) and newcomer Michael Lawrence to earn three points over San Antonio FC Saturday night at Florida International University.

Watching this match, although Miami found itself down early, they were on the front foot throughout — pushing hard for the equalizer — often looking to get behind the SAFC backline with direct play or using space on the width to create moments.  Under Nocerino’s direction, TMFC came out in a 3-4-1-2 formation, which, once they took the lead, were surprisingly compact and well-organized, with wing backs dropping into a five-man backline.

In the win vs SAFC, Frank Lopez created both chances with pretty nice assists.

On the first goal sequence, Lopez found himself with the ball and made two brilliant moves around the defenders and raced to the line before sending a cross across the goal to a sprinting Luisinho who made no doubt a buried his chance into the back of the net.

A Miami local product, Lawrence, made his debut count after taking the pass from Lopez taking two men on to beat SAFC keeper with a shot off the far post and into the back of the net. Lawrence was just recently signed to a contract with Miami and made an impressive performance after coming in for the injured Luisinho.

Looking over the squad’s roster — there’s a lot of young talent.

Only Lopez, a 29-year-old Cuban and well-travel USL Championship target forward along with midfielder Gabriel Cabral, a Brazilian who is the only player left on the current roster who played for the team in 2023 — are over the age of 27.

Once boasting the most veteran laden roster in the Championship, the median age of the Miami FC has plummeted to 23.

The soon to be 27-year-old Cabral, who spent the first half of last season recovering from a serious hamstring injury, has developed into this team’s leader.

From an attacking standpoint, the key players to watch on Miami’s side are Allen Gavilanes, who leads the team with 15 shot attempts, and Luisinho. Gavilanes is Miami’s top scorer with four goals so far this season. Meanwhile, Luisinho is a close second following his brace against South Georgia Tormenta FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Most of the young talent on this squad comes from across the U.S. lower divisions and abroad, especially from Italy and Cabral’s native Brazil. Gavilanes, much like Hounds’ forward Kazaiah Sterling, has taken a step up from USL League One, as Gavilanes featured with Greenville Triumph SC previously. For many others, like midfielder Manuel Botta, it’s their first time playing soccer in the States.

The Hounds may not want to let Gavilanes have any room to line up shot opportunities.

With so many young players, it’s taken some time for Miami FC to gel, and also play under composure at times, as they are tied for the lead in the Championship in Yellow Cards earned (26), though they’re in the middle of the pack in fouls conceded (12th with 108).

Despite their struggles, they have scored goals — 11 — which is 7th in the USLC and they’re hovering at an 18% conversation rate, which is a lot better than where the Hounds (still near the bottom but drastically improved in the past few weeks at 11%) have been for much of the season.

Where TMFC have struggled early in the season, has been in allowing opponents too many scoring opportunities.  They have faced more shots than any other team in the league (48), conceding the third-most allowed in the league (15) behind only Indy (17) and Las Vegas (16). It is also just the third road match of the year for Miami, whose other two outings away from home were a 2-2 draw at Orange County and a 3-2 loss at Hartford.

Under lots of pressure this season, primary goalkeeper Daniel Gagliardi is in the league lead with 28 saves.

How The Miami FC Lined Up Last Week

Playing at Highmark and entering this match in solid form, the Riverhounds will likely look to bring their high press and look to disrupt Miami’s passing channels — looking to deny Lopez opportunities to create, while doing what they did well last week to Detroit — slowing down the point of the attack.  It was clear in last week’s match vs San Antonio, Miami found moments against a club that has been one of the stronger defensive sides in the Championship.

For the Hounds, they’ve finally begun to pick up the pace in terms of making the most of their chances, scoring first, as they’ve compiled five goals in the past two matches, including a pair last week starting from dead ball situations to hand Detroit its first loss.

While not technically a set piece goal, Pat Hogan‘s headed finish from a recycled ball into the box opened the scoring (and helped earn Hogan Team of the Week honors), and Danny Griffin took care of business from the spot after Junior Etou won a penalty kick with his stellar solo run into the box.

The previous week, in the win at Phoenix, the forwards — all three who have featured prominently this season — Kazaiah Sterling, Edward Kizza and Babacar Diene — each scored.

Roster management becomes a concern for the first time starting this week, as the Hounds are entering a stretch of three matches in eight days that includes their U.S. Open Cup debut for 2024 against FC Tulsa on Tuesday. The good news for Pittsburgh, they continue to have a very bare injury report with no players popping up on the report again this week.

Danny Griffin (630) and Illal Osumanu (629) lead the squad in minutes played, while Eric Dick, Junior Etou and Robbie Mertz are the only other players to start every match this season.  As long as there’s a week’s rest between matches, barring any injury issues (which the Hounds have not listed any) — all of these players plus Pat Hogan, Kenardo Forbes and Edward Kizza up until last week, have been mainstays and are expected to be featured in the lineup most weeks.  It may not be a coincidence, but rookie central  midfielder Bradley Sample has started the past two matches alongside Griffin in the central midfield, and has worked well in covering space, extending possessions and winning balls back.  Lilley may stay with that partnership as long as it keeps paying off with the Hounds controlling play in the middle of the park.

John K’s Projected Riverhounds SC Lineup



Match info

Riverhounds (2-3-2) vs. Miami FC (2-5-1)
Date: Saturday, May 4
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium
Tickets: Ticketmaster
Odds: Hounds -145 / Draw +290 / Miami +330 (FanDuel)
Streaming: CBS Sports Golazo Network
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #PITvMIA 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).

Glory on the Grass

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Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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