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Riverhounds Notebook: Who is the biggest nemesis in club history plus Hounds attack finally bites back after a deficit

File Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

The 2024 campaign hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the Riverhounds, but team is starting to show signs that even when they’re not at their best or putting in a full 90 minute performance, they’re still going to be a tough side to beat for the rest of the season as the Eastern Conference race intensifies.

The Hounds (3-3-3, 12 points) will look to extend their unbeaten streak vs North Carolina FC when they return home on Saturday. (7 pm kickoff).

While we get to some interesting topics, be sure to check out some of our Hounds’ content from the past week, including:

In this edition of the Notebook, there’s a few interesting topics to dive deeper into, including:

  • Hounds showed for the first time this season, they can battle back after getting knocked down. Lets explore how this is a positive sign for this group that’s still coming together.
  • Also, being that Phillip Goodrum proved to be quite a nemesis for the Hounds last week, I wanted to take a look back to see who the biggest nemesis’ for the Hounds have been over the years.
  • Schedule gets easier as far as opponents records, with June 8 tilt with first place Charleston looming

Hounds Show They Can Bite Back

One area where the Hounds struggled early this season, has come when falling behind.

In their three losses to start the season, they fell behind in the first half to New Mexico, Orange County and Louisville City FC.  In each match, they only equalized once, and failed to complete a comeback.

Always looking to start matches strong, Bob Lilley’s squad made a point through the next five league matches to avoid falling behind, playing two scoreless matches against Tampa Bay and Rhode Island, before three straight wins against Phoenix, Detroit and Miami. Even in Open Cup match vs FC Tulsa, with most starters missing, the Hounds were locked into a scoreless battle until the 88th minute.

Eventually the Hounds would find themselves trailing once again.

It was FC Tulsa’s Phillip Goodrum who would upset the cart, scoring the game winner in the Open Cup match last Tuesday, to douse the flame for any chance of Pittsburgh making a deep Open Cup run this season.

Just four days later, Goodrum was at it again being a thorn in the Hounds’ side, earning and converting a penalty chance in the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s return match in league play, then contributing a clever assist that put the Hounds behind by two goals for the third time this season.

Both previous instances this season the Hounds trailed by two goals, came very late in matches, when Orange County and Louisville tacked on extra time goals when the Hounds were stretched out trying to find an equalizer.

But, being down 2-0 at the half in Tulsa, Pittsburgh had to find a way to respond.

They did so by bringing more pressure — forcing a penalty — and guess who was fouled in the box?

That’s right, Junior Etou.

For the third time this season, and for the third time in the past five league matches, Etou drew a penalty in the box.

I’ve been covering the Hounds for a long time — officially since 2013 —  and watching them a lot longer than that — and I can’t think of a player who had generated this many penalty chances in such a short period of time.

How crazy is this stat — the Hounds lead the league (as a team) in penalties awarded — and Etou is responsible for all three of those penalties.

The Hounds showed plenty of mettle, as not only did they battle back to cut the lead, but called upon Gabriel Perrotta dig himself out of a hole.

The former Marshall Thundering Herd keeper would be put to the test in the 68th minute.  Perrota initially stopped Goodrum’s first penalty chance in the 10th minute  — but it bounced off the post and into goal.  Now, with the match hanging in the balance, Perrotta was caught in a tough spot, and fouled Goodrum again.

This time, with Pittsburgh in danger of going down 3-1, Perrotta saved Goodrum’s second penalty chance on the evening, as the FC Tulsa attacking midfielder went low and right again, but this time Perrotta was able to steer it fully away from goal.

While the Hounds were not attacking the final third with enough reckless abandon and with much efficiency throughout that match, they were inspired to push for the equalizer.

And they got it when Robbie Mertz, who was solid for most of the night, sent a cross over into the box, and Kazaiah Sterling was there to pounce on the ball after Tulsa were not able to cleanly clear the ball.

There’s still no hiding from the fact that the Hounds are still lagging behind in terms of their ability to convert on chances, as they’re second to last in the league in Big Chances Missed (with 17 according to FotMob).  They’re also second to league and conference leading Charleston in touches in the box, with 232, which means they’re getting balls deep into the attacking third, but not making enough with those moments.

For a team that found itself trailing on the road, they continued to push forward.

It wasn’t always pretty throughout the match, and Head Coach Bob Lilley would like to see more consistency from this group, but they did convert on two chances to improve their mostly paltry conversion rate up to 12 percent.

Sometimes when a team becomes more desperate, they can become more focused in executing and on converting on chances.  Lilley has said this on many occasions, that he wants to see his teams always playing with a sense of urgency.

With a little less than three quarters of the season remaining, they’ll have to ramp things up a notch from kickoff to the final whistle in the final third.

Which opposing player is the Hounds’ biggest Nemesis in Highmark Stadium era?

Goodrum showed that he can be a handful, scoring twice in a short span between the end of the Open Cup and league match.  The enigmatic former MLS SuperDraft selection certainly did his part to play the villain role against the Hounds last week.

This prompted me to ponder which players have been the biggest thorns in the Hounds’ side over the years?

Going back with a quick glance over the years to what would be the most painful losses and intense contests vs rival clubs and postseason contests with much on the line, here’s my official short list from the past decade or so of some of the players who may have proven to be the most notorious of opponents for the Hounds:

Captain James Chambers returning to Bethlehem Steel FC - Brotherly Game

James Chambers with Bethlehem Steel FC in 2018 playoff match vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds

James Chambers — just watch the highlights from 2018 playoff match vs now defunct (in USLC) Bethlehem Steel FC — and you’ll pick up pretty quickly how much of a nuisance the Irishman was to the Hounds.  Chambers served as the elder statesmen and captain for a very young squad, proved to a real pain over the course of the teams’ matches from 2016-18, but mainly in the only playoff win in Steel FC’s short-lived existence in USLC. In that match, Chambers hit the equalizer in extra time off a free kick, then taunted the Hounds fans not only after that goal, but after he scored the first goal in the penalty kick shootout.  Alert for for Hounds fans — Chambers is in his first season as a Head Coach with Colorado Springs Switchbacks, who will visit Highmark Stadium on August 17.

Karl Ouimette featured for Indy Eleven from 2018-22 (photo courtesy USL Championship/Indy Eleven)

Karl Ouimette – The most viral and nefarious moment in the history of the Riverhounds’ franchise came when Romeo Parkes kicked NY Red Bulls II defender, Ouimette, in the back late in a May 2016 match at Highmark Stadium. Parkes famously and almost immediately saw his contract terminated and faced a FIFA ban for that year, but would actually make his way back to Pittsburgh, as he returned to the Hounds in 2017 and 2018.  Ouimette was very instrumental in spoiling the Hounds’ playoff chances in 2015, scoring not once, but twice in extra time, when the Hounds lost 4-2, in a wild loss at Red Bull Arena. The French-Canadian defender had stints with Canadian National team, the NY Red Bulls first team and Montreal Impact before settling into a sustained career in USL Championship and NASL, mostly with Indy Eleven, where he played over a dozen matches against the Hounds from 2018 through 2022.

Game Day: Hounds at Birmingham Legion FC - Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Enzo Martinez – mostly with Charlotte Independence, but continuing on with Birmingham, the USL Championship veteran has been a long-time pain for Pittsburgh. Talk about a nemesis!  Martinez captained a Charlotte team that the Hounds never defeated through seven years of competition, from 2015-21.  A former Colorado Rapids product and now 33 year-old Martinez who sports a pirate/viking beard has been a solid all-around playmaker and number 10 in the league, who is among the all-time league leaders in many categories. During the first seven or eight years of Highmark Stadium’s run, the Hounds would play on the 4th of July before what was almost always a sellout crowd.  In 2017, Martinez scored the go-ahead goal in giving the Hounds’ a very disappointing loss in front of holiday patrons.  In the Hounds’ memorable playoff win at Birmingham in 2022, Martinez was leading the Legion FC charge, but the Hounds’ kept him in check that night, before rallying to equalize at the end of regulation and then in extra time.

Analysis & Player Grades: Hounds come up short against battle-tested Louisville City FC | Pittsburgh Soccer Now

Louisville City FC’s Paolo Del Piccolo was always a thorn in side of Riverhounds, including scoring game winning goal in 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinal at Highmark Stadium (Photo courtesy Ed Thompson)

 

Paolo Del Piccolo – before retiring before this season, Del Piccolo was the all-time appearances leader for Louisville City FC, and the team’s captain during much of their impressive run since entering the USL Championship. Del Piccolo played in 230 games and ranks second in club history in minutes logged at 15,397 — and was in many hard fought battles with the Hounds.  He delivered one of the most painful moments for Hounds fans, as his 118th-minute header in the Eastern Conference Semifinal pushed LouCity past top-seeded Pittsburgh, to stun Highmark Stadium overflow crowd, marking the club’s fifth straight conference final. Louisville City would defeat and eliminate the Hounds two more times in the postseason — again in 2020 and 2022 — with Del Piccolo playing a key role in both of those matches.

Nathan Steinwascher (photo courtesy Ed Thompson – Pittsburgh Soccer Now)

Nathan Steinwascher – it’s only been three years, but the Riverhounds have been mired in a series of tight, hard-fought matches with Detroit City FC, and in 2023, they also added another bitter playoff loss to their notorious list against Le Rouge. It was Steinwascher who earned the clean sheet and made a few big saves in 8th seeded DCFC’s upset victory over top-seeded Riverhounds in the 2023 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.  The veteran keeper has been in goal for every match between the two sides since they started competing against each other in 2022.  There may be a few more chapters left as Steinwascher and DCFC will cross paths with the Hounds again this year, and the Rust Belt rivalry could become even more intense in the years to come.

 

Scouting Report: Harrisburg City Islanders – New England Soccer Today

(File Photo: Derek Meluzio/pennlive.com)

Honorable Mention: Nick Noble – no doubt by now the former West Virginia and Harrisburg City Islanders goalkeeper has become a friend of Pittsburgh Soccer Now – but as far as die-hard Riverhounds fans go — Noble was enemy number one during the height of the Hounds’ Keystone Derby rivalry from 2012 through 2017.

This included the first-ever match at Highmark Stadium, which the City Islanders spoiled Pittsburgh’s debut in their new digs, with a 2-1 decision. Noble was also in goal for all four matches during the first year of the Keystone Derby Cup series, which saw two of the most remarkable comeback victories (one for each side, including the Hounds’ Miracle on the Mon, 6-5 win), and a regular season finale at City Island that was not only for the Cup but also a USL Cup postseason spot on the line (Hounds won 2-1 to clinch both).   Making 122 appearances for Harrisburg during his career, which ended one year before the end of series between the two clubs.  Noble said in my book, “Miracle on the Mon’ about matches at City Island when the Steel Army would come in large numbers to support Pittsburgh’s team on the road: “No other clubs brought fans with them. None were traveling like that,” Noble said. “I can’t tune them out. I’m going to hear them. So, I tell myself. Just go along with it. It loosens you up. Relax a bit. Enjoy the environment.”  

There are numerous others who are likely good candidates including former Hounds who came back to haunt their former team (Tyler Pasher, Steevan Dos Santos and Brian Ownby) immediately come to mind), but in the Bob Lilley era, that’s actually been rare — which is a testament to Lilley’s judgement on when to move on from players.

We’ll be putting up a poll on X/Twitter to see what your thoughts are on this topic.  In addition, if you can think of another player who fits this description, by all means, please share with us.

Looking Ahead — Somewhat Favorable Schedule Leads into Showdown at Charleston

Over the course of the next three Saturdays, the Riverhounds (12 points) will take on teams that are near or below them in the league’s point totals — home vs North Carolina (10 points), at Memphis (10 points) and home vs Indy Eleven (14 points).

It’s clear that no match will be easy in the USLC for the Hounds, as competition is pretty fierce, but this is a pretty favorable schedule over the next three weeks.  If Pittsburgh can keep the unbeaten streak going by bagging points in all three of these matches — and based on their recent form — that’s entirely possible — all roads could lead to a very interesting showdown with Charleston Battery, who are currently in very good position way at the top of the table, with 27 points (11 matches played).

Right now, Lilley and his squad still have a lot of work to do to climb up in the standings, but keeping the unbeaten streak going through the next three would be a big step in the right direction.

Look for more coverage to come including our match preview as the Hounds take on North Carolina FC on Saturday for the first time since 2019.  

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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