BREAKING DOWN THE HOUNDS: US OPEN CUP 3RD ROUND PREVIEW – NASL-vs-USL Clash at Highmark Stadium

Kevin Kerr, Stephen Okai and Vini Dantas are hoping for a few goal celebrations like this as the Riverhounds take on NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday in US Open Cup action. (Photo courtesy of Paul Wintruba)
Kevin Kerr, Stephen Okai and Vini Dantas are hoping for a few goal celebrations like this as the Riverhounds take on NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday in US Open Cup action. (Photo courtesy of Paul Wintruba)

Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs Tampa Bay Rowdies

7 p.m. – Highmark Stadium

THE TEAMS

Pittsburgh Riverhounds

(USL Record: 3-3-3, 2015 Open Cup: defeated West Virginia Chaos 3-0, in 2nd Round May 20)

Head Coach: Mark Steffens

Tampa_bay_rowdies_nasl

 

Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL Record: 3-1-3)

Head Coach:  Thomas Rongen

The Rowdies while a new franchise, under new ownership, were one of the original North American Soccer League franchises from the storied league that competed in the league that was headlined by Pele and the New York Cosmos. The revived NASL began play in 2011, and the Rowdies won the Championship in 2012.

THE STORYLINE

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Tampa Bay Rowdies will meet in a USL-vs-NASL clash in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

At stake for both teams, will be an opportunity to host a fourth round match against Major League Soccer’s D.C. United, the 2013 Open Cup Champs.

Motivation should not be a problem for either side as each can gain much by advancing to the next round. Rowdies coach Thomas Rongen coached D.C. United to the MSL Cup in 1999. The Riverhounds are coached by USL Hall of Famer Mark Steffens, who is in his first year in Pittsburgh, had previously won over 200 games for the Charlotte Eagles, leading them to the USL finals nine different times.

Looking at the bigger picture, the USL made a lot of waves in the off season, by formerly entering into a partnership with Major League Soccer, expanding to 24 teams and announcing that it’s their intention to eventually become the second tier/division in the U.S. Soccer Professional Men’s soccer pyramid.

The North American Soccer League (NASL), founded in 2011, remains U.S. Soccer’s second division — with 11 teams — and they don’t intend to let go of that distinction anytime soon. The 2015 U.S. Open Cup’s Third Round will provide the first opportunity for teams from the two leagues to meet head-to-head in competitive matches, including Tampa-Pittsburgh.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

The Riverhounds advanced in the Open Cup with a 3-0 win over the West Virginia Chaos in the second round last week, thanks to goals by Rob Vincent, Lebo Moloto and Kevin Kerr. Vincent and Moloto’s goals came 36 seconds apart in the early going.

Vincent (6 goals, 4 assists) and Kerr (4 G, 4 A) have led one of the higher scoring teams in USL that has scored 19 goals in nine matches. Pittsburgh earned their first road win of the year in USL action, holding on to defeat the Richmond Kickers, 2-1 at City Stadium on Saturday night.

The Rowdies and the other NASL teams enter the Open Cup in the Third Round.

WHAT TO EXPECT

The Riverhounds have won consecutive games in all competitions, but this will be their fourth game in the past 11 days, while the Rowdies should be pretty well rested, having had last weekend off as it was their bye week in the NASL.

Tampa Bay hasn’t played since May 16 and they are unbeaten in their last four NASL matches, last securing a 1-0 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Through seven games, the Rowdies sit in second place in the NASL, tied with Minnesota, trailing the undefeated New York Cosmos by four points. The Rowdies feature a balanced attack (Martin Nunez and Maicon Santos lead the team with two goals each) as Georgi Hristov is the key set up man in the midfield, with a team high three assists.

With three clean sheets, the Rowdies will likely present a stingy defense that will look to thwart the quick strike capability of the Riverhounds.

The Rowdies feature a few Brazilians in Santos and defensive midfielder Marcelo Saragosa.. Like most NASL teams, they have quite a few ex-MLS players including: Ben Sweat (Columbus), Corey Hertzog (NYRB), Matt Pickens (Colorado/New England), Rich Balchan(Columbus/RSL), Zak Boggs (New England), and Gale Agbossoumonde(TFC/Colorado).

The Riverhounds boast two former Rowdies on their current roster, Jamaican National Goalkeeper Ryan Thompson and defender Willie Hunt.

INJURY REPORT

Thompson will likely be rested for the U.S. Open Cup game against his former Tampa Bay colleagues.

Calle Brown will be back in contention for the starting goalkeeper spot after recovering from a knee problem. Midfielder Seth C’deBaca is also set to return from a recent knee injury.

Defender Fejiro Okiomah and Brazilian forward Vini Dantas are edging closer to full fitness after their respective hamstring and groin injuries.

US OPEN CUP HISTORY

NASL teams first participated in the Open Cup In 2013, when the Rowdies had their most successful run to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s Fourth Round, including a 1-0 victory at home over Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders FC.

Among the Riverhounds longest runs in Open Cup history took place last season, when they won twice, defeating the NY Red Bulls U23 team, then RWB Adria, before falling to the Chicago Fire, 2-1, at Toyota Park. In 2001, they did have their only win over a MLS team, with a 2-0 triumph over Colorado Rapids, then reaching the tournament’s quarterfinals, where they would lose to the Fire in a 3-2 OT thriller.

As for the coaches, Rongen’s US Open Cup credentials are pretty impressive, as he piloted the 1999 Cup winning D.C. United squad. Steffens led the Charlotte Eagles to an impressive run in 2012, when they knocked off FC Dallas in the Third Round.

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