BREAKING DOWN THE HOUNDS: Live From NY, It’s Saturday Night

Pittsburgh Riverhounds (1-4-3, 6 pts) vs New York Red Bulls II (5-1-3, 18 Pts)

10 p.m. Kickoff

Broadcast:  YouTube / http://www.riverhounds.com

MATCH CENTER

#NYvPGH KEY STORYLINES

Yes — it’s not a mistake or a typo — the kickoff time is 10 p.m. as part of a doubleheader of pro soccer action at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ, as the New York Red Bulls take on Toronto FC first at 7 p.m. in a game not short on story-lines.

Saturday will mark the debut of the team’s new coach, Dave Brandt, who will be coaching in his first ever pro game, as he is replacing the ousted Mark Steffens.

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Dave Brandt

Brandt spent the past seven seasons with the U.S. Naval Academy.  His coaching pedigree is loaded, as across his 19 seasons as head coach at the collegiate level, Brandt was the winningest active coach in Division I (310-72-34) and fastest to the 200-win mark at any NCAA level.

The last time these two teams met — the Red Bulls II handed the Hounds a pretty convincing 3-1 defeat that was overshadowed by an incident near the end of the game between Romeo Parkes and Karl Ouimette in which both were sent off with red cards for an altercation.

Of course, by now you probably know that Parkes’ ill-advised behavior didn’t stop after the red card, as he kicked Ouimette in the back as the two were walking off the field.   That incident led to Parkes’ contract with the Riverhounds being terminated and he received a ban from the USL for the season.

Despite being victimized by Parkes’ kick, Ouimette was also suspended for three games for his role in the incident prior to getting blindsided.   He will be serving the third game of the suspension on Saturday.

On the field, the Hounds finally got their first win of the season last Saturday, but lost coach Steffens as he was relieved of his duties after the team’s poor start overall culminating with a 2-0 loss in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, May 18 to Lansdowne Bhoys FC.

The Riverhounds played well in the previous meeting in stretches of the 1st half and early 2nd half, starting out with an early 1-0 lead thanks to terrific a individual effort by Parkes.  The Hounds wilted to the younger, stronger and more cohesive Red Bulls at Highmark Stadium in the second half — conceding two goals after the 65th minute when it appeared they lost some energy.

In four games played between the two teams in the past two years, NYRBII hold a 3-1 edge, including a 4-2 OT win in the playoffs in September at Red Bulls Arena.

The teams’ last meeting was the last game played by Hounds veteran goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap, who has since been replaced by rookie Mauricio Vargas, who has played well, including earning USL Team of the Week honors after a solid game in 1-0 loss at Cincinnati.  

The last time the Riverhounds made a coaching change — firing Justin Evans –– they had to travel on the road to Wilmington and Charleston in 2014, and they were absolutely hammered, 5-1 in the first game vs the Hammerheads, and then lost 1-0 to Charleston under interim coach Niko Katic, who remains an assistant.

INJURY REPORT

Columbus Crew loanee, Marshall Hollingsworth (concussion) remains doubtful for the Hounds in the only known injury for the team right now.

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Red Bulls II beat the Hounds in playoffs in 2015, 4-2 in OT.  photo Courtesy Liz Berie

MORE ON NY RED BULLS II

Since the convincing win vs the Riverhounds, the Red Bulls II have tied Richmond (1-1) and needed a late goal to avoid a draw to beat cellar dwellers and point-less FC Montreal, 1-0.

Some key RBNYII players will be out of the lineup due to international duty — including Anatole Abang, Derrick Etienne, and Noah Powder .

A few newer players to pay attention to include a recent addition —David Najem and Zoumana Simpara at midfield.

RBNYII have been solid on defense, with Cheikh M’Baye and Zach Carroll as the primary center defenders in the past few games — allowing Aaron Long, Konrad Plewa, and Justin Bilyeu to focus on the outside backs.

Forward Brandon Allen — hasn’t had a goal in quite some time, but Junior Flemmings still remains a strong force on the field with two goals and three assists and the Hounds will have to account for him at all times.

TACTICS & STRATEGIES

This will be a very interesting match up for a number of reasons.

But primarily because it will be a new look for the Hounds.

Under Steffens always tried to be a possession-based unit, with short passing through the middle of the field — and they were not much of a high-pressing team.  They preferred to sit back and then when they had the ball, methodically build up possession and use the width of the field with diagonal passing — and capitalize on opportunities.

In the past few meetings with NYRBII, the same formula seemed to prevail in this match up between the two sides.

For the Hounds, they scored opportunistic goals to take leads (two set piece headers in the playoff game by Willie Hunt and brilliant individual effort by Parkes in the game on May 7), but constant speed on the flanks, quality and athleticism of Red Bulls were too much for the Hounds to handle by the end of each game.

With a new coach in Brandt, who I read was described by one person as a soccer coach disguised as a can of Red Bull, can the Hounds sustain a high level of play for 90+ minutes to beat a team with many MLS quality players?

It’s also been said that Brandt’s soccer teachings are based on a compelling vision for teamwork, principled thought and action and an expected outcome of making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

His playing style emphasizes “possession emphasizing penetration” that requires positional discipline and high technical requirement.

Brandt wants to implement a system with the Riverhounds as they will play with lots of high pressure and always looking to attack.

We’re a team that’s going to look for you. We’re going to press high. We’re going to play very tight to each other, in terms of space. It’s going to be fast. High tempo. High skill. On the ground, working together, but it’s going to be energetic and, I used this phrase with the players several times this morning, it’s going to be vertical,” said Brandt at his introductory press conference on Monday.

“There’s horizontal, side-to-side, and there’s vertical, which means going forward and we’re going to go forward.”

The players have said this week that they’ve been introduced to a lot of new things.

“We’ve been working on the new style of play all week and the intensity has been getting up. The boys are excited to go to New York and get three points,” said Corey Hertzog, Riverhounds forward.

We’ll see if this new found energy and Brandt’s approach will have an immediate impact tonight.

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Lebo Moloto was in terrific form in the Hounds last game, a 2-1 win over TFCII (Photo Courtesy of Pgh Riverhounds) 

As the Hounds played very well in the second half against Toronto — and the centerpiece of it was Lebo Moloto, who was completely in command in the middle of the field and was very instrumental in orchestrating the team’s attack through the middle of the field.  Moloto scored his first goal of the season with a terrific bending shot that gave the Hounds the lead in the 68th minute.

Another player to watch will be DuWayne Ewart, an 18 year-old +who made his debut against Toronto showing his speed and skill set that makes him a dangerous player in the open field.    Brandt’s starting XI selection will be one of the most anticipated of the early season as he has a variety of options.

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