Playoff Preview Show with Michael Grau, Trib Beat Writer Matt Grubba, leading scorer Rob Vincent, Captain Anthony Arena and Club President Richard Nightingale.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds return to the United Soccer League playoffs Saturday evening with a trip to Harrison, New Jersey to take on the New York Red Bulls II at Red Bull Arena.
First-half goals from South African playmaker Lebo Moloto and Scottish midfielder Kevin Kerr were just enough for the Hounds to stave off a late rally by the Harrisburg City Islanders in last weekend’s decisive regular season closer. The Hounds’ 2-1 win in Pennsylvania’s state capital sealed fifth place in the USL’s Eastern Conference, one point and one spot behind New York.
Saturday’s game will be streamed live at Riverhounds.com. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. Extra time and penalty kicks will come into play if necessary with the winner traveling to the Rochester Rhinos in the conference semifinal on Oct. 3.
The teams met twice during the regular season with the hosts emerging victorious on both occasions. Pittsburgh had a late chance to break a 2-2 tie at Red Bull Arena on May 3 before conceding a stoppage-time winner via Anthony Wallace’s vicious 20-yard volley. Rob Vincent’s double and a strike from Tyler Pasher earned the Hounds a 3-0 win at Highmark Stadium on July 4.
“We’ve played them well both times,” said Riverhounds head coach Mark Steffens. “I think it’s a good match-up for us and we’re pretty excited to go up there and play.”
The Hounds are assured of some boisterous backing in New Jersey courtesy of an anticipated 50-strong group of Steel Army supporters making the 14-hour round trip by bus. There are a small number of seats remaining. Visit the Steel Army website for full details.
Orlando City curtailed Pittsburgh’s previous playoff appearance with a 5-0 win at the Florida Citrus Bowl in August 2013. Orlando lifted the championship that year with a remarkable 7-4 win over Steffens’ former Charlotte Eagles side in the final.
Pittsburgh’s last postseason win came in the 2004 USL Pro Soccer League Atlantic Division Finals when the Hounds registered 4-0 and 3-1 victories over Harrisburg before falling to the Utah Blitzz at the semifinal stage.
Moloto’s breakthrough in Harrisburg last weekend brought his tally to six goals during the regular season and four in the last eight games. His sparkling form has added a third attacking weapon to Steffens’ armory at a time when the goals have slowed for early season pacesetters. Vincent’s 18 goals saw him finishing the regular season as the USL’s third top scorer despite playing in midfield. Kerr also finished in the top 10 with 10 goals while finishing second in assists with nine.
Recent improvements on the Hounds’ back line were also reflected in the USL’s final goalkeeping statistics. Rookie Calle Brown ranked fourth in shutouts-per-game and goals-against-average after registering five clean sheets in his 14 appearances.
Cameroonian midfielder Marius Obekop has led New York’s offense this year with six goals and three assists. John Wolyniec’s side enters the postseason on the back of two road defeats at F.C. Montreal and Rochester.
Steffens should have a full roster to choose from again this weekend. There are no fresh injury concerns following the trip to Harrisburg and there are no suspensions heading into the first round of playoff games.
New York Red Bulls II vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Venue: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
Date and Time: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. EDT
Assistant Referees: TBC
Fourth Official: TBC