Pittsburgh Riverhounds (2-2-2, 8 points) vs Charleston Battery (4-0-2, 14 points)
Blackbaud Stadium, Charleston, S.C.
(webcast link here),
Home Field: Blackbaud Stadium, Charleston, S.C.
Head Coach: Mike Anhaeuser (2013 USL Hall of Fame Inductee, one time Battery player, Head Coach since 2004)
Four-time USL Champions: (USL) A-League Champs (1996, 2003), USL Second Division (2010), USL Pro (2012)
For the Riverhounds, Defender Anthony Arena is questionable after suffering a neck strain in training this week. Matt Dallman should also be free to continue his comeback from a twisted ankle after lasting 60 minutes at Red Bull Arena.
Sterling Flunder is definitely ruled out of the trip due to illness.
The Riverhounds kept fighting back in a road clash with the NY Red Bulls II, but ultimately fell 3-2, on an Andrew Wallace strike in the waning seconds of stoppage time.
The Battery remained unbeaten after six matches, as they battled second-place Richmond to a 1-1 last week.
What to Expect
The Riverhounds seem to be a work-in-progress early this season after six games. They’re looking to make amends not only after a tough result last week — but hope this important early season road encounter with an undefeated team ahead of them in the standings goes a lot better than their two visits to Charleston last season.
In 2014, following a 0-0 draw at Highmark Stadium in April with the Battery, and coming off a 5-1 loss the night before at Wilmington in Niko Katic’s first appearances as Interim Head Coach, the Hounds played valiantly in a 1-0 defeat at Blackbaud Stadium. Hanging on to playoff hopes in late August, and again with a second game of a Friday-Saturday weekend swing road trip, they fell 4-0 in Charleston, in a match that crippled their playoff hopes.
The good news, with the improved USL regional scheduling, this season there won’t be any back-to-back games for the Hounds. They will take on Charleston tonight with five full days rest, and six days with a bitter taste in their mouth after the disappointing result in New Jersey.
The bottom line right now is that the Riverhounds must have better results against teams like Charleston if they are going to be in contention in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
“Charleston always fields a competitive side and it’s no surprise that they’re off to another great start this year,” said Riverhounds head coach Mark Steffens, through the Riverhounds pre-game release.
“It’s another tough test but one that we will relish.”
And it’s a match that features two USL Hall of Fame coaches in Steffens and Mike Anhaeuser, who’ve both won league titles and have earned USL Coach of the Year honors.
The Battery have been a solid USL franchise for a long-time and will provide the Hounds with stiff test. This is a disciplined side, featuring dangerous forwards in Dane Kelly and Heviel Cordoves. They have a steady midfield, and while their back line has dealt with some injuries, much like the Hounds back line, they are battle tested led by central defenders Taylor Mueller and Shawn Ferguson. Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper is a familiar net minder the Hounds will have to face — and he’s made his share of big time stops against Pittsburgh in the past. It was Kelly who burned the Hounds last year for a hat-trick in the late August 2014 game that had playoff implications for both teams.
The Hounds have been one of the higher scoring teams in USL this season, thanks primarily to the tandem of Rob Vincent and Kevin Kerr doing a lot of damage from the wings in Steffens’ system. After two tallies on Sunday against the Baby Bulls, Vincent is tied for league lead with six, proving that with some space, he can be a dangerous finisher. The true challenge for the Riverhounds on Saturday night will come with unlocking and matching the Battery at central midfield and creating enough scoring chances in the final third against a tough back line. This will require keeping the ball for long stretches without giving it away too much and being patient. With the likes of Danny Earls, Stephen Okai, Lebo Moloto in the middle, they are more than capable of making this a hard-fought chess match.
However, Hounds have struggled in stretches against the most disciplined sides they’ve faced (i.e. first place Rochester, at St. Louis and Louisville). But if things open up, the Riverhounds have shown they can exploit openings. While it’s been an up-and-down season for the Riverhounds, tonight will provide them with an opportunity to make a splash.
But what they need more than anything else, is to start building some consistency – and get their ship sailing in the right direction for what still bodes to be a long-season ahead.
Be sure to check our Facebook Page (Pittsburgh Soccer Report), and follow Pittsburgh Soccer Report’s John Krysinsky @johnkrysinsky on Twitter for the latest Riverhounds game updates.