Pittsburgh Riverhounds (10-9-6, 36 points) vs Wilmington Hammerheads (3-15-8, 17 points)
Saturday, September 12
Live Feed: www.riverhounds.com
HAMMERHEADS AT A SECOND GLANCE
Last weekend with little to play for, the Hammerheads gave the surging Charlotte Independence everything they could handle in a two-games-in-three days home-and-home series, losing 2-1 at home, but losing a late lead in a 2-2 draw on Jorge Herrera’s penalty kick. The Hammerheads have not had a great season, but they’ve been very competitive in most every match. In their last three matches at Legion Stadium, they have lost to Charlotte (1-0), tied Montreal (0-0) and defeated NY Red Bulls II (4-2).
This is not a team the Riverhounds can sleep on. As Matt Dallman acknowledged in his post-game remarks last week, he’s been playing for the Riverhounds since 2012, and in this time, never won at Wilmington.
Wilmington has served as a bit of “House of Horrors” for the Hounds in recent years (more on that below).
The Hammerheads are a decent defensive team, but have a very hard time scoring goals.
While the Riverhounds continue to be near the top of most league scoring categories, by contrast, the Hammerheads have registered fewer goals, assists and shots on goal than any other team this year.
Despite the lack of firepower, Hammerheads coach Carson Porter told WWAY-TV this week he is optimistic about his team’s chances against the Hounds.
“I think it is recognized throughout the league that our team is better than our record shows,” said Porter.
“Our recent performance versus Charlotte was excellent, we were the better team, we deserved the three points, and we will build on that. Pittsburgh has to win in regards to playoffs and we hope to be the spoilers on Saturday.”
I am sure that the Riverhounds can look at their previous meeting, on August 2, as a positive as they prepare for Wilmington. The Hounds had their way with the Hammerheads most of the match, and although it was 1-0 late, they did pull away for the 3-0 win thanks to Rob Vincent’s first professional career hat trick that helped end a three-game losing streak at that time.
Previous meetings in recent years at Wilmington have been a different story — and looking at the results they seem to get worse every year. Last season, the Hounds lost 5-1 in late May after a coaching change as Niko Katic made his USL coaching debut. In 2013, it was a 4-1 loss, while in 2012, not so bad 1-0 loss, but in 2011 two 3-1 defeats.
Indeed, Legion Field has not been a very friendly place to the Riverhounds in recent years.
It’s pretty much “must win” territory for the Riverhounds as they travel to North Carolina.
The Hounds sit one point beneath the United Soccer League’s Eastern Conference playoff line with three games left in the regular season. Securing three points against the division’s bottom side Wilmington isa vital ahead of two testing games to finish the season against the regular season champion Rochester Rhinos and playoff chasing Harrisburg City Islanders.
“It’s like a playoff game with the position we’ve put ourselves in,” said Riverhounds captain Danny Earls.
“We need to bring that intensity you need for the playoffs.”
Rob Vincent remains in contention for the USL’s top scorer award with 18 goals in the league this year. Former Hound Matt Fondy has moved clear with 22 goals for Louisville City. Oklahoma City Energy forward Danni Konig sits second overall with 20. The Hounds have an additional game remaining over both Louisville and Oklahoma City.
Dallman’s delivery for Kevin Kerr‘s goal last Saturday moved him to 23 assists during his USL career. Sacramento Republic playmaker Rodrigo Lopez holds the league’s all-time assists lead with 24.
The Hounds continue to thrive in the USL’s offensive categories with the team sitting top three in goals and goals-per-game and leading the league in assists and assists-per-game. Vincent and Kerr both rank in the top six for points earned.
INJURY / ROSTER UPDATES
Head coach Mark Steffens has a few injury problems to contend with for the trip. Jamaican national team goalkeeper Ryan Thompson remains sidelined with the left knee injury that he suffered in July’s Concacaf Gold Cup Final against Mexico. Defender Fejiro Okiomah has been struggling this week with a swollen Achilles tendon.
Ben Newnam and Stephen Okai will travel despite nursing recent injuries. Newnam strained a calf during the first half of last Saturday’s Charleston game. Okai has missed the last three games with a lower left leg problem.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Riverhounds cannot afford to come back from Wilmington with anything less than three points. This should put them in attack mode most of this match.
Despite some injuries noted above, the Hounds should be at pretty full strength. They will get Vincent back from his suspension as he sat out last week’s tie against Charleston. Earls is sitting on seven yellow cards, and his next booking will require him to — according to league rules — serve a two-game suspension. Look for the Hounds to be playing with a lot of high pressure — and seeking a early goal or two. The longer the match goes without the Hounds scoring, it could give Wilmington more momentum, as they will seek to limit the Hounds chances by focusing on a defensive approach.
With things being what they are, here’s the anticipated line-up that I can see Mark Steffens penciling in:
Calle Brown (GK), Willie Hunt, Anthony Arena, Sterling Flunder, Tyler Pasher, Danny Earls, Rob Vincent, Kevin Kerr, Matt Dallman, Lebo Moloto, Mike Green
TRACKING PLAYOFF RACE
Here’s the slate of games of note to the Riverhounds (36 points) on Saturday.
Pittsburgh (36pts) at Wilmington(17pts) 7 p.m.
Richmond (37pts) at Harrisburg (35pts) 7 p.m.
Charleston(40pts) at Louisville City(48pts) 7:30 p.m.
Charlotte (40pts) at St. Louis(27pts) 8:30 p.m.
NY Red Bulls II (42 pts – no game)
The Riverhounds will host league leading Rochester Rhinos on Wednesday, September 16, for their final home game of the season (7 p.m. kickoff), then finish the season at Harrisburg for the fourth, and final edition of the Keystone Derby between the interstate rivals in 2015.