NYRB II will face off against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds today at 2pm.
It is the first ever meeting between the two clubs, so Once a Metro reached out to Matt Gajtka, who does play-by-play for the Hounds when they play at home. (And he's on Twitter: give him a follow.)
Currently the Riverhounds have the deadliest attack in the USL Eastern Conference scoring 13 goals in five games, leading to a 2-1-2 record.
For Gajtka, the playoffs are "absolutely feasible," and should be the goal of the team after finishing five points out of a playoff spot last season.
Over the past two seasons, the Hounds have suffered through long early winless streaks - last year's was 0-6-4 - that have sabotaged their championship aspirations. They were able to overcome that in 2013, but not in 2014. Despite the 2-1-2 record thus far this year, the team isn't satisfied, because it feels it can challenge for the Eastern Conference top spot
The team has benefitted from not having an MLS affiliate this season, leading to a sense of stability.
"Pittsburgh is very proudly a major-league city, so having an MLS parent - as the Hounds did last year in Houston - doesn't help give the team legitimacy," Gajtka said.
He added that last season's affiliate Houston would tend to shuffle players around all the time, but that led to USL-loanee Anthony Arena staying in Pittsburgh when the Dynamo didn't renew his contract.
According to Gajtka, the Hounds run an up-tempo system based on quick ball movement. Given NYRB II's press and attempts to keep possession high up field, it will be interesting to see how vulnerable they are on the counter. An aerial game employed by the Rochester Rhinos slowed the Hounds down according to Gajtka, which is similar to how they slowed the game down against NYRB II. This could be a wide open game.
On the Hound's offense:
The Hounds' goals-per-game average is a little deceiving, because they have a pair of five-goal games to go with three that have featured only one goal. Still, coach Mark Steffens' attack is built off multiple attacking options and positional flexibility. It's been a change from last year, but when the players have been in a rhythm, it's been highly entertaining to watch.
On the three players to watch:
Kerr and Vincent have benefited from a) their previous years of experience in Pittsburgh, and b) Steffens' attack strategy that is diverse by nature. Neither one has to be "the guy," and they also happen to share an understanding of each other from playing together last season.
Kerr is more of the energy/playmaking guy, while Vincent has a big leg and a knack for finishing. Holding midfielder Stephen Okai, formerly of the Orange County Blues, will probably get plenty of touches, as will Kerr. Wing back Tyler Pasher has also used his tremendous straight-line speed to get up into the attack, so he should draw your eye as well.
Finally, the hard-hitting language analysis our readers crave: Matt, do you say "yinz" every chance you get?
Haha...I think the "yinz" thing has become more ironic than anything. My parents' generation uses it sincerely, but people 40 and younger do it with a wink and a nod. Although it doesn't sound very dignified, I think it has value as something unique to the Pittsburgh culture. I'm all for being different, and "yinz" definitely qualifies!
This will be the next-to-last match at Red Bull Arena for NYRB II, before taking on the Harrisburg City Islanders on May 9 at RBA.
Keep up with Matt on Twitter: @MattGajtka. And find his work at the Pitssburgh sports site he edits: City of Champions.
Can we beat the Riverhounds? Would a hound be able to survive in the rivers of Pittsburgh? Do you like these interviews?