Pittsburgh Riverhounds (7-8-4, 25 points) vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (2-11-6, 12 points)
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Saturday, Aug. 1
7 p.m. EDT
Wilmington At First Glance:
Wilmington has found the net on 12 occasions. Only Toronto F.C. II has scored fewer goals.
It’s been a pretty bad stretch for the Hammerheads, as they’ve been shut out in 7 of their last 10 games.
Yet, despite falling back into last place in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings, they’ve managed to keep every game close. Last week, they were tied at the half with Louisville City, before relinquishing two goals early in the second half just minutes apart for their first loss by more than a goal during the past dozen games.
With goalkeeper Andre Rawls ranking fourth in the league in save percentage, the Hammerheads have a strong last line of defense, and may prove to be a difficult opponent for the Riverhounds to score a lot of goals.
“Wilmington hasn’t had the season they would have wanted, but they’re a dangerous opponent that we can’t take for granted,” said Josh Rife, Riverhounds assistant coach on Thursday.
Last Meetings/Recent History
It always seems like these two franchises are always battling each other for pivotal positioning in league playoff races. Maybe it’s only fitting that they will play two times in the final stretch of the season — despite Wilmington’s poor 2015 record to this point.
A season ago, the Hammerheads’ two wins over the Riverhounds were crucial as the teams were among the USL teams that battled for final playoff spots until the final weekend, when Wilmington advanced and Pittsburgh came up short.
In his first league game after taking over the reigns as interim head coach in 2014, Niko Katic had a less than flattering debut in Wilmington in late May 2014, as the Riverhounds were trounced 5-1.
The last time these two sides met at Highmark Stadium, it was a pretty wild, back and forth affair, as the Riverhounds fell 4-3. The game may have been best remembered for an equalizing goal by Joseph Ngwenya in stoppage being nullified by an offside call.
In 2013, Matt Dallman scored maybe his biggest goal as a Hound against Wilmington, breaking a 1-1 tie in the 79th minute on a highlight reel goal that provided three key points that helped push Pittsburgh past the Hammerheads in the standings and into the playoffs that season.
The Riverhounds aim to bounce back from a three-game losing streak
The Hounds have slipped to a 7-8-4 record (25 points) after consecutive losses to F.C. Montreal, Louisville City and the Harrisburg City Islanders in recent weeks. Last Sunday’s 4-3 reverse in Harrisburg allowed the Islanders to pull level with Pittsburgh in the sixth and final playoff spot having played two fewer games.
A home win against a Wilmington team (2-11-6, 12 points) that props up the Eastern Conference is imperative if the Hounds are to grab one of the top four positions that guarantees a home playoff game.
“Everything is still in our hands,” said Riverhounds assistant coach Josh Rife. “It’s within our control and that’s a great place to be in.
The Hounds reclaimed the honor of being the USL’s top scoring team following last week’s treble in Harrisburg. Rob Vincent (13 goals, five assists) is tied for the points and points-per-game lead with Oklahoma City Energy’s Danni Konig. Only Konig (14 goals) has found the net more often than Vincent.
Injury Report / Roster Updates
Jamaican national team goalkeeper Ryan Thompson is back in contention for a starting spot after winning a silver medal at the recent Concacaf Gold Cup tournament. Thompson’s last Hounds appearance came in the 2-1 win at the Richmond Kickers on May 23. (Earlier this week, I had a chance to catch up with Thompson upon his return to practicing with the Hounds.)
Anthony Arena misses Saturday’s game through suspension after picking up his fifth caution of the season in Harrisburg. On-loan Orlando City defender Conor Donovan is also unavailable. The MLS franchise has recalled the United States Under-20 national team player to cover some injury concerns this weekend.
The Hounds will be able to use fellow Orlando loanee Sidney Rivera after his paperwork cleared this week. The 21-year-old forward has featured in eight USL games this season during an earlier loan spell at Louisville City.
Hounds head coach Mark Steffens will also be unable to call upon Vini Dantas and Drew Russell as they recover from respective knee and heel problems. Sterling Flunder and Fejiro Okiomah are rated as probable after missing last week’s game due to knee and Achilles injuries.
Hammerheads head coach Carson Porter will be without forward Brian Ackley and Scottish defender Tom Parratt after the duo picked up their fifth yellow cards last week.
What to Expect
At this point, if the Riverhounds play like they did for the first 60 minutes on Sunday at Harrisburg — and carry it through for 90 minutes, they should beat a Wilmington team that is having a tough season and dealing with a multitude of injuries and suspensions.
Without Arena, and unable to utilize the newly loaned Donovan, who paired up in the central defense on Sunday at Harrisburg, the Riverhounds back line will once again be a make-shift unit. The loss of Arena and Donovan leaves Hounds coach Mark Steffens with the potential back line of Okiomah, Willie Hunt, Flunder and possibly Mike Green who did play outside back in place of Flunder last week. Dallman, who has battled injuries and hasn’t quite found his stride this year, is also another player that might be asked to step up to help the back line. After starting the season in the back, Tyler Pasher has been used in the outside midfield role in recent appearances off the bench.
Thompson will likely be inserted between the woodwork as long as he’s healthy and ready to go. He did talk about sore knee after the Gold Cup final on Sunday. The Hounds are looking for anything that will help inject some life as they try to end their three-game slide. If Thompson is not ready to go, Calle Brown will continue his run of starts.
With a history of some wild, high scoring games between the two, there could very well be another one in store at Highmark Stadium. Any kind of uptempo pace would have to favor the Hounds who would love to open things up. At the same time, they will have to be cognizant, organized and can’t allow a Wilmington side that has struggled to score goals all season, to have too many opportunities against their depleated back line. Look for lots of Pittsburgh possession — and high pressure.
Projected Starting XI: Ryan Thompson (G), Fejiro Okiomah, Willie Hunt, Mike Green, Steling Flunder, Danny Earls, Stephen Okai, Rob Vincent, Kevin Kerr, Amara Soumah and Miro Cabrilo.
PAUL CHILD NIGHT
Saturday’s event will feature a special honoring of Pittsburgh soccer legend and Hounds ambassador Paul Child. The former Pittsburgh Spirit great will be available to meet with fans in the Highmark Stadium sports bar from 5:30 p.m.
The first 3,500 fans will receive a free Hounds T-shirt courtesy of our partners at Highmark as we push for our second #HoundsGoldout of the season. Fans will also receive Paul Child player cards produced by Carlsberg.
Referee: Darth Newman
Assistant Referees: Sean Regan, Ryan Starr
Fourth Official: John Groff