Despite struggles to score, with only six goals in the past nine games, the Hounds continue to find themselves flirting around on the edge of contention, sitting only two points off the playoff line in the jam-packed USL Eastern Conference standings. Earlier this week, Head Coach Dave Brandt spoke at length about finding the right formula to fix his team’s goal scoring woes.
The Hounds are currently in the midst of a brutal stretch of games as this is their third consecutive Saturday road game, and this coming week they will play three games in seven days. The Hounds continue to hold their own on the road (2-2-5 record away from home), as they picked up road draws at Orlando against a MLS-heavy line-up, then at Bethlehem Steel FC vs a squad that was very thin and had to call up a number of Philadelphia Union players.
While Brandt noted earlier this week that this is a bit of a different looking Rochester team under long-time coach Bob Lilley, they remain very tough defensively (they still remain one of the top defensive teams in the league with seven clean sheets and goalkeeper Tomas Gomez boasts an impressive 0.64 GAA this season). Results continue to be the similar to previous teams under Lilley, as the Rhinos continue to find ways to grind out results, scoring 18 times in 16 games, while only conceding 16 goals. Lilley has brought in his former Harrisburg Heat teammate, Mark Pulisic (yes — father of U.S./Borussa Dortmund young star Christian Pulisic) as his assistant coach.
The Rhinos feature a couple top notch forwards in Jochen Graf and Wal Fall, both with four tallies each on the season. Former Hounds center back Sergio Campbell, signed with Rochester prior to the season, and has played in eight matches. The Jamaican is currently playing with his international side in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and won’t be available in this match.
Hounds captain Kevin Kerr, who’s been part of this rivalry since 2013, had this to say about the Rhinos this week:
“Rochester is a team that I have a lot of respect for. They don’t play the most attractive style of football, but they are very well organized and they give you nothing. You know you have to go in and beat them because they are so well drilled especially in their defensive third. I expect exactly that on Saturday. They are not afraid to go route one, and they have big guys up front who are a handful. We have to be at our best.”
Hounds injury report heading into the Rochester match looks pretty scarce as only Marshall Hollingsworth (probable – knee) and Trey Mitchell (questionable – shoulder) were listed along with Rich Balchan who’s out for the season with an Achilles injury. Mitchell’s status probably means that this will be another opportunity for Keasel Broome to start. In his last three starts, Broome has allowed only one goal.
Familiarity breeds contempt
Prior to arriving in Pittsburgh in 2014, Danny Earls played four seasons (2008-09, 2012-13) in Rochester, including earning team MVP and earning all-league honors in 2013, when he scored three goals and had two assists as the team’s left back.
The Riverhounds and Rochester Rhinos have been battling each other since 1999 at the second and third divisions of the United States Soccer Pyramid, having played each other 33 times in this period. All-time, the Rhinos hold a 23-6-4 advantage, including 12-3-2 in the current era of the USL since 2011. This is the first of three meetings between the clubs this season and only one in at Rochester. Last year, the Rhinos completed a clean sweep of the Hounds with (1-0, 2-1 & 3-0) wins to dominate the series.
The Hounds have only won one time ever at Rochester, that was in 2014, when Brian Fekete and Rob Vincent headed in two perfectly placed corner kicks delivered by Earls, and a late goal by Jose Angulo proved to be the difference for the Riverhounds, earning an important three points against their regional rivals.