I’m running a bit behind schedule after just finishing up a profile on Battery veteran John Wilson (be sure you go back and check out last week’s profile of Colin Falvey, too), and I’ve got another job that I have to get to today, so this week’s preview will be a bit less detailed than last week’s look at Antigua Barracuda. Then again, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds are a regular USL PRO franchise with a stadium and a normal schedule that isn’t teetering on the brink of insolvency and oblivion.
Well, not that we know of.
But I digress…
Riverhounds at Battery
Saturday, April 27
FORECAST: 68 degrees and partly cloudy
TICKETS: $10-$18, available at the stadium, or (843) 971-GOAL (4625), or www.charlestonbattery.com.
RADIO: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with the pregame show on SportsRadio1450 AM WQNT.
VIDEO: Livestreaming via UNation.
Battery game preview is here.
Mikey Buytas’ game preview for Reckless Challenge is here.
Pittsburgh’s advancer on its two-game Carolina road trip is here.
GOODIES: Miller Lite drafts are $2 in the beer gardens before the match.
PREVIOUS: The all-time series is tied 5-5-6.
THIS SEASON: Charleston (1-1-0) lost its season opener 1-4 in a weird one at Richmond, then dismantled Antigua 4-0 in its home opener last week. Pittsburgh (0-2-1 pending the outcome of tonight’s match in Charlotte) tied Richmond on the road 0-0 on April 6; dropped its home opener in the debut of Highmark Stadium 1-2 against Harrisburg City on April 13, and lost in dramatic, last-second fashion 1-2 at Dayton Dutch Lions on April 20.
There’s no particular system for reporting injuries in USL PRO that I’m aware of, but here’s what I’ve got as of 1 p.m. Friday.
AVAILABLE: Defensive midfielder Amadou Sanyang (concussion symptoms from March 30th) and winger Quinton Griffith (hamstring injured in practice on Tuesday) both returned to training.
NOT BLOODY LIKELY: Central attacking midfielder Jose Cuevas trained this week but was held out of contact as he recovers from a hamstring injury suffered in the season opener. Last week’s Man of the Match, Ben Fisk, missed training this week with unspecified soreness that the club is seeking to diagnose.
All other players are available for selection, according to Battery athletic trainer Bobby Weisenberger.
The bad news is that the injuries this week aren’t a cross-section of the team. They hit the squad’s offensive talent hardest.
The good news is that even if Cuevas, Fisk and Griffith all sit this one out, Coach Mike Anhaeuser still has plenty of legit options. Sanyang’s anticipated return from a concussion would free up Michael Azira to return to a more forward position in the central midfield and restore Jarad van Schaik to his usual spot outside. Versatile supersub Zach Prince, who scored and assisted against Antigua, can play inside or out. And that’s assuming that Anhaeuser will choose to stick with his 4-3-3/4-5-1 scheme.
Alternately, Anhaeuser could blow up the scouting report and replace a midfielder or wing with a second forward. Dane Kelly got the start against Richmond, Heviel Cordoves got the start against Antigua, but both forwards scored last week, and both are capable of playing centrally in a 4-4-2 formation.
The back line looks fairly set, which is not to say it will stay that way. RB/CB Taylor Mueller sat out the Antigua match but figures to contribute plenty of minutes this season.
The Riverhounds are off to a disappointing start marked by near-misses and disappointments, and with back-to-back matches against two of the three Carolina teams, Pittsburgh is actually facing something of a season-defining test. If they can come out of this trip with a point or three, they’ll silence the dogs of doubt. But if they head back north with two more losses, Coach Justin Evans will have to manage the psyche of his team carefully.
According to the club, Evans changed around the team’s practice routine this week to emphasize late-game concentration.
The Battery’s preview singles out three Pittsburgh players:
Jose Angulo (#18): The 25-year-old Colombian-American is always going to be a threat up top. Angulo went pro straight out of high school and already has one goal for two points in the 2013 season. Angulo spent some time with MLS’ New York Red Bulls but only made one appearance for the club before his move to Pittsburgh.
Matthew Dallman (#20): Dallman is in only his second season with the Riverhounds, but already this season has tallied two assists in just two games played. Dallman will be the man to watch in the middle of the field with his ability to create scoring plays.
Kevin Kerr (#10): The Germany native is only 24 years of age and is in his first season with the Riverhounds. When he has gotten the opportunity to play, he has proved to be a productive goal scorer. With a goal to his name already this season, Kerr will surely threatening for more.
COACH BREAKS IT DOWN: When I talked to Anhaeuser about the Riverhounds on Wednesday, the coach spoke mostly about Pittsburgh’s defense and his ideas about how to counter it. And now I’ll get out of his way and just let the man talk:
“Watching them play, they’ve got experienced players up front (he mentioned Angulo, but also forward Jhonny Arteaga, who led USL PRO in scoring in 2011 while playing for F.C. New York). But in the back they’ve made some changes. They picked up Andrew Marshall from Harrisburg, but it seems like they’re playing some other guys, because they picked up about nine new players. So they’re a new team.
“They like to pass, but I can tell you, with Justin, they’re very organized defensively. They sit in, they do their job, so they’re a team you have to be sure you break them down with your movement. They probably have a few guys in the back and in midfield who’ve been around. They picked up two guys from Rochester in (midfielder Felix) Motagalvan and (Richard) Costanzo, who plays left back, Mike Seamon from Seattle. So they went and got some guys with some MLS experience and some guys who have experience in our league. But right now it looks like they’re maybe not 100 percent clicking.
“Against Richmond (0-0 on the road to start the season) they looked good through the midfield, which I think is their strength. They really had them on the ropes. I think they hit the post twice. It shows that they had some danger, and they really were sound defensively. They kept six guys back and did the job, and that’s why it was 0-0. Whereas we opened up a little bit more (and lost 1-4).
“Every time we play Pittsburgh we know they come in here to defend. They’ve made it difficult for us, and I expect the same. But the difference is we have a lot of weapons at a lot of places on the field. Today (Wednesday) I was trying to get the ball wide, because if they tuck in, they’re going to give us width, we need to have quality on our crosses, and we need to make sure we get our outside backs around the channels and maybe into the box to get some free crosses. And create some free kicks and corners, because I think definitely that can be a plus for us, because of our size.”
What to watch
Buytas lists Nicki Paterson and Maikel Chang as players to watch this week, but after giving it some thought, I’d have to say that my pick would be… all of them. For the second week in a row, Anhaeuser will be fiddling with his lineup because of injuries, and given the distribution of talent across the roster, any one of the approaches he might take could put a different player in the spotlight.
Paterson is the engine of this team most weeks, regardless of the score sheet. But if Anhaeuser is serious (i.e. not just playing mind games with Evans) about trying to counter a compactly bunkered Pittsburgh defense with crosses, then all sorts of players enter into the mix. Prince has been accurate on crosses and corners all year, RB Mark Wiltse likes to get down into the corners and Mueller chips well into the box. When John Wilson spots a channel, he runs it very effectively.
On the other hand, if Anhaeuser goes with a 4-4-2, 195-pound center forward Cordoves has the strength and presence to collect defenders and create openings for teammates.
So in other words, who knows? Certainly not me.
I’ll be watching for plenty of things from the Battery, but the 900-pound gorilla in this match is road fatigue. For the second Saturday in a row the Battery will be playing a team on less than 24-hours rest, and as Antigua demonstrated last week, that’s a major disadvantage. Pittsburgh is a more stable franchise, and probably is in better shape to rotate its squad, but if Evans decides to bunker his Riverhounds and play for the ugly road draw, this one could decided by a header off a set piece, or a late mental error by an exhausted defender.
Either way: Advantage, Charleston.