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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Preview and Scouting Report: Hounds to dip deeper into roster as they get double dose of FC Tulsa starting with return to Open Cup

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

There’s no rest for the Rivehrounds this week, as they’ll follow up their third straight league win, what we might call a modest 1-0 victory against a young Miami squad on Saturday, with their latest ever entry into the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup — in the Round of 32 — when they’ll face USL Championship league foe, FC Tulsa.

The Hounds will be looking to advance to the Round of 16 of the Open Cup for the second straight season — which is something that’s never happened in the club’s 25 year history.   Before last year’s remarkable run through the tournament, which the Hounds reached the quarterfinals, they had only advanced as far as the Round of 16 once before — in 2001.

The survivor of Tuesday’s night’s clash at Highmark Stadium (7 pm kickoff) will travel to either Sporting Kansas City (MLS) of Union Omaha (USL-1) in the Round of 16 on May 21 or 22.

It’s a little unusual that in a tournament where every effort is made in the earlier rounds, even when MLS teams start to enter, that they keep the draw and match-ups within the same geographical region — that the Hounds will face FC Tulsa and be in a group with teams from the Heartland.  It’s also only the second time the Hounds will begin Open Cup play against a team from their own league (you have to go all the way back to 2000 — and their first entry into the Open Cup when they faced defending champs at the time — Rochester Raging Rhinos!)

With just eight MLS clubs in this year’s Open Cup, the Hounds were one of the teams that got put in a draw that included teams from different time zones.

One thing the Open Cup does every year is give Bob Lilley a chance to finally go deeper into his bench, as the Hounds Head Coach is prepared to give a few players who haven’t had much extended playing time a chance to step up in a very meaningful match.

And while Tulsa in the Open Cup on Tuesday is front-of-mind for Lilley and the team, there is an awareness that this is the first three-game match week of the year with more to follow later.

Rest, rotation, and performances will all factor in to who plays Tuesday, and who potentially performs their way into perhaps another start on Saturday when the Hounds go on the road to face Tulsa once again in league play. Ultimately, Lilley knows he needs the whole squad ready for any given matchday, and that meaningful depth and rotation will be crucial as the schedule gets busier.

“Better Tuesday/Saturday than Wednesday/Saturday. So if guys play really well. I then have to think, do I push them in on Saturday?” Lilley said of the schedule after Saturday’s 1-0 win .

“I mean, it’s hard to play three games in a short window, but most of these guys could play double if you played them Saturday/Tuesday or Tuesday/Saturday, so it’ll be interesting what what some guys do with their opportunities Tuesday. And then does it make me question or make our staff question?”

Last year, when the Hounds played in the Open Cup’s Third Round against Maryland Bobcats and then traveled to New England — where they upset MLS side — Lilley didn’t hesitate to go deeper into the bench, where players like Langston Blackstock, Tola Showumni and Michael DeShields started and played extended minutes, built confidence and eventually became key parts of the team’s rotation in what became a Players Shield winning season in League Play.

“If some of the young guys do well, or if the guys that are getting the minutes don’t handle them well, then hopefully we have a rested crew from this game ready for next Saturday in Tulsa,” Lilley added.

“We told them all this past week, there will be rotation, everyone needs to be ready. It’s the first time we’re playing three games, and we’ll do it again. So those that have been here before are used to it, but the new guys, like we’ve told them, you’ve got to be ready because we may need you for one, two, or potentially all three games, whether starting or off the bench. But we need everyone engaged, it won’t be a short bench. So I’d expect a lot of changes to the lineup on Tuesday, and I’ll leave it at that.”

A Closer Look at FC Tulsa

If there’s one club in USL Championship that might have an identity crisis, it might be FC Tulsa.

The previous two seasons, they competed in the league’s Eastern Conference.  This year, they’re back in the Western Conference.  And so far this season, they’re sitting in a similar place they always seem to be in the standings, whether they’re in the East or the West — mired somewhere right around the edge of the playoff line, with 2-3-2 (W-D-L) record.

And now, after advancing in the US Open Cup, they’ll be facing traveling East to face the Riverhounds in the Round of 32.

In this one-and-done, knockout tournament, FC Tulsa entered the Open Cup in the Third Round, where they advanced by defeating Northern Colorado Hailstorm, 2-1, on April 19, thanks to a pair of first half goals.

Believe it or not — it was the club’s first win over a pro team in the competition in team history.

Out of the four times they have advanced, three of them were against amateur teams, and a fourth was a penalty kick shootout win over San Antonio FC (US Open Cup games that go to PKs are officially listed as a “draw”)

FC Tulsa comes into this match in meddling form — playing Birmingham to a 2-2 draw on Saturday with its most prominent veteran scoring threat Phillip Goodrum returning to the lineup, and scoring 21 minutes into the match.  After multiple chances to score, Forward Stefan Stojanovic pushed the lead to 2-0, as he took an assist from Arthur Rogers crossing the goal and laying one in.  Before the Birmingham draw, they went on the road to defeat El Paso Locomotive. Boubacar Diallo scored the only goal of the match and Michael Creek led FC Tulsa to the first clean sheet of the season.

Tulsa is currently 2-2-3 in league play and are 1-1-3 in their last five league games.

Within the past few weeks, a pair of their veteran mainstays, Patrick Seagrist and Goodrum, have made their 100th USL-C appearances.

What FCT had to replace this offseason the production that Marcus Epps brought (Epps moved on to Hartford Athletic), so they brought on Stefan Stojanovic, who had a strong showing in MLSNextPro last year.  The Hounds have done the same with recent pick-ups Jackson Walti, Michael DeShields, Pierre Cayet and Sean Suber — who each played in MLSNextPro for a year before testing USL Championship waters.

Also new to FCT are goalkeepers Michael Creek and Joey Roggeveen.

As the teams meet twice this week, the Open Cup match will likely see a sprinkling of regular starters mixed in with players who haven’t started as many matches.   In Tulsa’s Open Cup win vs No. Colorado, they did use a number of starters and younger players.

With Goodrum returning from injury last Saturday, it will be interesting to see how he’s used in this match, as it’s always important for players to keep building match fitness when they’ve been out previously.

How FC Tulsa Lined Up vs No. Colorado (Open Cup Third Round – April 19)

Hounds Open Cup Lineup Options are Aplenty

The Hounds have been very solid defensively during their unbeaten stretch in April and early May, and Lilley often doesn’t like to mess with his center back pairings too much in Open Cup play, so while it’s possible that one or two may sit this match, some mix of Luke Biasi, Pat Hogan and Illal Osumanu, will still be part of that rotation for this match.

Lilley was also critical of his veteran keeper, Eric Dick in Saturday post-match interviews, so chances are pretty high that the veteran keeper who has started every match for Pittsburgh, will give way to one of the young keepers, Gabe Perrotta and Jacob Randolph.  waiting for their turn to finally get a start.

Team captain and ironman Danny Griffin is almost always going to be in the lineup barring any injury concerns, but Lilley will most certainly rest some of the veterans, especially Kenardo Forbes.  The Hounds currently don’t have any players listed on their injury report.

The Hounds have mostly struggled this season with converting on their chances — mired with a 11% conversion rate — which improved drastically with their wins at Phoenix and at home against Detroit.  But last week, despite their 1-0 win, they flopped on many chances — and Bob Lilley wasn’t happy at all with his team’s lack of fire in the final third.

This match will provide an opportunity for some players to bring consistent pressure — and most importantly — clinical efficiency to the attacking third.   With Kazaiah Sterling starting every match since he was inserted in the Tampa Bay match, this could be a good chance for Babacar Diene to use a start at the top of the attach to get his confidence and scoring prowess going.

Some of the Hounds players who haven’t started this year, who we may see include Emmanuel Johnson,  Suber, Cayet, Aiden O’Toole, Nate Dragisich, Jake Kent-Loop and goalkeepers Perrotta and Randolph.


Match info

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 32

Riverhounds vs. FC Tulsa
Date: Tuesday, May 7
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium
Tickets: Ticketmaster
Odds: Hounds -240 / Draw +330 / Tulsa +500 (FanDuel)
Streaming: U.S. Soccer Federation
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #USOC2024, #PITvTUL and #HOUNDTAHN

Riverhounds Open Cup History

20th US Open Cup appearance (2000-2006, 208-2019, 2022, 2023)
Overall: 17-17-3 (1-2 PK)
Home: 12-5-1 (1-0 PK)
Away: 4-13-2 (0-2 PK)
vs. Div. 2: 3-4-1 (0-1 PK)
Best finish: Quarterfinals (2001, 2023)

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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