It’s time for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to go on a hot streak. There are five matches remaining on the club’s 2015 regular season schedule, and the organization’s focus is on returning to the USL playoffs after a yearlong absence. The middle of the pack is crowded in USL’s Eastern Conference. There are six teams within 7 points of one another, fighting for four playoff spots. The math gets tricky when you factor in games-in-hand and head-to-heads, but the general consensus seem to be that 40 points gets you in. Pittsburgh needs eight points in their last five matches (3 for a win, 1 for a draw) to reach that total. After last week’s loss against Charlotte, Pittsburgh lost autonomy of their playoff destiny. They have to win, and they’ll need some other results to break their way.
The club travels to Louisville City FC on Saturday night. Both of Lou City’s trips to Highmark Stadium ended in heartbreak for the Hounds. An injury time equalizer from Kadeem Acres back in April, and a “Meghan Klingenberg Night”-ruining winner by ex-Hound forward Matt Fondy on July 18th meant precious home points dropped. A draw on their first-ever trip to Louisville would be a positive result.
Next Saturday night, against Charleston (4 points ahead of Pittsburgh, but the Battery have played one more match) at Highmark Stadium, will be a big one. There has been a decent amount of “big game” atmosphere in Station Square for Hounds matches this summer. As far as playoff implications, this will be the biggest (that is, of course, until the one after that) match of the season. The match against Charleston will largely determine if the Riverhounds are playing their last three matches for a home playoff game, or fighting for their playoff lives. This has been a long way of saying that the playoff race will look very different on Labor Day. If the Hounds manage 4 points between now and then, they’ll be in good shape, but earning those 4 points will require their best.
This club is capable of playing entertaining, attractive, FUN soccer. Whether they win, lose, or draw, they deliver maximum on-field drama. Their goal scoring record is phenomenal, and the midfield trio of Rob Vincent, Kevin Kerr, and Lebo Moloto produce vine-able highlights on a regular basis, despite the absence of a reliable center forward easing the offensive burden. Several players have shown flashes in that role, but none have displayed a consistent ability to add goals and create chances. Occasionally, that midfield-reliant attack has left them exposed at the back, and that’s understandable. Injuries also contributed to the defensive woes. Currently, the Riverhounds are as healthy as they have been all season, and I’m curious to see head coach Mark Steffens’s selections for the back four during these crucial upcoming games. Steffens’s first-choice goalkeeper, Ryan Thompson, has had a phenomenal summer. Unfortunately for Hounds and USMNT fans, his accomplishments have come while he was away on international duty at Copa America and the Gold Cup for Jamaica. Thompson is now back between the sticks for the closing stretch.
It’s going to be a month’s worth of “squeaky bum time” for the Riverhounds and their supporters. It’s a pivotal time. Missing the playoffs for a second year in a row is not what the organization had in mind when they brought in an accomplished, decorated coaching staff. I can only promise one thing about how their season will play out: it won’t be boring.