The Riverhounds (2-1-5) return to league play Saturday, May 18, to take on Memphis 901 FC (2-6-3) at Memphis' AutoZone Park.
Fresh off a 3-0 win over the Dayton Dutch Lions at Highmark Stadium, the Hounds acquired a taste for what it'll take to ascend the USL's Eastern Conference rankings. They need to put balls in the back of the net, and Head Coach Bob Lilley has emphasized that seemingly simple concept to his team all week.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress in our buildup, how we want to get into the attacking third, and now our focus becomes — because we’re guilty of the final ball not being good enough — missing the targets on shots that should be buried," Lilley said. "Every team has the ability to some extent to get in goal scoring positions. There’s not a lot of teams that have ruthless efficiency. That is something that we’re always emphasizing with our players, hit the target, pick your spots and just hit the target.”
Think the message sunk in? Listen to what Hounds forward Steevan Dos Santos had to say when asked about his shooting mentality.
"When you’re shooting, at some point the ball will go into the back of the net," Dos Santos said. "You just have to hit the target, and for sure one is going to go in if you can just keep hitting the target.”
This Hounds team has been solid defensively so far in the 2019 campaign. They haven't played up to their 2018 standards to be certain, but they haven't allowed more than two goals in any contest, either. That point, however, means little to midfielder Kevin Kerr.
"We're letting up way too many goals, and worse than that, we're letting up more chances than we'd like," Kerr said this week at Highmark Stadium. "When we compare it to last year, where we were at this stage, it's night and day. We're willing to put in the work, and we've been working all week. We're looking to start keeping a few more shutouts."
While Kerr rightly focuses on patching a few holes on the defensive side of the ball, perhaps a larger problem exists on the offensive end. If they Hounds can squeeze out just one more goal here and there, it's an entirely different season. They've tied, 2-2, on four separate occasions in nine games. They've also tied 0-0 once. That concept of putting balls on target Lilley and Dos Santos discussed looms large for this squad, and Assistant Head Coach Dan Visser put it best after the team's victory over the Dayton Dutch Lions at Highmark Stadium.
"Goals are just always good," Visser was telling me. "We'd hope to kind of continue that."
They'll have their chance Saturday against a Memphis 901 FC squad that's lost six games this year. Despite that figure, Memphis is unbeaten in its last three, going 1-0-1 in league play and tallying a second win over New York Red Bulls U23 in Round 2 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday.
"We're feeling good and we're ready to go," Kerr said.
• Saturday's match is live on Pittsburgh's CW and will also stream on ESPN+.
• Memphis 901 FC hasn't won at home yet this year, posting an 0-3-2 record at AutoZone Park.
• This marks the first-ever meeting between the Hounds and Memphis 901 FC. Since 2018, the Hounds are 3-0-3 in inaugural showdowns.
• Kerr can't slow down. He's on pace for 29 points this season, which would tie his career best set in 2015.
• Marathon man: Thomas Vancaeyezeele hasn't missed a minute so far in 2019. He's played a full 90 minutes in 39 of his 41 career games.
• The Hounds' next goal will be the team's 700th in league play.
• Even though both the Hounds (13th) and Memphis 901 FC (15th) are ranked in the bottom half of the USL's Eastern Conference, the Hounds are just one point from a playoff position, while Memphis 901 FC is still three points away.
• The Hounds are two wins away from victory No. 200 (including league, postseason and Open Cup play).
• After Memphis, the Hounds return home to Highmark Stadium to take on Charlotte Independence Saturday, May 25. Get your tickets right here.
• Round 3 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup takes places May 29 at Highmark Stadium. The Hounds will face Indy Eleven in that one:
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 16, 2019
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