Saturday, July 30, 7 p.m. Kickoff – Legion Stadium
Riverhounds Game Preview http://files.ctctcdn.com/7621d47c001/d1b335df-b14e-408a-9b4a-5f47321fc85f.pdf
KEY STORYLINES / WHAT’S AT STAKE
The Riverhounds have been relegated to playing the role of spoiler for much of the next 12 games, as they remain near the bottom of the USL’s Eastern Conference.
With three straight losses at home in July, any hope of making a push to the playoffs has pretty much dissipated for Pittsburgh.
Since Dave Brandt took over as coach of the Riverhounds, they’ve gone 1-8-1.
In the first half of games this season, they’ve been outscored 18-7.
It’s been especially brutal in the most recent stretch, giving up two first half goals in each of its last two games to Harrisburg and Charlotte at home — and being out scored 7-1 in three straight home losses.
In the meantime, the roles for these two long-time rivals have been reversed from a year ago, as the Hammerheads have improved this season after having an awful 2015 campaign.
This year, the Hammerheads are back in contention — only one point behind Orlando City B for the final playoff spot, while the Hounds are struggling through an awful season win only two wins in 18 tries.
The Riverhounds and Hammerheads have been playing against each other for a long time, since the Hounds franchise started in 1999, as Wilmington have been a second and third division soccer mainstay since 1995, and taking a hiatus in 2010.
A year ago, the Hounds handled Wilmington easily with a 3-0 win that included a Rob Vincent hat trick at Highmark Stadium in early August. Legion Stadium, along with it’s narrow field, has proven to be a house of horrors for the Hounds as they have experienced lopsided losses in recent years.
However, they turned things around last year, escaping with a 1-1 draw that helped keep them in the playoff picture in late August, thanks to a Vini Dantas goal from a pinpoint Matt Dallman cross.
MORE ON WILMINGTON
In what seems to be a recent theme with Hounds opponents the past few weeks, the Hammerheads come into its game with Pittsburgh as a team that has had a poor run of form of late — winless in their last three games — looking for a win to turn things around.
The Hammerheads showed some resolve on Sunday though, grabbing a late equalizer against Orlando City B as Liam Miller scored the tying goal in stoppage time in Melbourne, FL.
Unfortunately for Wilmington, two of their key defenders, both center backs, Ashani Fairclough and Bruno Perone will be suspended this week for red card (Perone inexplicably threw ball at an OCB opponent on Sunday) and Fairclough has accumulated eight yellow cards during the course of the season so he’s been suspended for the second time (first time after five yellow cards).
Perone is the leading scorer for the Hammerheads with five goals, and midfielder Mael Corboz leads the team with four assists.
For help in the absence of Fairclough and Perone, the Hammerheads added Jamaican forward Jermie Lynch from Saint Louis FC and Ryan Roushandel from San Antonio FC – both on one-game loans and will each be available for selection.
TACTICS & STRATEGIES
There are teams that like to bring high pressure in USL, and then there’s Wilmington.
Playing on a narrow field at Legion Stadium, they have formed an identity and made their bones as a team that plays vertical soccer — and brings lots of players forward when pushing into the attack.
As a result, primarily at home, they can give opponents fits and will try to create opportunistic goals.
It’s telling that both Perone and Fairclough are the HH’s leading scorers and center backs — as they’ve scored a handful of goals from set pieces.
The Riverhounds have been consistently apathetic in finishing in the final third — and allowing soft goals that they have been playing from behind much of the season. Again, I may sound like a broken record as I have said numerous times this year, but taking a lead early in the game would help revive the Hounds’ shattered confidence.
Unfortunately, they’ve surrendered 18 first half goals in 18 games, particularly as they also have a penchant for giving up soft goals.
Still, with 12 games remaining, with veteran players like Kevin Kerr, Danny Earls, Corey Hertzog, Zak Boggs — this team has a lot of fight — and professionals who won’t let this team quit.
There have been signs of promise for the Hounds as they’ve moved into a basic 4-4-2 formation and with the addition of Costa Rican striker Alejandro Aquilar — who played in his first game last week vs Charlotte– getting one solid shot on goal in 66 minutes. Playing on a narrow field, the Hounds could conceivably play a 4-3-3. Last year at Wilmington, the Hounds had quality service from the flanks (something that’s been sorely missing this year!) and counter opportunities opened up in the second half.
Hounds coach Dave Brandt gave first-year goalie Mauricio Vargas the starting nod in all three home losses during the home stand, and it would be likely that we’ll see North Carolina native, Hunter Gilstrap back in net in his home state.