Pittsburgh Riverhounds (1-1-1, 4 points) vs Saint Louis FC (2-0-1, 7 points)
Wednesday, April 12 – 7 p.m. – Highmark Stadium
Broadcast – USL Match Center/YouTube
#PGHvSTL KEY STORYLINES
The Hounds are amidst a three-game stretch in seven days.
And to team captain, Kevin Kerr, that’s just fine with him.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the short turnaround. Sometimes people tend to over analyze it,” said Kerr.
“I tend to steer away from that mentality. If you look at the top teams in the world, every week they’re playing two-three games a week between league play and Cup games.”
With a nice, come-from-behind win at a place they haven’t won at since 2011, Charleston, the Pittsburgh returns home for a mid-week clash with Saint Louis before traveling back to the Carolinas — to Charlotte, to play the Independence on Saturday, April 15.
The Hounds have to be weary of a let-down after a win like that — which was the first time they won a match after trailing at halftime since the “Miracle on the Mon” 6-5 win over Harrisburg in May 2015.
“It’s been quite a long time since we came from behind,” said Kerr, who’s been with the team since 2013.
“The euphoria from the win is great. We have that belief as a team now. We lacked that last year.”
Ironically, the last time Pittsburgh and Saint Louis met was the week after the Miracle on the Mon, in the 2015 season. The teams played to two draws that season.
The Hounds will also see the return of José Angulo, who won the USL Pro MVP and Golden Boot with Pittsburgh in 2013 and is tied for fourth all-time in club history in goals scored (23).
Additionally, the midweek match falls one day before the official five-year anniversary of Highmark Stadium opening on April 13, 2013, when Angulo scored upon entering the game in the 70th minute.
Hounds forward Corey Hertzog, who scored the game winner on Saturday, from a great ball into the box from Kerr, was named to the USL Team of the Week for the second time in three weeks. Hertzog has three goals in three games.
MORE ON SAINT LOUIS FC
As I wrote in my USL Eastern Conference preview, this is Preki’s team now.
The well-traveled, Serbian-born Predrag Radosavljević (aka Preki) comes to St. Louis after a successful run with Sacramento Republic, helping lead the upstart USL franchise to a title in 2014. After a year in the UK, he has returned to lead St. Louis FC after the franchise has been mostly mediocre, falling short of the playoffs in each of its first two seasons. Last year they finished 8-12-10, mostly as a defensive-minded club.
Under Preki though, they’re always looking to score goals.
Kerr believes that this unbeaten STLFC side is the most complete team they’ll face thus far early in the season.
This is a team that has experience in key places, namely with Angulo and Christian Volesky at the top of the attack, and a talented midfield.
The question going into the season was with their defenders — and it appears that much like the Riverhounds, this is a make-shift group that’s still a work in progress.
Preki completely revamped the back line and central midfield — bringing a few familiar players from his 2014 Champions in Sacramento — Octavio Guzman and Ivan Mirkovic. The side also brought in Sebastian Dalgaard, who recorded eight goals and five assists for OKC Energy FC over the past two seasons, and former LA Galaxy II midfielder Dragan Stojkov.
INJURIES / SUSPENSIONS
Defender Ryan Adeleye is listed as questionable (Hamstring), and Stephen Okai (Knee) and Ben Swanson (Lower Leg), are both out.
WHAT TO EXPECT
While it may be too early in the season for heavy legs to be an issue, and Kerr doesn’t think it’s much of an issue, but still it will be interesting to see what type of line-up cards each of the two coaches, Dave Brandt for Pittsburgh and Preki for Saint Louis pencil in on Wednesday.
Veteran Danny Earls, who was handed down with an eight-game suspension from USL after pushing an official last August, is eligible to rejoin the team. As is Gale Agbossoumonde who had to sit out the Charleston game after picking up a pair of yellow cards in the 1st half of 1-0 loss against FC Cincinnati.
Brandt also now has another defender in the mix, bringing in one of his former Navy players, defender Joe Greenspan, who comes on a one-month loan from MLS expansion team Minnesota United FC. The 6’6″ Greenspan will don number 29 for the Hounds.
If you look at both teams, the areas of concern for both appears to be revamped defensive units that have managed through three games, but are not looking quite like the 2015 Rochester Rhinos yet. STLFC keeper Mark Gais has one clean sheet, but NYRBII scored a pair of goals and were knocking on the door for numerous others in last week’s game that could have put the game away, but failed to convert.
This is also a sign that STLFC are not a team content to sit back. Preki prefers to play through the midfield, press high and keep pushing forward, leaving room for teams to open things up against STLFC.
With the Hounds having had some success as a quick strike, countering team, this could make for a very entertaining, open ended match. If the Hounds can keep their defensive shape and limit Volesky and Angulo’s chances, they will look to string together passes to get to Hertzog, Kerr and possibly Key Banjo at the top of the attack.
STLFC will provide a physical challenge to the Hounds –as they’re third in the conference in fouls conceded (45) in three games, and a group of midfielders that play hard and do everything to break up an opponent’s string of possession. If the Hounds can get into open space in the attack, and can frustrate STLFC’s defensive midfield and back line, it could lead to a slew of fouls and set piece opportunities. If they can create a lot of set pieces, that could lead to Brandt bringing in Earls off the bench for his first appearance of the year in a tight game. Earls has always been one of the best free and corner kick service men in recent years for the Hounds.
The Hounds have gone with keeper Trey Mitchell in the past two games, and he’s held his own. Brandt still appears to be feeling things out with the goalkeeper position so he could go with either Mitchell or Keasel Broome.