Pittsburgh Riverhounds (1-2-2, 5 points) vs Richmond Kickers (1-3-0, 3 points)
5 p.m. – City Stadium, Richmond, VA
BROADCAST – USL Match Center / YouTube
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are spending a lot of time in Atlantic Coast Country in early 2017.
The Hounds have already made three trips to the Carolinas if you include a preseason foray into the Raleigh-Durham area, and then road matches at Charleston and Charlotte the past few Saturdays.
Again, this weekend, the Riverhounds head Southeast again, but won’t have to travel quite as far to City Stadium in Richmond to take on a historical rival – Richmond Kickers. The Kickers, who are celebrating their 25th Anniversary this season, have a long time coach, and former player, Leigh Cowlishaw who has been at the helm for many years, and was a player with the franchise in the years that preceded.
Although they’re a regular playoff contender (have made every USL playoff tournament since 2011) — the Kickers have been trying to adjust to losing some key players that were fixtures on their roster in recent seasons. As a result, they’ve played in nothing but 1-0 matches to start the season, and alarmingly to Richmond — they’ve only scored once.
After an opening night win against Harrisburg, the Kickers have lost their last three games to Louisville City FC, New York Red Bulls II and were the victims of Ottawa Fury’s first ever USL win.
The Hounds on the other hand, scored more goals and surrendered as many goals in its opening game than Richmond fans have seen all season in four games.
While posting an early season 0-2-1 mark at home, Pittsburgh has held its own on the road, beating Charleston in come-from-behind fashion, 2-1 on April 8, and then held on for 1-1 draw at Charlotte last Saturday.
The Kickers will have to keep an eye on Key Banjo in early moments. In his first two pro starts, in the last two matches — in the first five minutes of each game — he’s scored goals. In fact, if you go back three games, he also contributed to a Marshall Hollingsworth goal upon entering the match as a sub at Charleston with an assist.
A season ago, the Hounds were defeated twice by Richmond. At Richmond, in early June they were picked apart, losing handily 3-1, early in coach Dave Brandt’s tenure. Then, the would lose again, 2-0, in a weather, then power-outage delayed game at Highmark Stadium.
This will be the second match for the Hounds in the “Old Guard Shield” series between the five long-standing USL franchises that include Pittsburgh (1999), Richmond (1992), Charleston (1992), Rochester (1994), and Harrisburg (2004).
Only two games have been played in the series between the five clubs, as Pittsburgh (1-0-0, 3 pts) and Charleston (1-1-0, 3 pts) lead the way. The Hounds have a win over Charleston, while the Battery came back to throttle Rochester, 5-0 last week.
MORE ON THE KICKERS
The Kickers have lost some key players from last year’s playoff team including Hugh Roberts who signed with Bethlehem Steel FC, Brian Ownby to Louisville, and its all-time leading scorer — Matthew Delicate retired in off season.
Still the Kickers pack some punch with some solid, experienced midfielders including Yudai Imura, Fred Owusu Sekyere and Samuel Asante. Each have been fighting through injuries too, and with one of the lower payrolls in USL, the Kickers attack is susceptible when they are not at full strength.
While the back line lost Roberts, they also added Conor Shanosky late last season from Louisville, where he’s provided leadership to a unit that remains pretty solid defensively.
Since 2011, Cowlishaw‘s club have conceded more than 30 goals in the regular season only one time. Remarkably, at just 46 years of age, Cowlishaw has been a fixture with the club since its inception in 1993. He played through 1999 making 149 appearance — and had a four more “on-field” appearances sprinkled in 2007-09. He’s been the team’s coach since 2000.
In dealing with the team’s three game losing streak, all by 1-0 defeats, Cowlishaw knows that this is not the same USL of the past.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve just got to push on and get used to doing the things we need to do to compete,” said Cowlishaw.
If the Kickers don’t get a goal soon, we may have to watch out for an outburst from this guy — their long-time mascot, Kickaroo…
INJURIES / SUSPENSIONS
Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter made it official this week that midfielder Ben Swanson, who was on loan to the Hounds, had surgery to repair damage to his ankle and would be placed on the injury list, and is now out five to seven months. It’s unlikely that Swanson will return this season.
The Riverhounds are also have a few other players still dealing with injuries including: Gale Agbossoumonde (Questionable – foot), Ryan Adeleye (Probable – Hamstring) Stephen Okai (Doubtful – Knee).
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Riverhounds have dealt with some early season struggles, but nothing like what Richmond has endured. In three straight games, all against quality opponents, the Kickers have been shutout.
The Hounds, who have been working with a make-shift back line, a pair of goalkeepers that appear to be working through some wrinkles in shared duties and injuries to some players, have not posted a shut-out this season.
The only goal the Kickers notched was by a defender, Shanosky, on a header from a free kick into the box early in the second half of the opener against Harrisburg. Shanosky scored against Pittsburgh last year too, in the 86th minute to level a rain-soaked game at Louisville in April. In total, the Kickers have only registered eight shots on goal for the entire season.
In fact, in the last game against Ottawa Fury, the Kickers played creative and assertive soccer for much of the game, owning time of possession.
However, in the 72nd minute, Ottawa’s Steevan Dos Santos struck good fortune, burying a shot from 58 yards over goalkeeper Matt Turner‘s head. In the Louisville City FC loss, Richmond conceded a penalty kick to former Kicker’s standout George Davis IV.
With a creative midfield, and a team eager to break a scoring drought, the Hounds will not want to play to0 cautiously this week. It appears that it will be similar match-up to last week when they played a Charlotte team that likes to keep possession, but has been having trouble scoring goals. The Hounds sat back after taking the early lead, and took a cautious approach.
Look for Hounds coach Dave Brandt to go with Banjo and team’s leading goal scorer Corey Hertzog at the top of the attack, and captain Kevin Kerr, who’s played every minute this season, shift into midfield again.
The Hounds will have to do better than the paltry 29 percent in possession they held at Charlotte.
In goal, if you look at the numbers, Trey Mitchell (3 starts – 3 goals against) has been better than Keasel Broome (2 starts – five goals against), but it appears that Brandt has continued to rotate the goalkeepers in the early part of the season. Mitchell’s foul in the box against Charlotte appeared to be a light contact, but enough for the official to award a penalty kick. However, Mitchell did make some quality saves in each of his last few starts.
If the Hounds can keep the same starting back line intact, with Jamal Jack, Joe Greenspan (on loan from Minnesota United FC), Rich Balchan and Taylor Washington, they have a good chance to earn a first blank sheet of the season.
Against a lackluster Kickers attack, that may like to possess, but not get too many shots on goal, it could very well happen.