The Riverhounds' start to the 2019 season has been... good. Not great. Not bad. Just good.
After a stellar 2018 regular season that saw the team win 15 games and finish third in the USL's Eastern Conference, expectations were high for the Hounds coming into the 2019 campaign. And while the team lost its season opener to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, they haven't been defeated since, posting three ties and two wins for a 2-1-3 record heading into Saturday's showdown vs. Nashville SC (3-2-1) at Highmark Stadium.
Keeping the streak alive against that squad won't be easy, a point not lost on the Hounds.
"They've got guys on their bench that I think a lot of teams would like to have starting for them," Hounds assistant coach Dan Visser said at Highmark Stadium this week. "They've got a lot of firepower, and I think it's going to be a lot about... defending together, squeezing space, getting back-pressure — just a lot of our core tenets."
Those core tenets paid dividends last week, when the Hounds battled to a sloppy 0-0 tie against second-place St. Louis FC (4-2-1). Against a team of that caliber — and in those rainy, horrible conditions — a tie might seem like a win, but to the Hounds, it was the opposite.
“Next week, we just have to go to work," Hounds midfielder Kenardo Forbes said after that game. "Work on it for next week and Nashville because dropping a home game is like a loss."
Did you catch it? It wasn't that the team was upset with the result necessarily. It was that they missed a chance at home to put more points on the board. Currently ranked 11th in the Eastern Conference standings, every point matters for the Hounds, and to leave them on the table at home is simply unacceptable. Now, facing No. 7 Nashville, Forbes says the team needs to remain calm and together. The points will follow.
"Just a team effort, collective. We have to be together," Forbes said. "We have to back-press, we have to get pressure on the ball. I think that's what killed us against St. Louis: We didn't make enough runs in the offensive territory."
Should they get through this one with a win or a tie, the Hounds will complete a clean three-game homestand before leaving for Charleston, S.C., and a matchup against the Charleston Battery Saturday, May 4. But you already know the team doesn't want a tie. Yeah, it beats a loss, and yeah, it earns a point. But it's all about wins and three-pointers right now for this Hounds squad as they look to climb the Eastern Conference rankings.
“Just come out and protect the home ground," rookie midfielder Sammy Kahsai said. "It’s a home game, and we expect to win. Just like the coaches say, just try to get on the ball, keep the ball and good things will happen."
“I think it’s another game. We’re at home so it is important to keep using those points toward us," defender Dani Rovira added. "Believe in what we do. Every game, we get better, and we get more comfortable. Just keeping working hard. They are a good team and it is time to put our name out there. Show them what we are doing and what we want."
• During the team's home opener two weeks ago against Hartford Athletic, midfielder Kevin Kerr, the team's longest-tenured player, tied the franchise's all-time assists mark (25) with Hounds Hall of Famer David Flavius. Kerr's next assist will give him sole possession of the record.
• The game streams live on ESPN+.
• The Hounds are unbeaten at Highmark Stadium in 10 straight regular-season matches.
• The Hounds have lost just two regular season home games since the start of 2018. One came against Nashville SC.
• Saturday's tilt vs. the Hounds marks the middle of a three-game road stretch for Nashville SC. They lost the first match of that run, 3-1, against the Charleston Battery.
• Hounds defender Ryan James suited up for Nashville SC last season before coming to Pittsburgh this year, adding an extra layer of intrigue to the matchup.
"It's always good seeing familiar faces. It was a good team there, good culture," James said this week ahead of the match. "So I have nothing against any of the guys, but everyone knows once you get on the pitch, it's a sport. We're all going to be competitive. After the game, we might say some hi’s and go hang out, but during the game, it's going to be all tough and no friends at that point."
• It's #BeTheKindKid Night Saturday at Highmark Stadium. Presented by Kidsburgh and JAM, the first 500 children aged 12-and-under will receive a free T-shirt.
• Gates open at 5:30 p.m., and Highmark Stadium offers $1 beers until kickoff at 7 p.m.
• Tickets are available right here.
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