BREAKING DOWN THE HOUNDS: Getting into playoff spirit

Riverhounds (8-9-10) vs. Rochester Rhinos (11-5-9)
7:02 p.m.
Highmark Stadium
Video: USL YouTube
Boxscore: USL Match Center

It will be “Pittsburgh Spirit Night” at Highmark Stadium tonight –as the Hounds face a challenge against third-place regional rivals Rochester. I will have full coverage today, with Long Hong on photographs for DK Pittsburgh Sports.

I’ll have the starting lineups about 45 minutes prior to kickoff.

Here are some additional pregame notes.

• The latest update in the USL Eastern Conference playoff race continues to have the Hounds on the outside looking in, as they currently remain in 10th place, two points off the 8th and final spot in the standings. One result from Friday, had Bethlehem Steel FC, now with 35 points, jumping one point ahead of the Hounds, with 34 points, after an impressive 2-2 tie at Louisville City FC. With a win on Saturday, though the Hounds can jump head of Steel FC prior to their meeting next Sunday in Lehigh Valley. In addition to Bethlehem, the Hounds are also looking up at FC Cincinnati and Orlando City B in 8th place, each with 36 points. FC Cincy host NY Red Bulls (38 points) in their final home game of the season tonight, while Orlando City B travel to Saint Louis FC. Bottom line here for the Hounds, any combination of nine to 10 points in the final five games are necessary to have a chance to earn a spot in the playoffs. A win or even a draw tonight allows them to keep pace, as long as they can pick up a minimum of four points in a road swing versus Steel FC and NY Red Bulls in the coming weeks.

• I caught up with Hounds Head Coach Dave Brandt earlier this week, and wrote this feature as he remains steadfast in his approach as the Hounds head into the final five-game stretch of the season.

• The Hounds goalkeeping situation took another turn this week, as it appears that Brandt has fully committed to Matt Perrella as the team’s primary keeper, while Alex Kapp, who was on loan from Minnesota FC United, went back to his MLS club. Perrella has started the last three games (1-1-1), surrendering six goals in this span. The Hounds announced on Thursday that they have re-signed local product, and last year’s third-string keeper Brendan Alfery. Alfery starred at Robert Morris, after transferring from Grove City. The 23-year old keeper is a Pittsburgh native, who attended Central Catholic High School.

• The Hounds have four players (Danny EarlsVictor SoutoJamal Jack and Tobi Adewole) all walking on eggshells just one yellow card from a one-match suspension.

• In the only meeting this season on July 22, the Rhinos and Hounds battled to a scoreless draw at Capelli Sport Stadium in Rochester. Each of the final two matches between the long-time regional rivals will be at Highmark Stadium. The Hounds have failed to post a win against the Rhinos in the last seven tries, and have scored only three goals in this stretch. You have to go back to the 2014 season for the last time Pittsburgh beat Rochester.

• The Rhinos have recently ascended to third place in the Eastern Conference table, as they’re currently unbeaten in their last 3 matches and 10 of their last 12. While they had some early season struggles (even surrendering five goals against Charleston in a game in April), Bob Lilley‘s Rhinos are one of the hardest teams to score against in the league, conceding the fewest goals by any team in the Eastern Conference (25), posting a league high 11 clean sheets. And how’s this for “intelligent toughness” — Lilley’s squad is among the league leaders in fouls conceded (386), but are dead last in yellow and red card accumulation (13). They are a team that will do everything it can to slow its opponents down, aligning in a 5-4-1 formation most of this season, limiting scoring chances every chance they get.

Hounds Hot Legs

• The Hounds are celebrating “Pittsburgh Spirit Night” at Highmark on Saturday, paying homage to the indoor soccer team that at one time outdrew the Penguins during its short-lived, but exciting five-year run. All kinds of 80’s themed festivities will be happening, as I posted my takes about the Spirit and the promotions in Pittsburgh Soccer Report on Friday.

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