Pittsburgh Riverhounds (2-9-4) vs Richmond Kickers (6-6-5)
Thursday, July 14, 2016
7 p.m. – Highmark Stadium
KEY STORYLINES / WHAT’S AT STAKE
With a three-game home-stand beginning Thursday against Richmond, can the Riverhounds turn around losing ways – and what has been a dismal season at the halfway point?
The Riverhounds are coming off a pair of games against in-state opponents where they’ve failed to score a goal — playing Harrisburg City Islanders in a scoreless draw, then getting shut-out at Bethlehem Steel FC 2-0 on Sunday at Lehigh Valley. This marks the first time the Hounds have been shut-out in back-to-back games since 2014.
There are also a few more notorious statistics we can add to this season’s futility.
- They have not scored in the first half in their past six games.
- Been shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 2014 .
- Remain in 13th place (out of 14 teams) in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
- have not won road game in eight tries
- tied with last-place Montreal for least goals scored (14) in all of USL
- two wins are at home against, against two Canadian teams that have struggled in USL (FC Montreal and Toronto FC II)
- are minus -10 overall in goal differential
In the only previous game against Richmond this season – the Hounds conceded not one – but two own goals in the first half. They lost 3-1, salvaging a late Corey Hertzog goal in the 90th minute after being dominated for much of the match.
MORE ON RICHMOND KICKERS
A franchise that is always in the thick of things – and under long-time coach Leigh Cowlishaw, Richmond appears to be gearing up for another strong playoff push despit having been up-and-down for much of the season.
While the Riverhounds could not score a goal against a Harrisburg that has allowed among the most goals in USL this season, the Kickers opened the scoring floodgates against the City Islanders with a 3-0 romp last weekend, after going more than three games without a goal. With the win, the Kickers snapped a three-game winless streak.
The Harrisburg win was a breakthrough game for Lucas Paulini, who netted his first goal and first assist with the Kickers since signing with them in the offseason.
Former Riverhounds Brian Ownby bring a relentless work rate and quality in midfield along with Yudai Imura that the Hounds will have to account for as they’ve been the Kickers most consistent and productive players this season each with three goals and combining for five assists.
After Thursday’s game, the Kickers will host Premier League’s Swansea City A.F.C. on Saturday night at City Stadium in Richmond.
TACTICS & STRATEGIES
The Riverhounds game scenarios since new Head Coach Dave Brandt took over in May, often look something like this:
- Come out in 4-3-3 – with a different goalie than the previous game starting — with both outside backs looking to get forward when they push up field. In the first half they show lots of energy – apply high pressure when opponents are playing out of the back – but can’t seem to score (hence – the fact that they’ve gone six games without a goal in the first half).
- Having expended a lot of energy – they seem to lose spark. After connecting passes and having some decent build up in possession in the first half – most second halves have been littered with sloppy play at midfield and too many giveaways. There are also a lot of long balls played right back to the opposing defenders and goalkeepers.
- The players are playing hard – and coaches are pushing them to do so. Unfortunately, they’ve been chasing the ball a lot in the second half – and find themselves behind too many times in games.
- Somewhere throughout the course of 90 minutes, sans Harrisburg game, defensive lapses come back to bite them. In the previous Richmond game it was twice in the first half giving away set pieces – which led to own goals. These things can’t happen at this level.
If the Hounds are going come through with some wins and build some positive momentum as they head into the second half of the season, it is imperative that they play strong for 90 minutes. While it’s not urgent that they score in the first half – or get the first goal – that would certainly help a team that is struggling with confidence.
It’s also imperative that they stick with one primary goalkeeper as their number one guy. I have said all along -since he got his first start in May — this should be Mauricio Vargas‘ job and Hunter Gilstrap can serve as the veteran presence and reliable back-up.
With Danny Earls back, I am sure that he will continue to play in a holding midfield role, keeping an eye out on Richmond’s dangerous attackers like Ownby, while Kevin Kerr will have more room to get into the attack with Lebo Moloto. Despite their lack of production this year (2 goals and 2 assists between them) – Kerr and Moloto are pivotal to the success of the Hounds attack and keeping possession.
While Corey Hertzog, Zak Boggs and Nick Thompson have made their way into the starting line-up in attacking spots in 4-3-3, as mentioned by some others following the Hounds (namely former President Richard Nightingale on his blog) – it would be nice to see what speedy youngster Duwayne Ewart can do with a start at the center forward spot.
You can follow all of the action and post-game reaction with Pittsburgh Soccer Report’s John Krysinsky on Twitter @johnkrysinsky