Hounds ‘proud’ of No. 1 seed, but more to come


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Steevan Dos Santos battles for possession against Birmingham Legion FC. – BIRMINGHAM LEGION FC

Playoffs? Yep.

At home? Yep.

As the No. 1 seed? After Sunday night's 1-0 victory over Birmingham Legion FC at BBVA Field in Birmingham, Ala., that's a big ol' yep for the 2019 Pittsburgh Riverhounds, officially crowned USL Eastern Conference champs by winding up 19-4-11.

"I'm proud of the season the guys had," Bob Lilley said after the match. "I think we're worthy being Eastern Conference champs for the regular season. Now we have to turn our attention to the playoffs. It was a good close to the season, but the point is to have the best chance at playoff time. The work starts now as we get ready for these individual games heading into the playoffs."

Their playoffs will open next Saturday at Highmark Stadium, 7 p.m., against a still-undetermined opponent. In the opening round, No. 7 North Carolina FC faces No. 10 Birmingham and No. 8 Ottawa Fury FC faces No. 9 Charleston Battery, both Wednesday night. When those matches are a wrap, the Hounds will face the lowest remaining seed.

For the regular season, the metrics are rather impressive:

• Those 19 wins on the season mark a club record.

• Second-place Nashville SC went 20-7-7 — an extra win but also three more losses.

• Kyle Morton recorded his 13th clean sheet in the win over Birmingham Sunday evening — another club record.

• Mark Forrest notched his first career goal in the 90th minute of this one, and it proved to be the difference-maker.

• Since this all wasn't enough, the Hounds also recorded a season-high 24 shots in the win.

• At 10-0-7, the Hounds went unbeaten on their home turf at Highmark Stadium this season.

• They're 4-0-1 in their last five and 8-0-3 in their last 11.

• They allowed two goals during that 11-game stretch. Two.

So, yeah, these Hounds had themselves a regular season. But it all becomes that much bigger now. They hosted a home playoff game last year, too. I probably don't need to remind you how that went.

Or maybe I do, because that's kind of the whole point here. The Hounds took third in the Eastern Conference last season with a 15-5-14 record, snagged a home playoff game ... then fell on penalty kicks to Bethlehem Steel FC. The city was hyped, and it all came crashing down in dramatic fashion.

So this year, the Hounds went out and bettered that position. They're the top dogs now, and with that comes the expectation to do, well, top-dog stuff.

On the year, the Hounds are 1-1 against North Carolina FC, 2-0 against Birmingham and 1-0-1 against both Ottawa and Charleston. North Carolina is responsible for the Hounds' most recent defeat, too, a 5-0 drubbing on the road back in mid-August.

Right now, though, the opponent matters little. This is about the Hounds, the No. 1 seed, the Eastern Conference's best squad in 2019. The stadium will be blacked-out and rowdy.

And the Hounds can make that no-good conclusion to 2018 go "poof" with a win.

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