BREAKING DOWN THE HOUNDS: Looking To Turn Tables vs Tough FC Cincy

Pittsburgh Riverhounds (0-0-1, 1 pt) vs FC Cincinnati (0-1-0, 0 pts)

Saturday, April 1 – 5 p.m. – Highmark Stadium

WATCH:  USL YouTube Channel 

KEY STORYLINES 

Pittsburgh vs Cincinnati.  Yes, it’s been a rivalry in other sports, but after only three games, which were mostly dominated by last year’s USL expansion darlings, the Riverhounds are looking to turn the tables this year.

We know this much — both teams are seeking their first win of the season on Saturday.

Last year’s results between the two teams saw FCC keep the Hounds from scoring in three close, low scoring contests.

The first-ever match between the two sides, saw the Hounds attack fizzle in a 1-0 win for FCC in May before what was a then-USL record crowd of 23,375.

The two teams played 10 days apart in September at the end of the season, with the first match being a scoreless draw, and the second, a 1-0 win decided on a controversial penalty on a ball that skipped off Hounds defender Willie Hunt’s hand.

After an opening week which the Hounds earned a gritty, come-from-behind 3-3 draw against the USL defending league champs, NY Red Bulls II, there is some hope in Pittsburgh that a turn-around season is in the works.  Forward Corey Hertzog is coming off an opening day brace and for his efforts was named USL Player of the Week and with a brilliant individual effort on the endline, he had the league’s Goal of the Week as well.

FCC on the other hand, had a rough start to the season, losing 2-1 at Charleston.   They are without the services of two key contributors from a year ago, Sean Okoli, last year’s USL Golden Boot winner and Head Coach John Harkes, a former U.S. Men’s National Team player, who was let go early in the preseason.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to catch up with a few members of the FCC fan base and also another who covers the team, and completed the feature below as we are expecting to see a fairly decent sized contingent of FCC fans at Highmark Stadium for the game:

MORE ON FCC

I figured that I would leave this section to a Q&A that I had with Michael Walker, who covers FCC for  www.orangeandbluepress.com and www.lastwordonsoccer.com.

What has FCC done to replace the scoring threat that Sean Okoli brought to the attack last year?
The most direct replacement for last year’s USL Golden Boot winner Sean Okoli, who scored 16 goals and has now moved on to NYCFC, is Djiby Fall, a well traveled Senegalese forward who won two golden boots in Scandinavia earlier in his career. He’s looked fantastic in preseason, scoring regularly. He also netted FC Cincinnati’s only goal against the Battery last Saturday. He is a powerful forward with aerial presence, and knows how to be in the right place at the right time to produce opportunities. The overall approach to replacing Okoli is not just to add Fall through. Five new attacking players were signed including Victor Mansaray (Seattle), Kadeem Dacres (Lousiville City), Daryl Fordyce (Edmonton), and Andy Craven (Seattle/OKC). Check out the general manager’s 62 goal challenge here as well.
2.)  Is there a different approach tactically with a new coach?  
Koch aims to play an attacking, possession based style. That, in and of itself, is not dramatically different. The best description I’ve heard for Koch’s style is what he calls “possession with a purpose”.  It’s a possession-based style that favors pressing the attack rather than just retaining the ball in neutral midfield positions. Most recently he has favored a 4-2-3-1 formation, which the team played in for much of last season. I think the team is still learning to execute his system. The tactics and the starting eleven are also still evolving, so this is something to watch throughout the early part of the 2017 season.
3.)  Who are the players the Riverhounds should be most concerned about?  
Djiby Fall is FC Cincinnati’s obvious danger man. Andrew Wiedeman on the right is the other attacking player to watch. He was the teams’ second leading scorer last year and produced goals and assists in preseason. He assisted Djiby’s goal on Saturday. In midfield, former Louisville City captain Aodhan Quinn is dangerous from distance and on set pieces. Both center backs, Delbridge & Berry, are very good in the air on set pieces.
4.)  Can you summarize FCC’s performance on Saturday at Charleston 
The team had an up-and-down performance in Charleston on Saturday. They were dominant in the first 30 minutes controlling possession and dominating chances. They couldn’t capitalize on their good start though. Charleston scored a set piece goal against the run of play in the 38’ that changed the the game. FC Cincinnati did well to equalize early in the 2nd half, but then conceded a bad penalty that proved to be decisive. Charleston were the better team in the second half in my opinion and probably should have scored more than 2 goals. This FC Cincinnati team has a lot of potential but right now is a work in progress, as they try to get comfortable with all of their new pieces.

WHAT TO EXPECT 

The Riverhounds didn’t score a goal against last year’s upstart FCC team that managed to earn a 3rd place finish and home playoff game against Charleston.
With a three goal output on Saturday against NY Red Bulls II, is a definite sign of a team that will keep fighting back and has a lot of new-found confidence in the attack.
For all their confidence in counter-attacking, and getting scoring opportunities quickly, the Hounds left a lot to be desired when defending.   Head Coach Dave Brandt may have said it best after the game:
“We’re going to need to get way, way better in that area. There’s no question about it.” said Brant.
The Hounds back line will have to improve with communicating and closing out space in and around the box.   Gale Agbossoumonde and Jamal Jack started at center back, and even Ryan Adeleye who came in for Agbossoumonde, also had some difficultly dealing with the NYRBII attack, and was called for a foul in the box that set up the third goal.  The Hounds had promising performances by outside backs, veteran Rich Balchan and Taylor Washington, who were involved in the attack, but need to work better with the center back tandem.
Based on Cincy’s performance last week, they were the better team in the early going, but a very disciplined and well-coached Charleston team weathered the storm and were the better team in closing the game out.  The Hounds will have to weather some storms, and be equally opportunistic, as much of Cincy’s back line is the same from a year ago, and as previously mentioned, didn’t give up a goal in 270 plus minutes against Pittsburgh a year ago.
This will be key for the Hounds on Saturday — like last week — keeping their composure and keep confident in their attack even if they fall behind.  They can’t rest on their laurels of a 3-3 draw against a make-shift NY Red Bulls squad.
Pittsburgh should be playing for three points, as getting off to a good start to the season, and taking four points in the first two games will be considered a very positive thing for a franchise that has been getting off to notoriously poor starts.
We might see some changes to the starting back line for Pittsburgh as Brandt is still trying to sort things out with that unit. Look possibly for Agbossoumonde coming in as a reserve to maximize his fitness, and maybe seeing a different center back tandem to start.
NEXT MEETING IN SERIES 
The two teams won’t meet again until Saturday, September 2 — as that will be the only other meeting of the year between the two.
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