Pittsburgh Riverhounds (1-2-1, 4 points) vs Charlotte Independence (0-1-1, 1 point)
7 p.m. on Saturday, April 15
Eagle Field at Winthrop University
USL Match Center
For the Pittsburgh Riverhounds — it’s been a wildly inconsistent start to the season against a schedule that includes a lot of teams expected to be in the hunt for USL Eastern Conference title.
After a body of work of four games, they’ve failed to win in three tries at home (not a good sign), but had a thrilling come-from-behind win on the road last week at a place they haven’t won since 2011 against a regular playoff contender, Charleston Battery (very encouraging).
The last time Pittsburgh recorded back-to-back wins on the road came in 2014 with victories at the Rochester Rhinos (June 7) and the Dayton Dutch Lions (July 2).
Since the Independence came into existence in 2015, they’ve completely dominated the Hounds. Independence stand 4-0-1 against the Riverhounds, outscoring them 12-3 over two seasons. Charlotte outscored Pittsburgh 7-0 over two matches in 2016.
Playing only two matches so far this season, the Independence find themselves near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.
Charlotte’s lone home match of 2017 was a 2-0 defeat to the Charleston Battery – a squad Pittsburgh is less than a week removed from defeating 2-1 at MUSC Health Stadium.
The only other notable news coming out of Charlotte early in the season has been fake news. On April Fools Day the Independence announced that they had signed former NFL star wide receiver Randy Moss.
MORE ON CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE
Two games into the campaign, they stand 0-1-1 with a single goal.
“We’ve been working on what we can do better in a game, especially going forward,” midfielder Alex Martinez told the Charlotte Post.
“You can tell. We only have one goal. Obviously, it’s only two games, but we pride ourselves on being very good going forward. We’ve been working a lot in combination on going toward goal.”
With a lot of players from last season back on the roster, including one of the USL’s best midfielders, Enzo Martinez, the Independence will be a tough opponent, and one extra motivated to secure its first win of the season.
This is a very competitive group that plays to the final whistle.
After almost two years of playing at Ravenwood Sports complex, the club’s will move into a new permanent home — the Sportsplex at Matthews — against the Harrisburg City Islanders on June 17. Until then, they continued to play at a number of facilities, including the site of tonight’s game, Eagle Field at Winthrop University.
The injury list keeps growing for the Hounds.
According to the team the current players that are out include: Gale Agbossoumonde (Foot), Stephen Okai (Knee) and Ben Swanson (Lower Leg). Rich Balchan (ankle) is probable and Ryan Adeleye is doubtful (Hamstring).
It appears that forward Corey Hertzog will be able to go after getting pulled from the game on Wednesday after Head Coach Dave Brandt cited that Hertzog wasn’t the same after an apparent injury when he went down after some contact.
WHAT TO EXPECT
While showing promise at times, Hounds attack has been inconsistent.
The counter-attacking approach has shown to be dangerous when things come together (Corey Hertzog has three goals in four games and new addition Key Banjo has shown to be a solid threat).
However, the Hounds efforts into the final third have fizzled in stretches, namely in the second half of their 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati when they were playing down a man (okay somewhat understandable) and again at home in the second half against Saint Louis FC (looked lethargic in second game in five days).
While team captain Kevin Kerr discounted the excuse of tired legs early in the season and playing three games in eight days, the Hounds have had a hard time putting together a consistent 90 plus minute effort in the attack with the possible exception of the opener against NY Red Bulls II, when they scored three goals.
In the last game, Hertzog didn’t record a shot on goal, and was pulled from the game before the final whistle for the first time since May 21, 2016. Not surprisingly, the Hounds were 0-5-1 last season in matches Hertzog recorded zero shots.
The Hounds back line also looks to continue to be a work in progress. After picking up Joe Greenspan on loan from Minnesota United FC, he started to fill in for a number of players out due to injuries (Agbossoumonde, Adeleye). Balchan sat out Wednesday’s match too, with former Independence player Jack Thompson starting at right back in his place.
Despite a 2-0 loss at home to Charleston, the Independence dominated possession against the Battery, but could not convert on its scoring chances.
What I am expecting, and I am sure Brandt will tell his players, is that Charlotte will come out blazing and pushing for that first goal, and the Riverhounds will have to weather the storm.
The possession-oriented Independence, in a 4-2-3-1, will try to use the entire field, and if they can get a lead, will be the type of team that will be tough to come back and counter against.
That being said, the Hounds have been resilient at times, and have shown the ability to come from behind. But having only led for a 24 minute stretch (in 1st half of Saint Louis game) in four games, has to be a bit concerning to Brandt and his troops.
Still, with another road game looming at Richmond next week, the Hounds will have to battle hard for a result on the road and keep some distance from a team that has been a thorn in their side the past few years. Coming away with draw would mean coming away from a three-game stretch in eight days with four points.
Not bad, but another road win would be a great way to end a busy week for the Hounds.