Pittsburgh Riverhounds (9-8-4) vs. Charlotte Independence (6-6-7, 25 points)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Highmark Stadium
Independence at a Second Glance
As the only Eastern Conference team without a road win this season, the Independence will need to buck that trend with four of their next five matches away from Charlotte. The Independence are below the playoff cutline, where the Riverhounds currently occupy the sixth and final spot.
Interestingly enough, the Independence are riding a five-game unbeaten string, not having lost a game since July 11, when they fell 1-0 to the USL’s hottest team, Louisville City. Since then, they’ve tied (0-0) and beaten (4-2) the USL’s top team, Rochester Rhinos during a streak of two wins and three ties.
Charlotte had a chance for a road win with a 1-0 lead on the New York Red Bulls II with less than 20 minutes remaining on Wednesday. But host NYRB II’s Stefano Bonomo found the equalizer to push Charlotte’s road record to 0-4-4.
Unlike the Riverhounds, Charlotte’s individual scoring is more spread out among their roster, with Ryan Finley leading the team with 4 goals. Andrew Ribeiro, who played briefly with the Hounds last season, is the only Independence player to start and play in every game this season (19 starts, 1652 minutes). Like the Riverhounds, they’ve also seen five different goalkeepers minding the net, including some former Hounds keepers Hunter Gilstrap and Mike Lisch — and Matt Lampson, who ironically started one game for the Hounds on loan against Charlotte earlier this year.
Charlotte was victorious by a 2-1 margin in the first ever meeting between the sides on June 13 at Winthrop University’s Eagle Field in South Carolina. Lebo Moloto gave the Hounds a first-half lead that was canceled out by Carlos Alvarez after seven minutes of the second half.
The Riverhounds have rebounded from their three-game losing streak in July with back-to-back wins to open August. The Riverhounds are 6-2-3 at Highmark, where they have scored 28 of their league-leading 45 goals this season.
Rob Vincent has led the offensive charge all season for Pittsburgh with 17 goals and Kevin Kerr’s nine assists are tops in the USL.
The Hounds have benefitted from favorable results around the Eastern Conference in recent weeks. Charlotte’s back-to-back ties with the New York Red Bulls II have left the first-year club needing to win its two games in hand to pull level with the sixth-placed Hounds in the standings.
A recent slump from the Richmond Kickers has given Pittsburgh an opportunity to jump into fourth spot and close in on a potential home playoff game if the Hounds can build on their two previous wins this month.
“This is the most defining game of our season,” said Riverhounds president and general manager Richard Nightingale.
The club expects a season-high attendance and possibly even a record crowd for a Riverhounds game at Highmark Stadium.
“This is really a key game for us and all the guys know it,” said Hounds head coach Mark Steffens. “We won’t have to pump them up too much for this one.
“Charlotte is a very good team when they put it together, but like us they have lacked consistency. We’ll need to put a really good performance together to beat them.”
Injury Report / Roster Updates
F.C. Dallas youngster Jesse Gonzalez featured for the Hounds in last week’s 3-1 win at Toronto F.C. II. The Mexican Under-20 goalkeeper was recalled to Texas this week. Calle Brown is expected to play if Thompson fails a late fitness test on his troublesome knee.
The Hounds were forced to cancel a loan agreement with Orlando City defender Conor Donovan this week after the United States Under-20 national team player tore his ACL after 10 minutes of his Major League Soccer debut last Saturday.
The Riverhounds announced late this week that defender Ben Newnam has agreed terms for the remainder of the United Soccer League season.
Newnam played under Steffens at the Charlotte Eagles during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The Kernersville, North Carolina native notched four goals in 54 appearances for the Eagles. He previously played four years of college soccer at Wake Forest University alongside Hounds defender Anthony Arena.
“Ben is a tough, blue collar player who brings the technical side of the game with him,” Steffens said.
“He’s a simple player and a smart player that will fit right into the way we try to play.”