BREAKING DOWN THE HOUNDS: Stakes Getting Higher As Charleston Visits Highmark Stadium

Captain Danny Earls returns to the lineup for the Riverhounds in their important clash with the Charleston Battery.
Captain Danny Earls returns to the lineup for the Riverhounds in their important clash with the Charleston Battery.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds (10-9-5, 35 points) vs Charleston (10-6-9, 39 points)

Highmark Stadium – 7 p.m. kickoff

Broadcast – TV WPNT and http://www.riverhounds.com

AT A SECOND GLANCE – CHARLESTON BATTERY

Before last week’s 2-0 win over Richmond, Charleston had been mired in a season-long six game winless streak.

But, the Battery were opportunistic in getting an important road result as they look to keep a hold on one of the top for spots in the Eastern Conference that will assure them of a home playoff game.

The Battery boasts the second-best defensive record in USL with 26 goals conceded in 25 games. Jamaican forward Dane Kelly, a previous Riverhounds nemisis, leads the team’s offensive output with nine goals and two assists. Cuban striker Heviel Cordoves has pitched in with five goals for Mike Anhaeuser’s side.

Defender Quinton Griffith and midfielder Sebastien Thuriere will not make the trip due to their respective national team commitments with Antigua and Barbuda and Haiti this weekend.

LAST MEETING

The two teams are longtime, historical league rivals going back to their days in USL’s A-League. This is their second encounter this season.

Charleston inflicted a painful defeat on the Hounds during the teams’ previous encounter at MUSC Health Stadium on May 9. Goals from Zach Prince, Dane Kelly and Dante Marini gave the Battery a commanding 3-goal lead before Hounds substitute Miro Cabrilo netted a late consolation. Charleston’s form has tailed off over the summer.

GAME STORYLINES

Playoffs. Yes, we’re talking about playoffs here! That’s what’s at stake here.

The Riverhounds can close in on potentially hosting a first United Soccer League playoff game at Highmark Stadium should they beat the visiting Charleston Battery in Saturday’s Eastern Conference clash.

A win would lift the Hounds (10-9-5, 35 points) to within one point of fourth-placed Charleston (10-6-9, 39 points) with a game in hand on the South Carolinians. The division’s top six teams qualify for the postseason with the top four assured of hosting at least one playoff game. You can find the latest detailed updates and team profiles in my USL Eastern Conference Playoff race page here on Pittsburgh Soccer Report.

Pittsburgh enters the game in confident mood after picking up a vital 1-0 win at highflying Louisville City last weekend. (Louisville helped the Hounds cause this Wednesday, bouncing back for a 4-0 win over Harrisburg, as the Hounds stay a point ahead of the City Islanders).

INJURIES / ROSTER UPDATE

Rob Vincent’s first-half penalty at Louisville brought his tally for the season to 18 league goals, the third highest in USL. But the English midfielder sits out his first game of the year Saturday to serve an automatic one-game ban after accumulating five yellow cards.

Vincent’s exclusion is mitigated by the return of captain Danny Earls after his one-game ban. The Hounds can still call upon Kevin Kerr’s attacking productivity. Kerr leads the league with nine assists, three behind the all-time USL single-season record set by Pittsburgh’s Matt Dallman in 2013.

Jamaican national team goalkeeper Ryan Thompson is the only other confirmed absence from head coach Mark Steffens‘ plans. Thompson is struggling to fully shake off the left knee injury he picked up during this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup tournament.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Charleston and Pittsburgh matches I’ve seen the past few years mostly have been advantage to the home sides.

The Hounds have really struggled to find long stretches of consistency this season. It seems as if they are up and then down. Then up again. Then down again.

One thing they have shown all year has been resiliency and they play better when in desperation mode. It kind of suits their attacking style. Charleston has for the most part been one of the better defensive teams in USL this season, so the Hounds will have to be opportunistic like they were at Louisville last week.

And without their top goal scorer in Vincent, this will have to be a second week where they get contributions from some of their supporting cast. Last week, Lebo Moloto stepped up in a big way, and the 22-year old South African will need to continue to work to create scoring opportunities for his teammates like he did in setting up the penalty that got the Hounds on the scoresheet at Louisvillle — and the other that was nullified by a questionable offside call. Kerr’s return helps — and gives the Hounds attack another dangerous option.

But as Hounds head coach Mark Steffens says, in this league defense wins championships. The Hounds must repeat their well-organized, defensive showing from a week-ago that shut down the league’s top goal scoring team. It should help to have Earls and Stephen Okai ¬†available after both sat out last week’s game.

Expect this to be a tight contest, with one or two mistakes looming large, as most games played with a lot on the line this time of the year usually are.

PROJECTED HOUNDS STARTERS
Calle Brown (GK), Willie Hunt, Ben Newnam, Anthony Arena, Fejiro Okiomah, Danny Earls, Stephen Okai, Matt Dallman, Kevin Kerr, Lebo Moloto and Mike Green.

UP NEXT

The Hounds will travel to last place Wilmington on Saturday, Sept. 12.

Pittsburgh’s final home game of the USL regular season takes place Sept. 16 against the league-leading Rochester Rhinos. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

NEW PARTNERSHIP
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto will be in attendance to lend his support to a new partnership between the Riverhounds and Citiparks Pittsburgh BIG League Sports that will see the club running clinics and providing equipment for young kids in the city.

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