Pittsburgh Riverhounds (3-12-4, 13 points) vs Louisville City FC (12-3-6, 42 points)
Friday, August 5, 2016 — 7 p.m. – Highmark Stadium
KEY STORYLINES / WHAT’s AT STAKE
One team has 13 points, the other 42 points.
But the team with 13 points (Riverhounds) enter this game with some confidence it has not had for some time, while their opponents are steaming — and stumbling.
Sitting near the top of the USL Eastern Conference, Louisville City has slipped a bit the past few games, losing to 2-0 at upstart new River City rivals FC Cincinnati, then inexplicably gave up two goals after the 90th minute and beyond to Orlando City B.
Head Coach James O’Connor and his assistant Daniel Byrd were not happy with the officiating in the OCB loss — and they let it be known.
Byrd, an assistant coach, was ejected at the end of the game. The USL served him with a three-game suspension, one game for the ejection and two for a social media post criticizing the league and officiating. Byrd was also fined.
USL officials weren’t happy about it either == as they issued fines and suspensions to Louisville City FC in wake of remarks made by O’Connor and Byrd.
Head coach O’Connor and the club itself were each fined for comments the coach made in his postgame press conference.
Way back in April, in what seems a lifetime ago, the Riverhounds and LouCity played in a wild, storm delayed 2-2 draw.
The Riverhounds scored twice to take the lead in the first half — and then again in the second half on goals from Romeo Parkes and Corey Hertzog. However, LouCity fought back to get the equalizer in the 85th minute.
The Riverhounds are going to look to build on their first road win of the season and look to be spoilers against playoff contenders like Louisville City. With a core group of solid veteran players like Kevin Kerr, Danny Earls, Hertzog, Zak Boggs, Mike Green and Willie Hunt, they’ll look to help new coach Dave Brandt build things back up to respectability.
Brandt will have to shuffle the back line as the Hounds will be without regular starting center back Sergio Campbell, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Wilmington, and will have to sit out.
Louisville City lost golden opportunities to seize the top spot in the standings, seeing points slip away against FC Cincinnati and Orlando City B, which is currently occupied by New York Red Bulls II. NYRBII also hit a two-game slide in late July, but rebounded strongly with a 5-0 throbbing of City Islanders FC on Tuesday to remain in first.
MORE ON LOUISVILLE CITY FC
On the field, LouCity remains a USL juggernaut — reaching double digit wins by mid-July.
While in 2015, it was former Riverhound Matt Fondy who had a record-breaking season for Louisville City, this year former Houston Dynamo Jon Chandler Hoffman has emerged as the team’s and one of the USL’s top scorers with 14 goals in 20 games.
With a host of veteran players like George Davis IV, former Hound Ben Newnam, Aodhan Quinn, Kadeem Dacres, Conor Shanosky and Kyle Smith, this Louisville City team are a seasoned group that is strong in all areas from the back line through the attack — and are a tough team to beat anywhere. They’ve only surrendered 21 goals in 20 games.
Guy Abend, who has scored four goals — is out for this game due to a one-game suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card against OCB last week.
TACTICS & STRATEGIES
In the previous game with Louisville City, the Hounds were outmatched and outpossessed, yet they took advantage of a great strike by Parkes, then an excellent counter that set up the second goal on a penalty by Hertzog.
They will probably be hoping for lightning to strike twice for the same result or better.
Without the big and confident center back Campbell against the likes of Hoffman and fellow Louisville City attackers, the Hounds will likely be under a lot of pressure again.
Brandt prefers to utilize bigger center backs — and has gone with Campbell and Ryan Adeleye in the middle in recent games– and we’ve seen Hunt going between outside back and center back. Look for Adeleye in one of the center back spots, then the Hounds will have options between Green, Hunt, Hollingsworth and potentially Jordan Murrell or even Zak Boggs as part of the back line.
Earls has picked up yellow cards early in game a few times, and that takes the edge off his physical play at holding midfield. If the Hounds are to have a good chance to pick up a result, Earls will be important in front of the back four and working with the attacking players like Hertzog, Kerr and the new pick up Alejandro Aguilar.
It would be hard to fathom a team of Louisville City’s caliber losing three straight games, so look for them to come out looking to put this game away early –and they will be cognizant of not wanting to blow a lead like they did the last game.
Hoffman is always dangerous — and the Hounds can’t sleep or react too slow around a sharp goal scorer. He scored his seventh goal of the season against the Hounds in April as he beat goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap to a ball in the air to head the ball into the net. Gilstrap didn’t get to the ball in time, and Hoffman took care of it from there.
Also, the Riverhounds made some roster moves official on Thursday — mostly for depth — adding midfielder Melvin Snoh and defender Anthony Virgara to replace Conor Branson (left to take Graduate Assistant Coaching position at Charleston University in WV) and loanee Ben Swanson (placed on Columbus Crew’s injury list after shoulder surgery).
It will be critical for the Hounds to get the first goal in this game as they did previously at Louisville, because they have not come from behind to win in any game this year.