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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Preview: A quick turnaround for Riverhounds and FC Tulsa as they square off again in the Sooner State

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

On Tuesday night, the Riverhounds bowed out of the US Open Cup with a disappointing 1-0 loss to FC Tulsa.

Now, four days later, the Hounds head to the Sooner State as the stakes change, with the teams meeting for a rematch in league play — and looking to keep their very positive form against league competition going strong, as the Hounds are winners of three straight and unbeaten in their last five matches.  This is the first time the Hounds will face a league opponent in back-to-back matches within the same week since they faced Indy Eleven twice in a four-day span in late May-early June 2019.

The Open Cup match provided Pittsburgh and Tulsa with an opportunity to give many players who have had limited playing time this season with a chance to start and play more significant minutes.

While regular starters Danny Griffin, Junior Etou then Robbie Mertz and Edward Kizza came on as second half subs for Pittsburgh, they weren’t able to push the Hounds over the hump in a match where they were slightly outclassed by FC Tulsa, but the margins were pretty close nonetheless between the sides.

PSN’s Colton Coreschi visited Hounds training on Thursday, and reports are that Head Coach Bob Lilley and his staff should have a full roster to select from for the lineup card against Tulsa, as both players who took hard knocks in the past week, Kazaiah Sterling in last Saturday’s win vs Miami and EJ Johnson in the Open Cup match, should be available, as the Hounds don’t have any players listed on the injury report.

Be sure to check out PSN’s newest feature, as Colton sat down with the first in a series with Griffin, the Hounds’ captain on Thursday.

Captain’s Quarters: Griffin talks team growth, youngster development, and the pursuit of constant improvement

In addition, I took a deeper look at the Hounds’ squad rotation and how impressive Junior Etou’s been thus far this season in this week’s edition of Riverhounds Notebook.

Riverhounds Notebook: ‘The Jet’ Junior Etou has become ‘a problem’ for defenders in newfound role on left wing

A(nother) 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.

The difference with this year’s FC Tulsa squad, though, is under a new coach, Mario Sanchez, who has made his head coaching debut at this level, they’re looking to provide stability at the helm of a club that has now seen three coaches in the past three seasons, and six since 2014.  After serving as interim Head Coach for Racing Louisville’s women’s side, where he also served as the Youth Academy Director for both Racing and Louisville City FC, Sanchez is seeking to provide a firm identity with this squad, and now, with Tuesday night’s win, has the club heading into new territory.

In his new role, Sanchez has relied on a familiar USLC formula — mix of veterans and with young players hungry for professional success.

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 Phillip 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.

While both teams fielded heavily rotated squads Tuesday night, one standout who did play the full 90 minutes, and made his mark on the match was Phillip Goodrum, who scored the match’s lone goal in the 88th minute.  Additionally, regulars such as Patrick Seagrist and Justin Portillo were also in their starting 11. But rotation is not uncommon for their side, as Tulsa has just seven players who have played more than 60 percent of the available minutes through their first seven league matches.

Tulsa’s earned a trip to the Open Cup’s Round of 16 for first time in club history with the win in Pittsburgh — but shifting focus to league play, they head into this home contest in meddling form.

Last Saturday, they battled Birmingham to a 2-2 draw which featured the former Atlanta United SuperDraft selection, Goodrum’s return to the lineup, and scoring 21 minutes into the match.

The question now is, will the 26 year-old enigmatic attacking midfielder be in the starting lineup for the third match in eight days?

In the Birmingham draw, after multiple chances to score, a player who didn’t feature in Pittsburgh, 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, who came off the bench on Tuesday night vs the Hounds, scored the only goal of the match and Michael Creek led FC Tulsa to the first clean sheet of the season.

To this point, it’s Stojanovic who’s been the team’s leading scorer, while Goodrum upon his return certainly can open more doors and draw defenders away from him — adding another dangerous element to the FCT attack.  Tulsa has been more efficient than Pittsburgh on the attacking end, as that showed on Tuesday, with the Hounds failing to convert on its chances, while, with Goodrum getting a foot on the ball in the box — made the most of his opportunity.  Tulsa sits 8th in the Championship with 11 goals and posting a decent conversion rate of 16 percent (Hounds are second-to-last in the league with 7 goals and still near the bottom with 11% conversion rate).

While in the Open Cup match Tulsa owned the possession battle playing out of their most familiar formation — a 4-2-3-1 with Goodrum in that middle attacking mid spot.  Neither side has been very impressive or efficient in connecting passes this season.  In fact, both are near the bottom of the league rankings in passing accuracy (Hounds are last at 73% and Tulsa is slightly better 74%) — while Tulsa is dead last in total passes (2.428).   Right fullback Arthur Rogers leads the team with two assists, and Portillo is someone to watch in terms of his service, as he’s seventh in the USLC in crosses attempted, with 50.

Also new to FCT are goalkeepers Michael Creek and Joey Roggeveen.  Creek has taken the majority of starts in league play, while it was Roggeveen who started on Tuesday in the Open Cup match.

Expect to see a lineup from Tulsa that will be more like the one they rolled out with in the Birmingham match last week.

How FC Tulsa Lined Up in last USLC match vs Birmingham (May 4)

Thoughts on Hounds Projected Lineup

Much like Tulsa, conventional wisdom is that the Hounds will go back to the lineup that has featured in the past couple of league matches, with maybe a few tweaks to keep legs fresh too.  Bradley Sample has started the last three times, plus did also get the call-up in the Open Cup match. Thus far, his partnership in the middle of the park with Griffin has provided the Hounds with solid two-way play in terms of being solid screeners on top of the back line while also being a bit more efficient in terms of getting balls forward and into the final third.

It’s likely that Lilley and keepers coach Jon Busch will go back to veteran keeper Eric Dick in the league match, but Lilley did share in last week’s post match press conference after the 1-0 win vs Miami that he was not completely pleased with his performance and was hoping he could clean some things up.  With the Hounds defensive resurgence in the past five league matches, giving up just two goals and pitching four clean sheets, Dick is tied for second in the league lead with four shutouts.

As outlined in this week’s Riverhounds’ notebook, Etou’s presence on the left side has been tremendous, as he leads the team with two assists, but contributed to a few more chances and goals. The Hounds will want to have more balance in their attack though, as Kenardo Forbes and Robbie Mertz can certainly step up in this area, and will need to create scoring chances on their end of things as well as the season evolves, especially now that Etou will likely start to get more attention.  Either way, as Lilley pointed out in his post match comments, the forwards and other attacking wingers, including Kizza, Sterling, Babacar Diene and EJ Johnson, need to be better in their decision making in the final third, and converting on their chances when they come their way.

To this point in the season, it’s Sterling and Kizza who are tied with two goals apiece.

The backline should also see the return of Pat Hogan, Illal Osumanu and Luke Biasi, who have been solid, and it also appears that Michael DeShields, who started the season in the first 11 at New Mexico, has struggled to get back into the lineup after a hamstring injury.  In fact, he was set to start on Tuesday, but was replaced by Jake Kent-Loop.


Match info

Riverhounds (3-3-2) at FC Tulsa (2-2-3)
Date: Saturday, May 11
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Location: ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Okla.
Odds: Hounds +145 / Draw +230 / Tulsa +160
TV: SportsNet Pittsburgh
Streaming: ESPN+
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #TULvPIT 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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