It’s just one game of 34 on the schedule, but this Saturday’s match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies will provide the Riverhounds SC with an opportunity to reverse their recent misfortunes.
With a win, the Hounds can potentially thrust back into the top three spots in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings.
“[A win] essentially puts us back into a position [where] we’re ahead of them in the standings, so it’s a big game,” Head Coach Bob Lilley said after training this week. “We’re obviously trying to get our footing again.”
The Rowdies were responsible for starting Pittsburgh’s down swoon, getting the better of the Hounds in a 3-1 result at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL on May 21, which began a winless streak of five games.
Following a pair of disappointing draws, the Hounds lost two matches, both on the road.
Much has already been written here about the Hounds road woes including the last week’s loss at Rio Grande Valley FC.
Four of the last five matches were played on the road, so the Hounds are extra happy to be returning home, where they’ve yet to lose this season.
The Hounds got back into their regular training schedule which included Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday training sessions in preparation for the Rowdies.
PSN’s Mark Goodman attended Tuesday’s session, and will have some more in-depth profiles to share soon from his visit to Highmark Stadium soon.
In the meantime, the Hounds will be under some pressure to pick up a result and turn the tide on Saturday at Highmark Stadium.
Lilley’s Hounds typically progress in each season series with the Rowdies
In each of the last three seasons, the Riverhounds have endured a humbling, early season defeat at Tampa Bay, including this May, when the Hounds lost their grip on an early 1-0 lead to be out played in a 3-1 loss in St. Petersburg.
And each year (in 2019 and 2021 — the two clubs didn’t face each other in shortened 2020 season) the Hounds battled back later in the season for more favorable results against Tampa.
Last year, the clubs played four times,
Following a humbling 3-0 defeat, Pittsburgh returned the favor in the next match at Tampa, 2-1, then the teams played to a 0-0 draw, then the Hounds defeated the eventual Eastern Conference Champions at Highmark Stadium, 2-0, taking the season series (2-1-1).
In 2019, the Hounds were handed a very early season whooping at Tampa (2-0), but held their own in a 1-1 draw at Highmark Stadium in June that helped turn the tide after they struggled early that season. The Hounds would follow that Tampa match with five straight wins. Eventually, Pittsburgh would pass Tampa in the standings and finished the season at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Saturday’s encounter in Pittsburgh will be the second, and final regular season match between two teams who have regularly been battling at the top of the Eastern Conference standings for the past four seasons.
As they say, familiarity breeds contempt.
The Rowdies come into this match on a bit of a roll, without a loss in their last six matches. However, they weren’t happy with the last result, a 1-1 draw vs Charleston, last Saturday at home against the Charleston Battery.
Charleston rallied in the 63rd minute to erase the Tampa Bay lead.
“The second half, there was real frustration there,” Rowdies Assistant Coach Jon Stead said after the match (Head Coach Neill Collins was away continuing his UEFA Pro License course).
With top-of-the-table positioning at stake, the matches between the Rowdies and Hounds are always intense, with a lot of players from both sides who know each other pretty well.
This will be the sixth match in the last 12 months between the two sides.
“When you play the top teams in this league, it always seems like it’s a little bit more important, a little bit more to battle for,” Riverhounds forward Russell Cicerone told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week.
“And then definitely having lost to them earlier in the season, you want to get those points back, especially at home. … There’s going to be a little something extra in it this weekend.”
Lilley has said that playing against top teams are often a great way to help his team regain their focus and start scoring goals again.
Pittsburgh Sports Now will have full coverage from Highmark Stadum on Saturday. Look for Match Day Blog, updates from Jordan Smith and John Krysinsky, along with post match reaction and coverage including live interviews on Pittsburgh Sports Live.