Pittsburgh Riverhounds (0-3-3, 3 pts) vs FC Cincinnati FC (4-2-2, 14 pts)
Saturday, May 14 – 4 p.m. Kickoff
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Broadcast/Live Feed: www.YouTube.com / http://www.riverhounds.com
#CINvPGH Key Storylines
Where do we start?
For a first-ever match between two franchises, there’s a lot to talk about.
The Riverhounds are ready to the turn the page — and play again after last Saturday’s debacle that included the ejection, and subsequent meltdown by the team’s leading scorer Romeo Parkes in the 3-1 loss to New York Red Bulls II. Parkes was not only suspended by the USL for the season, but the Riverhounds also terminated his contract less than 12 hours after the game ended.
Now it’s time for the Hounds to move on and they’re hoping to find that formula for success from a solid 2015 campaign.
“We’re calling this a defining moment for the team,” Mark Steffens, Riverhounds Head Coach, told Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Matt Grubba earlier this week.
“We lost our No. 1 goal scorer, so we need to rally around each other, hopefully three or four guys step up and hopefully the team steps up and finally puts their stamp on a game.”
As the Riverhounds seek their first win — they will be stepping into what will be by all indications hostile territory.
An expansion franchise, FC Cincinnati has come out of the gates very strong this season– on the field (4-2-2 record puts them near top of standings), with what has been an aggressive marketing efforts generating large numbers of early fan support.
After seeing a USL regular season record for attendance in April in a match against Louisville City FC, Cincy’s ownership and front office has been pushing hard for the past two weeks for this game vs the Riverhounds to top the attendance mark (they publicly making a push for 25 K).
And in doing so, they have been touting this match-up as “THE Rivalry,” really playing up the Pittsburgh-vs-Cincinnati rivalry that has already existed between the cities in NFL and MLB between Steelers-Bengals and Pirates-Reds.
While it strikes as a manufactured rivalry, FC Cincinnati have nonetheless recruited a handful of Bengals players to serve as Honorary Captains for the match on Saturday, including the likes of Vonteze Burfict and Adam “Pac-Man” Jones.
It appears FC Cincy doesn’t just want to beat a team from Pittsburgh — they would like to make this a big statement win.
The Hounds should have something to say about that — and it should be a competitive. They’ve been a solid team on the road this year — netting results in all three road matches at Toronto, Louisville and Charleston — albeit draws.
Another draw wouldn’t be the worst result for Pittsburgh — however it will keep them mired right near the very bottom of the standings. But a win might could provide the catalyst for a turnaround. With 24 games left in the regular season, they have plenty of time to catch up to the rest of the pack in the Eastern Conference.
MORE ON FC CINCINNATI
FC Cincinnati are coached by former USMNT player John Harkes, who has positioned his unit near the top of the USL’s Eastern Conference in the early going.
With a roster with a combination of players with USL experiences and some with MLS pedigree, Harkes has put together an aggressive group that likes to attack in large numbers and play with high press.
Former New England Revs forward Sean Okoli has risen to be the team’s top scorer with three goals and one assist. A couple of other guys that Riverhounds fans may be familiar with included Pat McMahon, who roamed the midfield with Rochester Rhinos for a few seasons, along with Corbin Bone and Paul Nicholson who played for Wilmington Hammerheads. In addition, other players who were recently with MLS teams include Jimmy McLaughlin (Philadelphia Union) and Eric Stevenson (NY Red Bulls)
Despite the expected attendance to near 25,000 this weekend, FC Cincinnati, in their brief USL history, have not been invincible at home. To date, they are 1-1-1 at Nippert Stadium, but also enter the match in decent form — 2-0-2 — in last four matches.
Last week, they settled for a 1-1 draw with the Central PA’s City Islanders, in a match where they used a lot of different players in the starting XI for the first time this season. Look for Harkes to return to the starting eleven that featured in the first several matches. The one exception is Austin Berry who will likely miss another match due to injury.
TACTICS & STRATEGIES
Steffens also said in Saturday’s post-game presser that after six games without a win, changes will have to be made.
Exactly what those changes would be — he really didn’t indicate much.
Taking Parkes’ contributions (5 goals) off the table, the Hounds have two goals by Corey Hertzog (a penalty kick that he rightfully earned vs Louisville) and Conor Branson (on late game free kick from a trick, diversion play at Toronto FC). Last year, Kevin Kerr and Lebo Moloto combined for 16 goals, yet neither has scored in 2016. Both are players who are at their best when facilitating from the central and attacking midfield.
With Cincinnati being a high pressing team — presents the likelihood that the Hounds will be focused again on keeping a good defensive shape, and looking for opportunities from counter-attacks. This worked enough against Louisville and Charleston to take leads on the road and force home teams to come from behind.
What will be really interesting is to see what the Hounds do to replace Parkes — and possibly add another speedy, physical presence at the top of the attack. Through much of the match last week, the Hounds were in a 4-4-2, with Moloto on the left side, and Parkes playing forward alongside Hertzog. Marshall Hollingworth, Drew Russell and Mike Green have all been moved around quite a bit this year, between midfield and back line depending on match-ups. Players like Alex Harlley and James Bissue who’ve seen some minutes this year could emerge to get more playing time
One player who could be a wild-card in all of this is Duwayne Ewart. The speedy Canadian forward who recently turned 18-years of age, and has not played yet with the Hounds except for in the preseason when, other than Parkes, showed the most goal scoring promise. His speed and ability to blow past defenders might provide the Hounds with a player who may be young, but could be a game-changer.
Goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap has taken some of the responsibility for the first goal in the NYRBII loss — and admitted after that they can play better. Steffens said he would evaluate the keeper spot with goalkeepers coach Jeroen Walstra. My hunch is that they still with the experienced guy for the road match, but we’ll be seeing Mauricio Vargas when the Hounds play their U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday at home against the Lansdowne Bhoys.