With eight games remaining in the next eight weeks, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds control their own destiny as the season hits the homestretch and they seek an elusive USL Eastern Conference playoff spot.
As the season turns down the final month and a half, I’ll be posting the latest happenings in the race, once or twice as week with my own comments about each team as it appears that this logjam of teams stretching from 5th to 12th place are separated by only seven points.
In the past two weeks, the Hounds picked up two much needed wins against two teams below them in the standings, rival Harrisburg and Saint Louis FC.
Now, the schedule sets up well for the Hounds, who’ve scored five goals in the past two games, to make their move. They have only one game remaining against a top four team (Louisville at home Sept. 9), nor will they have to play the bottom four teams including: Harrisburg, Saint Louis, Toronto FC II or Richmond.
Draws won’t be enough each week. The Hounds will need to continue to press for three points every time out. With a new-found confidence and what looks like better chemistry in their attack, they will look to keep scoring goals.
Here is my team-by-team look in three categories:
- Pretty Secure Top Four
- LogJam in Middle
- Not Looking Good
PRETTY SECURE TOP FOUR
- Louisville City FC (44 pts) – surged into first place tie with Charlotte with a 5-0 trashing of Harrisburg.
- Charlotte (44 pts) – after going on a 12-game unbeaten tear from late June through early August to surge into the top spot after beating Lou City 3-1, they’ve slowed down a bit, going 1-1-2 in its last four. Still sitting is pretty good spot.
- Charleston (41 pts) – were leading the Eastern Conference for much of the season, but hit a lull in July and August, with a seven game winless streak. Got a much needed 1-0 win over Rochester to snap the streak on Saturday.
- Tampa Bay (38 pts) – this is a hard team to figure out. They won three straight games by a convincing 7-0 margin, then lose a wild one 4-3 at STLFC and then drew vs a struggling Ottawa team.
LOGJAM IN THE MIDDLE
5. Rochester (35 pts) – the Riverhounds will play Rochester twice in its final eight games. The Rhinos continue to prod along, and will likely fall somewhere in this middle of the playoff table position as they remain a strong defensive unit occasionally capable of a scoring outburst (scored three goals at FC Cincy)
6. FC Cincinnati (34 pts) – despite being the darlings of US Soccer with an Open Cup run to the semifinals, they were trounced last week at home to NY Red Bulls and have struggled at times. However, a big 3-1 win on Wednesday against Ottawa helps give them some breathing room. The Hounds will face FCC at Nippert Stadium on Labor Day weekend (Sat. Sept 2). I plan to be there for that one — should be fun.
7. Bethlehem Steel FC (33 pts) – here’s another team that the Hounds will face two more times, including this coming Saturday. The Philadelphia Union’s USL franchise has stayed above the playoff line all season, have struggled against USL’s top dawgs the past month (losing to Charlotte 4-0 and 1-0, Louisville City 3-1) but taking care of the teams at the bottom (beating Toronto 1-0 and Ottawa 2-1).
8. Orlando City B (32 pts) – are currently riding a remarkable 10-game unbeaten streak. What has made it a unique streak is that OCB have eight draws in this stretch (2-0-8), to lead the USL in draws (11). Like Bethlehem Steel, OCB’s recent wins have come against teams below them in the standings.
9. New York Red Bulls II (31 pts) – winners of two of the last three games, including a 4-0 romp over FC Cincy, the Baby Bulls are starting to play better despite having a minus-5 in goal differential. The Hounds will face them at the end of September in Jersey at their new home site, Montclair State University. Averaging just around 500 fans a game, word has it that there are still plenty of good seats available on Ticketmaster for that encounter on September 30. Maybe once this season, they’ll outdraw the Tartan Devils FC.
10. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (30 pts) – two wins in the past two weeks has kept the Hounds in the race, but they still have a lot of work to do. Maybe the biggest question is now that goalkeeper Trey Mitchell has suffered his second shoulder dislocation, and he’s expressed to me that “It’s not looking good” earlier in the week, can the Hounds rely on newly acquired Nick Perrella to carry them through the rest of the season, or will they have to go get another keeper if Mitchell is sidelined.
11. Saint Louis FC (29 pts)- in between the 2-1 loss to the Hounds at home on Saturday, STLFC have picked up a pair of wins (4-3 over Tampa Bay and 3-1 over Tulsa) to keep them hanging around. One thing they have going, is they don’t play a top four team the rest of the way, and play Harrisburg twice.
12. Ottawa Fury (28 pts) – with a game at hand (having played 23 games) on most teams directly in front of them, Ottawa still has a decent chance to pick up points and get back in this thing. After a coaching change, the Fury had to be encouraged by handing Charlotte its only loss since early June, but since are winless in the last three.
NOT LOOKING GOOD
13. Harrisburg (25 pts) – when the City Islanders won three games in a four game stretch in early July, and there was some hope. But after a brutal stretch of five games in 15 days, and a slew of injuries, things have gone from bad to worse for Bill Becher‘s team is now a minus-19 in goal differential after losing its last two games, 3-0 (to concede Keystone Derby Cup to the Hounds) and 5-0 at Lou City.
14. Richmond (20 pts) – the Kickers won the battle of the bottom feeders with 2-1 victory against Toronto FC II on Saturday.
15. Toronto FC II (18 pts) – to show how competitive the USL’s Eastern Conference can be, TFCII beat third place Charleston and then drew then first-place Charlotte in back-to-back meetings in early August.
GAMES TO WATCH (Aug. 26-31):
SAT. AUGUST 26
Bethlehem Steel FC at Pittsburgh – the Hounds had a prime opportunity to pick up three points in the teams’ first meeting this year, as Steel FC had a limited roster due to many Philadelphia Union’s friendly with Swansea City FC on the same day. However, after an unsatisfying 1-1 draw, the Hounds now have a chance to jump into a tie with the Steel in the standings with a win at Highmark Stadium. Despite a positive road record (4-3-6), the Hounds are less than stellar at home (3-5-3)
other games of note:
Saint Louis at Rochester
Orlando City B vs Louisville City
SUN. AUGUST 27
NY Red Bulls II vs Ottawa
THURS. AUGUST 31
Bethlehem Steel FC vs Orlando City B