The Riverhounds’ Mike Green reaches for the ball in Saturday’s loss to Louisville City FC. Stephen Okai (right) looks on. (Credit: Terry O’Neill/Riverhounds.com)
The Riverhounds have suffered a few discouraging moments over the course of this up-and-down season, their third at Highmark Stadium on the South Side.
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However, most of those setbacks have consisted of momentary defensive lapses. Those have cost the Hounds (7-7-4, 25 points) critical points, yes, but they have not encompassed entire matches.
That trend came to an end over a seven-day span, with the Riverhounds losing a pair of desultory games to drop them to the bottom edge of the USL’s Eastern Conference playoff zone.
Not long ago, following back-to-back wins over the reserve teams for MLS clubs New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC, Pittsburgh appeared primed to push up the conference standings. Even now, after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Louisville City FC at Highmark, Mark Steffens’ team is seven points out of third place with 10 matches left to play.
That’s the positive spin. The negative is that, after allowing four goals total over a six-game span, the Hounds have conceded six in their past two outings.
Rubbing the Rock
This is the manner of fallback that could inspire some of the longer-tenured Riverhounds to think, “Here we go again.” Steffens, in his first year with Pittsburgh, has admitted that it has been a process to get a few veterans to move past the disappointments of last season, when the Hounds missed the USL playoffs.
Resilience may be more difficult to conjure in the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat, just the team’s second league loss at home all year. As Dejan Kovacevic reported, several players were rather down about the result, even more so than they were about an inexplicable 4-2 defeat at last-place FC Montreal on July 12.
Maybe they could shake off one loss in the midst of an otherwise strong stretch, but dropping two in a row can get some doubts rattling around the skull. That seems to be the case now, with a trip to Keystone Derby rival Harrisburg City coming up this Sunday evening.
Another loss could knock the Hounds out of playoff position for the first time since the opening weeks of the season. A win or draw would stabilize things as the final quarter of the 28-match schedule approaches.
The stakes have naturally risen with July winding down. Of the final 10 games, the Hounds are on the road for six of them. A 2-5-1 record away from Pittsburgh doesn’t look great, although three of those losses were by a single goal.
Much like Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, N.Y., Harrisburg’s Skyline Sports Complex hasn’t been kind to the Hounds over the past decade-plus. However, Pittsburgh has netted 11 goals combined in a pair of home wins against the Islanders this year, including the bonkers 6-5 comeback win May 30.
Maybe the positive feelings of the first two Pennsylvania matchups can overcome the Hounds’ recent lackluster play. They’ll have to hope for as much when they hop on the Turnpike for the most important game of the summer.