The Riverhounds (from left, Vini Dantas, Stephen Okai, Rob Vincent and Lebo Moloto) celebrate Vincent’s first goal on July 4 against New York. Pittsburgh hits the road for two matches this week. (Photo: Terry O’Neil/Riverhounds.com)
Matt Gajtka is the play-by-play voice of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The following is his commentary on an important week for the team as it seeks to solidify playoff position.
With the full inclusion of Major League Soccer reserve teams in the USL this season, there are clearly-defined opportunities for more experienced sides to take advantage of youth.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (6-5-4, 22 points) have largely done that this season, going 3-1 against MLS reserve sides. That record improved with a 3-0 trouncing of New York Red Bulls II last Saturday at Highmark Stadium.
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The “Baby Bulls” were not to be taken lightly, despite their deployment of two teenagers and a 20-year-old in their starting lineup on the Fourth of July. New York (6-6-4, 22 points) entered the evening winners of three in a row to leap into playoff position in the Eastern Conference, having overcome a 1-3-2 start to its first USL season.
But the Bulls couldn’t keep pace with the hometown Hounds, who tilted the field from about the 30-minute mark of the match on. Rob Vincent struck twice to take the USL scoring lead (11 goals in 15 league matches), and 2013 league assists leader Matt Dallman returned to the field in fine form with an expert setup on Tyler Pasher’s second-half goal.
After the match, the Riverhounds were unanimous in declaring the Baby Bulls a talented group, but Pittsburgh’s defensive composure and selective aggression eventually got the best of the New York greenhorns.
Rubbing the Rock
It was reminiscent of the Hounds’ previous match at Highmark, a 1-0 defeat of FC Montreal on June 20. That wasn’t the prettiest display of soccer ever perpetrated, but quality won out in the end, with Kevin Kerr delivering the decisive goal in the late stages.
What do those two games have in common? Both were against MLS reserve sides. Although the Riverhounds lost a heartbreaker at Red Bulls II back in early May, their results against prospect-filled teams have been what one would expect.
That was clearly the case April 25, a 5-1 stampede of Toronto FC II on the South Side. That’s the same team the Hounds will face Wednesday evening, as they take to the road for a two-match Canadian swing that also includes their second collision with FC Montreal on Sunday.
With the Eastern Conference table starting to turn in their favor – the Hounds are in fifth place with two games in hand on fourth-place Richmond – this week presents a massive opportunity to make up for the eight standings points they have squandered due to late-game concessions.
Obviously a team cannot be expected to preserve every potential win or draw; on the other hand, it’s still something to consider when attempting to divine precisely how strong this year’s version of the Riverhounds really is.
They’re certainly superior to last year’s impotent group, which was 3-9-5 at this point, but that’s a low bar to clear.
These bolder, better Hounds have a chance to prove they’re more than fringe contenders over the next few days.