Pittsburgh Riverhounds (0-4-3, 3pts) vs Toronto FC II (2-4-2, 8 Pts)
Kickoff 7 p.m. – Highmark Stadium
#PGH-TOR KEY STORYLINES
The Riverhounds early season woes may have it a low point on Wednesday night after suffering a 2-0 loss to amateur club Lansdowne Bhoys FC.
As the Hounds continue to struggle to generate quality scoring chances and shots on target — they still have a long season to go. Pittsburgh will be looking to turn things around against a team they’ve had a positive run against the past two seasons in four games — with three wins in 2015 — and a draw in April in Canada thanks to some trickery — coming on a Conor Branson free kick goal in added time.
The Hounds troubles of late could be turned around with their first win of the season on Saturday — as they can jump forward into the mix of teams that are battling to stay in contention for the eight playoff spots in USL’s Eastern Conference.
Among those teams just in front of the Hounds are TFCII — who have not had a great run of form of late — losing three of its last four contests.
Jason Bent’s Young Reds are coming off of a 2-0 loss against the Charleston Battery.
Even though Pittsburgh is struggling this season, Bent knows taking them lightly would be a fool’s errand.
“They have good players and results haven’t gone their way so far this season,” said Bent.
“They lost one of their top players in Rob Vincent to D.C. United, but I know from the last time we played them Kevin Kerr wasn’t able to travel and he’ll be available on Saturday.”
“If you look at the standings this game could be viewed in Pittsburgh’s mindset, as well as ours, as a six-point game,” stated Bent.
Just five points separate the two teams in the Eastern Conference — and a Riverhounds win could stop the bleeding and provide them with a pivotal turning point.
Another loss at home (where they are 0-4, having been outscored 8-2, including Cup games) the small, but loyal fan base will continue to question the direction that the Riverhounds are heading. On Thursday –here in Pittsburgh Soccer Report – we questioned if Head Coach Mark Steffens should be on the hot seat or not for the team’s performance thus far this season.
STRATEGIES & TACTICS
Although four TFCII players Chris Mannella, Skylar Thomas, Raheem Edwards and Jordan Hamilton returned from their successful stint with Canada’s U23 team in the Caribbean, they are unlikely to feature for the Young Reds this weekend.
Edwards was a force in the last game between the two teams — and now leaves Bent with fielding a roster of a lot of young players that have filled in during their absence, including 16-year-old academy product Shaan Hundal. The Hounds have already played against TFCII in game that had a lot of back-and-forth play and was pretty open.
The pressure will continue to be on the Hounds to score goals — and to play for a win. Getting the first goal will be very important — and will take some of that pressure away.
“We understand the situation we are in, but we are determined to put it right this weekend. Confidence is high against Toronto as we have had a lot of success against them in the past,” said Kevin Kerr, Riverhounds MF/Captain.
We learned last week, even in a game where they could have played conservatively at FC Cincinnati, the Hounds are still going to be a team that will go on the attack — and had strong runs of possession wide — and a few times into the box. Of course, after surrendering an early goal in the U.S. Open Cup game — they had to try to solve a well-organized effort by Lansdowne Bhoys that stifled the Hounds attack, keeping shots mostly from a distance.
I know I continue to beat this drum, but wondering when former TFC Academy player Duwayne Ewart will see his first action for the Hounds. Maybe this would be an ideal time to see what he can do in the forward spot.
Steffens made the change to add Mauricio Vargas — who earned USL Team of the Week honors in his pro debut in goal – and likely keep Vargas in net with his primary duo (Willie Hunt and Sergio Campbell) back at center back. After starting the first four of the first five games at outside left back, Toronto native Jordan Murrell has not played and as long as he’s healthy — look for him to return.
There’s no word on whether or not Marshall Hollingsworth (concussion) will play — after being injured against Cincinnati, he was in street clothes and in the stands for the U.S. Open Cup game.