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Preview: Riverhounds seek to revitalize attack vs streaking Indy Eleven

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

On a what plans to be a very eventful Saturday in Pittsburgh where thousands will converge upon the city for numerous activities and happenings — the Riverhounds SC look to get back on track, as they renew acquaintances with Indy Eleven at Highmark Stadium (7 p.m. kickoff).

Last Saturday the Hounds were dealt their first loss in more than 60 days, falling 2-0 to a Memphis 901 FC side that is in very good form — unbeaten in their last nine matches across all competitions and winners of five straight league matches.

The Hounds, who have been inflicted with a serious case of the scoring blues, have only mustered 10 goals in 11 league matches this season as they set to face a massive challenge against one of the highest scoring and hottest teams in the league.

The series between the clubs dates back to 2018, when Eleven entered the Championship, and since that time the club from the Hoosier state is the only team the Hounds have faced every season.

Close matches are the norm between the two, with 10 of 13 being settled by one goal or fewer, with the Hounds holding a 6-4-3 edge.

Pittsburgh does not have any players on the injury report heading into this match.

PSN’s Mark Goodman (reporting) and Ed Thompson (photography) will have our on site coverage.

A Closer Look: Indy Eleven

Heading into the 2023 season, Indy Eleven made some serious moves in the offseason that — on paper — looked very impressive — bringing on numerous proven USL Championship goal scorers and playmakers.

While it wasn’t a bad season, as the Boys in Blue made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2019 after finishing the regular season with a 13-11-10 record, based on the talent on the roster — it seemed as if they underachieved, getting eliminated in the conference quarterfinals in October, by Charleston.

The club decided to go separate ways with Head Coach Mark Lowry, who oversaw the club through two underwhelming seasons in 2022 and 2023.

Coming on board as the fifth Head Coach in club history, Sean McAuley comes to the Circle City having previously served as the Interim Head Coach, as well as an assistant, at MLS-side Minnesota United FC.

With more than 30 years of experience as a player and coaching stops at the professional and youth development levels, McAuley spent four seasons (2020-23) as an assistant in Minnesota before taking over at the helm during the 2023 season.

The McAuley hire continues a growing trend of former English Premier League players who are finding coaching leadership roles in the States.  The Sheffield, England, native enjoyed a lengthy professional run, opening his 15-year senior career with Manchester United in 1990 and playing with clubs in the U.S., England and Scotland as well as the U21 Scottish National Team.

The Eleven have been another USL Championship side that has invested heavily on building around former MLS players and veteran USL Championship talent — with a few younger and homegrown players sprinkled in (average age of Indy’s roster is 27.6).

After a very rough start to the season, McAuley has Indy playing some very ambitious soccer — with an aggressive and pressing mindset.

Like Pittsburgh, Indy had a rough start to the season, as they experienced significant defensive lapses, allowing 11 goals in a three-game span — in losses to Detroit, Louisville and Charleston.

However, since that difficult early stretch, Indy tightened things up, only allowing five goals in nine matches across all competitions, and never more than one in a single match.

McAuley inherits as roster that includes the return of Adrian Diz Pe and Cam Lindley, who were each USL Championship All-League second-team honorees in 2023, as Lindey ranked second in passes and sixth in assists and chances created USLC.

Captain Sebastian Guenzatti, who had some stellar seasons with Tampa Bay also is back, after leading the Eleven with 11 goals in 2023.

Jack Blake is someone Hounds faithful should remember — as veteran English midfielder who has made more than 150 appearances in USLC (previously with San Diego and Real Monarchs), scored the equalizer late against the Hounds last year

Blake has been the catalyst this season with seven goals from his midfield spot, while Aedan Stanley has worked the flank to the tune of a league-leading six assists.

Last week, Blake scored a pair of goals to lead Indy Eleven over reigning USL Champions Phoenix Rising FC, 2-1.

The big offseason pick up for the Eleven is another USLC veteran Augustine Williams, who emerged as a dangerous threat with Charleston the past couple of years where he scored 29 goals in the previous two seasons with the Battery.

Hounds fans may remember Williams — in his gold top hairdo — in a lopsided loss in the Holy City last season.

The target forward has already scored five for the Eleven in this campaign.

Guenzatti (T6th, 72) and Williams (9th, 71) serve as the only pair of active teammates in the USL Championship’s top 10 for all-time regular season goals.

They have solid play making too coming on the wing as Stanley has a league-best six assists with three coming in the month of May (2 at MIA, 1 vs HFD).

Similar to the Hounds, Indy likes to come out pressing and will drop five across the back line too.  The fun match-ups to watch will be Danny Griffin vs Lindley in the middle of the field, while Junior Etou on the left flank against Stanley.

After some shuffling following early season struggles, it appears that McAuley and his staff have turned to towering 21 year-old, English newcomer Josh O’Brien as the anchor at center back in front of veteran keeper Yannik Oettl.

This will be yet another match where Pittsburgh will be facing an opponent that will be dangerous on the counter and looking to pounce on defensive lapses, as Memphis did successfully last week.

With an opponent that has proven potent scorers, the Hounds will be presented with a daunting match-up and what should be a test of wills against a side that is executing better right now where it counts most — scoring goals.

How Indy Lined Up Last Week vs Phoenix Rising SC

Hounds Projected Starting Lineup and Tactics

Despite allowing two goals on the road last week, the Hounds have been solid for the most part this season defensively, as they’re tied for fifth-best out of the league’s 24 teams with only 12 goals allowed.

Where they continue to struggle is in generating goals and quality chances, as the Hounds’ managed just three shots on goal in a 2-0 loss to Memphis, despite having 58 percent of the ball and 12 shots overall.

Takeaways and Player Grades: Riverhounds still infected with case of scoring blues in loss at Memphis

Coach Bob Lilley tried shuffling the lineup some last week, bringing Kenardo Forbes and Robbie Mertz off the bench and having Illal Osumanu as an unused sub, the first time the center back has not played in a league match this year.

All three will be fresh and available for selection, as the Hounds look to get the formula right after scoring multiple goals just once in five May matches.

Two additional lineup questions linger.

Will Gabe Perrotta continue to start in goal, after a less than stellar showing against Memphis?  Or will veteran Eric Dick return to the lineup for the first time in five matches, after he started the first eight league matches?

Lilley has been mostly consistent with his forward selections, as Edward Kizza has started all but one match this season, and Kazaiah Sterling has started seven of the last nine, as they also are tied for the team lead in goals scored, with three each.

However, with the continued scoring struggles, could that provide some reason for a tweak at the top?  With Babacar Diene and EJ Johnson are the two primary options from the depth chart, while don’t be shocked if the Hounds opt to keep Bradley Sample in the starting eleven as the first-year pro has shown he can partner effectively with Danny Griffin in the middle of the field to extend possession to keep the ball away from Indy’s dangerous attackers. That might alter the formation a bit, as Lilley would then go with just one forward.

By the way, only two Hounds have started in all 11 league matches thus far this season — Danny Griffin and Junior Etou.  The captain, Griffin, has played every minute of every league match to this point. Meanwhile, Luke Biasi also has piled on the minutes. The third year pro entered the season opener at New Mexico at halftime and has played 945 straight Championship minutes since, second on the team behind Griffin’s 990.

If sticking with the base 5-3-2 formation, here’s how the Hounds will likely lineup…

Riverhounds (3-4-4) vs. Indy Eleven (6-4-2)
Date: Saturday, June 1
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Highmark Stadium
Tickets: Ticketmaster
Odds: Hounds +105 / Draw +230 / Indy +230 (FanDuel)
Streaming: ESPN+
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #PITvIND 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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