If it feels like the Riverhounds can't catch a break with the scheduling lately, it's because, well ... they can't.
Two weeks ago, the Hounds battled St. Louis FC (5-1-2, second in the USL Eastern Conference) to a 0-0 tie at Highmark Stadium, then they turned around and tied Nashville SC (3-2-2, eighth in the USL Eastern Conference) this past Saturday with a furious late comeback.
Now, the team travels to South Carolina to face the Charleston Battery (4-1-2, fifth in the USL Eastern Conference) for a Saturday-night showdown at MUSC Health Stadium. While the schedule's been rough for the Hounds (2-1-4, 13th in the USL Eastern Conference) they're unbeaten in their last six matches. The team's sole defeat this year came in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and now it's back to work on the road to keep the streak alive.
"It's a tough team... tough team," Hounds forward Neco Brett was saying this week after practice. "It's going to be a pretty intense game. I think it's just going to boil down to the team that makes less mistakes, and we're trying not to be that team that makes more mistakes. We're trying to get organized, make sure we're focused, working on our game plans and trying to go there to get three points."
Those three points are the key. The Hounds haven't been losing — but they haven't been winning either. And sinking free throws isn't going to do much for their 13th-place ranking. They need to start hitting threes, and they need to start doing so soon. That sense of urgency isn't lost on Hounds coach Bob Lilley.
"We'd like to play every game like we played in the last 20 minutes or so of the Nashville game," Lilley said this week at Highmark Stadium. "We played with a little bit of desperation to get forward, to create, and we had nothing to lose at that point. I think it's a good lesson for us."
For the Hounds, it comes down to the offense performing to its capabilities. Their defense this season has been solid, allowing two goals on four occasions but never going over that mark. So there's no secret formula. Goals win games, and the Hounds just haven't been producing enough on that front.
Brett knows it.
"Guys know that we really need goals," he said. "We try not to get to that point where it's like last-minute goals. We're trying to go and get goals early in the games so we can secure three points."
Lilley knows it.
"If we're going to be aggressive and take chances, we'll get rewarded with goal-scoring chances and hopefully goals. If we're conservative, you're not going to get many shots on goal, and therefore you're not going to score very often. And I think that was pretty clear in the St. Louis and Nashville games. We're definitely addressing it, and hopefully having learned that we'll be able to get ourselves going offensively sooner in Charleston."
Now, it comes down to executing against a tough squad in Charleston. But if there's a sense of disappointment in all the ties, there should also be some positivity in this lesson: The Hounds can play with anyone. They're right there. Now they just need to find another gear, crank up the offense and enjoy the rewards.
"It's going to be a big challenge," Lilley said. "I certainly think Charleston's one of the better teams in the East, but so were St. Louis and Nashville. Trying to decide who the top teams are, there are a lot of top teams it seems right now, and we're hoping to be one of those as well."
• The Charleston Battery sports an undefeated at home this season, with an overall goal differential of 8-3.
• ...but the Hounds haven't lost against the Charleston Battery on the road since 2015. They're 1-0-2 since then at MUSC Health Stadium.
• The Hounds may not get many shots on goal, but when they do, they convert them. The team boasts a 17.5 percent conversion rate on shots, fifth in the USL Eastern Conference.
• The game will be televised on Pittsburgh's CW and streamed on ESPN+.
• View live game stats right here.
• It was Lilley's birthday this past week, May 2. We're not going to say how old he is, because we'd like to maintain a courteous, professional relationship with him.
Happy Birthday, Coach! 🎉🎊🎂 pic.twitter.com/cj1GitSum3
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 2, 2019
• The Hounds return to Highmark Stadium Saturday, May 25, to face the Charlotte Independence. Tickets for that one are available here.
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