BREAKING DOWN THE HOUNDS: Battle of the Basement

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Kevin Kerr and the Hounds are aiming for their second win of the season, and first under new coach Dave Brandt. (Photo Courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds) 
Pittsburgh Riverhounds (1-7-3, 6 points) vs FC Montreal (1-10-1, 4 points)

Highmark Stadium
7 p.m. Kickoff

KEY STORYLINES & WHAT’s AT STAKE

How low can they go?

It will be a Star Wars theme night at Highmark Stadium — but being that it’s a battle of two teams at the bottom of the standings — maybe a ‘Spaceballs’ theme would be more appropriate.

The Riverhounds face a team in FC Montreal that is below them in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings.  If the Hounds fail to get a result, they could find themselves alone at the bottom — deep inside a black hole.

Last year, the Hounds split games with FC Montreal, who finished at the bottom of USL Eastern Conference in its first season as the USL franchise for Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact.   Kevin Kerr scored the lone goal in the Hounds 1-o win at Highmark Stadium, but FC Montreal returned the favor with a 4-2 win at Stade Saputo.

The Honeymoon is over for new coach Dave Brandt, as the team has lost its first three under his guidance, and had its worst performance at Richmond last week.  The Hounds surrendered two first half own goals en route to a 3-1 loss that wasn’t even that close as Corey Hertzog added a goal in the 89th minute to prevent a shutout.

One thing going for Pittsburgh will be that FC Montreal will likely have heavier legs, having played a mid-week draw against Canadian foes FC Toronto.

Montreal is also one of only two teams in the entire USL, along with Arizona United SC (9), yet to have cracked double digits in goals scored, while their goal differential of minus-11 is second only to the Tulsa Roughnecks FC (-16) of the Western Conference

If the Hounds can orchestrate a turn-around season and make a playoff run, beating FC Montreal is essential.

TACTICS & STRATEGIES

The Riverhounds under Brandt want to play more vertical, which is fine.

But are they really playing to their strengths of their current roster?  They have a decent combination of creative and energetic midfield players who have thrived in using the width of field and building up possession through the middle of the field?

It seems as if guys like Lebo Moloto and Steven Okai are less effective in this system. Okai was pulled in the first half, and with the addition the Thompson brothers (almost typed Twins — like the 80’s pop), who knows what Brandt will be thinking in terms of his line-up and how things will look.

After the announcement that former team captain and USL/MLS veteran Danny Earls would return to the team two weeks ago, he’s yet to play in a game, but look for his return next week, as he’s still trying to work thru some visa and immigration issues.

Bottom line is that this team under Brandt is still trying to find itself — and hopefully for their sake will be able to do that against the last place FC Montreal.

Any mid-season change in coaching and style of play can be difficult and we are seeing that with the Riverhounds.  Many of the players have said they are working hard and there have been a lot of differences.

Often in soccer the scoresheet doesn’t always tell the story, but at halftime at Richmond, they had all zeroes (and three fouls), unable to generate one shot nor a corner kick.

Also returning to the lineup should be center back Sergio Campbell who had to sit out last week match after suspension for red card at the end of the Hounds 2-1 loss to Charleston on June 4 at Highmark Stadium.

ROSTER NEWS — KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

Nick Thompson, brother of Jack, who was signed to the Hounds last week, was also added to a one-year contract with a club option for the 2017 season.

Thompson will rejoin professional soccer after spending the past four years at various universities in a coaching capacity for soccer. He last played professional soccer for the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL in 2011.

Yes — that’s right. He hasn’t played pro soccer since 2011.

Collegiately, Thompson played under Hounds head coach Brandt at Messiah College during his freshman and sophomore years in 2008 and 2009, respectively. He was a four-year letterman in his Falcons’ career that included three NCAA National Championships (2009, 2010, 2011) and a bevy of individual accomplishments including Common Conference Player of the Year and NSCAA Second Team All-American honors in 2010.

Thompson finished his career at Messiah with 54 career goals and 18 assists.

“Nick is a big, versatile player with really good feet and athleticism,” Brandt said. “He’s been out of the professional game for a couple years, but he is somebody that I know well as a player. I think he can be a really solid contributor to the club here.”

Prior to joining the Hounds, Thompson served the as the head men’s soccer and golf coach at Eastern Nazarene Athletics in Quincy, Massachusetts for the 2015 season. He spent 2014 in Riverside, California, as an assistant women’s coach of Division II member California Baptist University and the two years prior as assistant men’s soccer coach for the Fighting Scots of Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

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