Next Match: Louisville City vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds – 10/10/2020 – 2020 Playoffs
A few months back, Louisville City’s playoff hopes were far from a sure thing. In early August, City had lost three of their last four and was about to take on a red-hot Indy XI. In the ensuing weeks, the squad’s performance did a total 180 going on a run of 11 straight unbeaten. On Saturday, Lou City will look to extend that streak to 12 in the first round of the playoffs against unofficial rivals, Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Having won Group E (suck it, Indy), the match will be played in the soccer cathedral known as Lynn Family Stadium.
Pittsburgh is one of the few non-Group E opponents that Louisville has faced off against already in this strange 2020 season. They had the honors of being the first opponents to enter the team’s new facility. Unfortunately, they were also the first to beat City at LFS. Despite Lou City grabbing the early lead, the Riverhounds scored three goals at 45’, 46’, and 51’ to seal up their 3-1 road win. Morados lead in most statistical categories, except for the only one that truly matters. It was the first game after the restart, but that is no excuse as Pitt was in the same boat. They grabbed a tough road win, so let’s give credit where credit is due. Lou City just needs to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Pittsburgh is a good squad. They had given Louisville City a tough challenge in the playoffs last season, and I expect nothing less this time around. On attack, they are lethal. They have the third-highest goals per match with 2.4, the eight most shots on target per match (with 4.9), and have created the fifth most “big chances” (29). The Hound also boasts a stellar defense with 0.6 goals conceded per match and eight clean sheets, first in both categories. They are very much like City as they maintain possession and pass well. An average of 369.6 accurate passes per match (6th) and 52.8% possession (7th) to Lou City’s 375.1 (3rd) and 53.8% (4th), respectively.
The Riverhounds feature talents such as Danny Vitiello, Kenardo Forbes, Kwamina Ropapa Mensha, and Ryan James. Vitiello was the recipient of this season’s Golden Glove Award. In eight appearances, he had five shutouts and a save percentage of 77.8%. While he had the benefit of winning that award only playing about half the season, it’s still clear that he is no slouch in goal and will pose a problem. Forbes is an absolute stud that would be an instant starter on any USL team. He has racked up the second most assist in the league with eight (four from set-pieces) and has the third-highest player rating in the league with 7.53. He has passed with an 82% success rate and averages 2.0 key passes a match (top 15 in the league). He’s also created the 7th most “big chances” with six to his name. Whew, that is quite the list of accolades! Mensha is the squad’s leading scorer with six. The young Ghanaian has also gotten two assists in the 2020 campaign. James, like Forbes, does a lot of things well. He has a player rating of 7.37 (second only to Forbes) and has his team’s second-most goals with five. While he does not have any assists, he does do a lot of passing with a 79% completion rate.
Pittsburgh is no doubt a great team given all the quality statistics mentioned above, but the ‘rona and its resulting impacts have made this data a little less reliable than it otherwise would be. There are some caveats. The first being strength of schedule. The group set up played to the Riverhounds advantage. Looking at Group F, Pittsburgh’s group, it comprised Hartford Athletic, NY Red Bulls 2, Philadelphia Union 2, Loudoun United, and the Hounds. Hartford has come a long way in their second season. They are a legitimate squad. The others, however, not so much. They are all MLS 2 sides, which are rarely good (Loudoun is DC United’s USL team for those unfamiliar). While the Baby Bulls have traditionally been a solid squad, that is not the case this season. They have had a big dip in quality and that is probably tied back to their inability to move players up and down in their system as freely as they would without a pandemic. This means that Pitt’s road to the playoffs was largely beating up inferior MLS 2 teams and their stats boosted by playing the subpar sides.
The second caveat is our LIPAFC rivals, Indy Eleven. What’s Indy got to do with this? Well, despite being in separate groups, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and the Eleven played each other twice this season. It was an oddity of the schedule that was likely brought on by their proximity to one another. Both encounters ended with a 1-0 win for Indy. During the second encounter, Indy’s Ayoze was shown a red card at 50’. For the rest of that match, Pitt could not find a goal. Louisville City handled Indy this season, winning three-time and drawing once. While it is quite a bit of a logical leap to conclude that City is better than Pittsburgh based on the fact City dominated Indy and Pitt didn’t, it raises some questions on how the Riverhounds would have fared in a different group. Would they have made the playoffs in Group E?
The third caveat is the original #LOUvPIT encounter earlier this season. Yes, City did lose, but the stats suggest maybe it was closer than it appeared at first glance. City was passing well, controlling possession, and getting shots off. Unfortunately, their shots did not make it to the back of the net. Possession is not a precursor to a win, but it showcases that Lou City can dictate the tempo and pace of the match. Let’s also take a look at the starting lineup. Quite a bit different from what fans have been treated to over the past several matches. Akil Watts, while a promising young player, probably does not need to be starting in a match of that caliber. Especially over some of the other defensive options (a blessing of a deep squad). Jimmy Ockford and Abdou Mbacke Thiam have, frankly, been a bit disappointing this season. I mean no disrespect to either player, but neither has exactly had starting eleven caliber performances this season. Critical pieces to the team’s success this season such as Sean Totsch, Pat McMahon, Antoine Hoppenot, and Napo Matsoso were MIA in that starting eleven. Except to see several changes from the first encounter. That could very much be the difference between a loss and a win.
Looking into the crystal ball that is FiveThirtyEight, Louisville City has been given a 57% chance to earn the win. The Riverhound’s head coach, Bob Lilley, is a wily veteran to the game. He is going to get the most out of his quality team in this match. Coach Hackworth and the boys will need to remain focused. Momentum is on Morado’s side. I am cautiously optimistic. Many have said that this is an Eastern Conference Finals quality matchup, and I would agree with that assessment. Lou City has been dealt a tough first-round, but it’s nothing they can’t overcome. See you all at the game on Saturday!