Pittsburgh Riverhounds forward Miro Cabrilo (left) looks up for an aerial pass in a game earlier this season at Highmark Stadium. (Photo: Terry O’Neil | Riverhounds.com)
After earning an encouraging draw in their first road game of the USL season, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds return to Highmark Stadium this Sunday afternoon for their first-ever matchup with expansion club Louisville City F.C.
The Hounds (1-1-1, 4 points) find themselves in the middle of the 12-team Eastern Conference table, tied for sixth in the springtime standings, while Lou City (1-0-2, 5 points) is in a three-way deadlock for the third position.
Pittsburgh conceded the first goal for the second consecutive game last Saturday night in St. Louis, but a strong second-half push culminated in Vini Dantas’ 73rd-minute equalizer and an eventual 1-1 tie.
Hounds keeper Ryan Thompson was especially critical to the positive result, as he made a handful of key stops to keep the visitors in the game. His denial of Jamaican countryman Jeremie Lynch early in the second half prevented St. Louis from taking what appeared to be a sure 2-0 lead.
Watch the spectacular save 35 seconds into this highlight video from last Saturday:
Although Riverhounds head coach Mark Steffens would prefer his team work from ahead, he admired the poise it took to steal a potential win from St. Louis in its raucous home debut.
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“Proud of the guys for fighting back and getting a point on the road,” Steffens said after Friday’s training session. “I love being down a goal and coming back. That was huge, with 6,000 people cheering against us.
“We played nice football the last 30 minutes especially. Very easily could’ve won the game in the second half.”
Louisville has impressed in its first three USL games, netting the opening goal each time. One of the league’s several first-year teams couldn’t hang onto a 1-0 halftime advantage Thursday at home, ultimately setting for a 1-1 draw with the Rochester Rhinos.
Midfielder Juan Guzman leads Louisville with three points (one goal, one assist) thus far; the sixth-year pro played his previous five years under Steffens for the now-defunct Charlotte Eagles. Former Riverhounds forward Matt Fondy (one assist) is another Louisville catalyst, as he returns to USL after spending the past two years with MLS clubs Chivas USA and Chicago Fire.
“Louisville is very talented,” Steffens said. “They have a lot of MLS(-caliber) players. Fondy is a big, strong, fast target up front. It will be a challenge to shut them out, but that’s what we want to do.”
Second-year Riverhound Miro Cabrilo, a former Robert Morris University striker, said he believes that Louisville’s relatively-quick turnaround from Thursday’s game will provide an opportunity.
“They look like a solid side, but with them playing (Thursday), there might be a little fatigue,” he said. “We’ve had a decent start so far, and if we can pick up three (points) this Sunday we’ll be in good shape.”
Rubbing the Rock
The Hounds are 1-1 at Highmark Stadium this year, after an opening-night win over Harrisburg City and a controversial one-goal loss to Rochester two weeks ago. This will be one of just two afternoon games this season at Station Square, and the lone Sunday home match to boot.
Pittsburgh enters its first of three meetings with Louisville as the third-highest scoring club in the 24-team USL. The Hounds have scored seven goals in three games for an average of 2.33; only the Seattle Sounders 2 (3.25) and the Charleston Battery (2.67) have been more prolific offensively.
Kickoff against Louisville is scheduled for 3 p.m. The Riverhounds remain home next weekend when they welcome Toronto F.C. II to Highmark Stadium on Saturday night.