BREAKING DOWN THE HOUNDS: Independence Day III – Battle for USL Playoff Existence

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Charlotte Independence (6-6-8, 26 points) vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds  (9-8-5, 32 points)

Ramblewood Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

Saturday, Aug. 22 at 7:10 p.m. EDT

RIVERHOUNDS PLAYOFF PICTURE

Record: 9-8-5, 32 points. Position: 6th in USL Eastern Conference.

Home (2 games): 9/5 CHARLESTON, 9/15 ROCHESTER,.

Away (4 games): 8/22 Charlotte, 8/29 Louisville City  9/12 Wilmington  9/19 Harrisburg

Key match: 9/5 CHARLESTON

INDEPENDENCE DAY III   

Thanks to their late goal in last week’s game against the Riverhounds at Highmark Stadium, Charlotte remains unbeaten in their last six games (two wins and four draws).

Charlotte remains six points behind the Riverhounds, Ryan Finley‘s team leading fifth goal of the season, as late headed goal snatched a 1-1 tie for the visitors who played the entire second half with 10 men after Dominique Badji’s dismissal.

Charlotte will be without the services of Badji, who was battling with Hounds defender Matt Dallman on the flank for much of the first half in last week’s game.

Maybe Riverhounds coach Mark Steffens can run this clip on the bus ride over the stadium to fire up his troops:

GAME STORYLINES

The Pittsburgh missed out on a glorious chance to move clear of the Independence in the United Soccer League playoff race last weekend.

The Hounds get a second opportunity to shake off the chasing Independence this Saturday night when the teams meet again at Charlotte’s Ramblewood Stadium.

“It’s always good at this point in the season to be playing in meaningful games,” said Riverhounds assistant coach Josh Rife.

“The next game is always the most important one and this Saturday’s game is huge for us.”

Pittsburgh remains in the sixth and final playoff spot before the weekend’s action with a game in hand over the Richmond Kickers and New York Red Bulls II that could elevate them to fourth place and a potential home playoff game.

Charlotte has played two fewer games than the Hounds. The Independence remains in contention for a postseason berth along with the Harrisburg City Islanders. Pittsburgh has yet to experience victory over the first-year Independence having dropped the team’s inaugural meeting by 2-1 on June 13.

INJURY / ROSTER REPORT

Steffens will be without Kevin Kerr for the first-time this year. The USL’s assists leader picked up his fifth yellow card of the season last Saturday and serves an automatic one-game suspension.

Kerr’s productivity has been a major factor for the Hounds’ league-leading offense this year. The Scottish midfielder has contributed eight of the team’s 46 league goals while assisting on a further nine. Steffens has options to fill the void on the right side of his midfield with Matt Dallman, Mike Green, Max Touloute and Boris Zivanovic all capable of playing in that role.

Former Charlotte Eagles defender Drew Russell resumed first-team training this week to give Steffens a complete roster to choose his traveling party from with the exception of Kerr.

WHAT TO EXPECT

The loss of Kerr is a big blow.  But it’s just one game and the Riverhounds have midfield depth.  There are a few guys we’ve been waiting to see that might be able to make some kind of contribution in a big game.   I would also imagine that new pick-up — and former Charlotte player, Ben Newnam, will also see some sort of extended role.

I have a feeling about this game being another physical battle after last week when the teams combined for 26 fouls.  It will be a test of patience for the Hounds who would generally prefer to keep the ball on the ground and knock it around.   When they did that in the first half last Saturday, they were the better team.  But in the second half, Charlotte was playing a man down, but also with more desperation.  They were strong on the ball –and kept drawing fouls, throw-ins and set up corners. Eventually one of those paid off as they scored on their seventh corner kick of the game in the 86th minute.

Defending on set peices has been a major concern for Steffens and his staff.  The Hounds have lost some key, close games in this area — including the Louisville loss and everyone might remember D.C. clash in June.

Getting any points won’t be terrible result for the Hounds.  They are six points in front of Charlotte.   You will think that the Independence will be doing everything

they can to get those three points.   So, if the Hounds can get out of Dodge with the distance between them and the Independence being the same as it was when they left — they will take it.   The only thing is, they also have three more tough road games remaining.  To stay ahead of Harrisburg (and Charlotte for that matter) three points this weekend will be huge.

TOUGH FINAL STRETCH

A trip to Louisville City on Aug. 29 rounds out this month’s slate for the Hounds. The next home game is against the Charleston Battery on Sept. 5 at 7 p.m.

Referee: Jeremy Smith

Assistant Referees: Clive Edwards, Robert Dail

Fourth Official: Doug Hartemann

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