Pittsburgh Riverhounds (3–14–4, 13 Pts) vs Bethlehem Steel FC (6–8–8, 26 Pts)
Key Storylines & What’s At Stake
While there is not much at stake for the Riverhounds, who are 19 points behind the last spot for the playoff race, Bethlehem Steel FC comes to Highmark Stadium looking to jump back closer to the USL Eastern Conference playoff line.
The Riverhounds put forth a pretty paltry effort on Wednesday night, losing 4-1 to last place FC Montreal, and still precariously holding off the Canadians for the distinction of being at the very bottom of the standings.
One of the bright spots for the Hounds was Corey Hertzog, who was playing hard through the full 90 plus minutes — and picked up his eighth goal of the season.
For Pittsburgh, it will also be the third game in the past eight days — and second in the past four days, so they will rely on fresh legs of veterans returning to the lineup, including captain Kevin Kerr, Lebo Moloto and Mike Green.
This will be the first-ever and only visit this season to Highmark Stadium for the Eastern PA, Lehigh Valley based club that is named after one of the early 20th Century’s most storied American soccer teams.
More on Steel FC
Players to look out for include defender Taylor Washington has played in 20 of Steel FC’s 22 games this season, most on the team along with midfielders Boluwatife Akinyode and James Chambers. The two most dangerous scorers for Steel FC this year have been Jamaican Derrick Jones (4 G, 3 A) and Ryan Rechter (5 G, 3 A), who’s played in all 22 games. However, Jones signed with the senior club recently, and is not expected to play Saturday.
One player also no longer with Steel FC will be defender Auston Trusty, who was signed by Philadelphia Union. The homegrown player was featured in 13 games for Steel FC, but turned 18 this week — and is now headed to the senior team.
Currently Bethlehem Steel, operating as Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union’s USL franchise, trail Orlando City B by six points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Steel FC have not won in their last four matches. During a six game home stand, they started off strong — winning a pair of early July shutouts over Pittsburgh (2-0) and Wilmington (3-0) but since have gone winless with two ties and two losses to the likes of Harrisburg and Toronto FC II.
Quite frankly, with opportunity to stay in the playoff race and pick up points at home against all the teams in the bottom half of the USL’s Eastern Conference — Steel FC came away with only two points in the last four games.
TACTICS & STRATEGIES
This is a Steel FC team that is not dazzling in the attack — and relies on a strong defensive efforts each game.
They’ve only scored 25 total goals this season (only four better than Pittsburgh), but they’re staying in games as a well-organized bunch that hangs around and will take advantage of other teams mistakes.
The Riverhounds have been mistake prone and disorganized in most games this season. Under coach Dave Brandt they continue to try different things tactically and have brought in a lot of new players making things a bit difficult to create and build team chemistry and establish an identity as a team.
Prior to the embarrassing loss to Montreal, they showed some signs of life against Louisville and did beat a depleted Wilmington squad.
Having Kerr back in the midfield — along with the other veterans should give the Hounds a fighting chance against a team that has only two road wins all season.
After riding young goalkeeper Mauricio Vargas in every game since losing to Bethlehem Steel FC, Brandt could opt to go back to veteran Hunter Gilstrap for a game — and this might be the one game.
At this point, it wouldn’t hurt to dress former Central Catholic and Robert Morris Brendan Alfery — and give him a shot to make his first-ever pro appearance — even if it’s in a reserve role.