So who are the Pittsburgh Riverhounds?
A quick look at an old enemy
It might seem strange to say this, but the best result the Birmingham Legion had in its 2019 inaugural season may have been the 0-7 drubbing it experienced at the hands of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the second round of the playoffs.
That game introduced the Three Sparks to the power of one Neco Brett, who scored 4 of those goals. Less than 2 months later he became a Legionary. His scoring rate has gone up, too: with the Legion he is scoring at 0.57 goals per game; with Pittsburgh he was at 0.49.
This will be his first game against his former team. The same will be true of Ryan James and Thomas Vancaeyezeele, who were both with the Hounds for a couple of years before joining the Legion this season (Vancaeyezeele played 7 games with the San Diego Loyal at the beginning of this season, so he’s not a direct transfer). They too played in that fateful playoff game.
The trio played in all three games against the Legion in 2019, in fact. The Hounds won all three, winning 4-1 at home and 1-0 away in the regular season. The 1-0 win in Birmingham was a big disappointment for the Three Sparks, with the goal coming right at the end of the game.
Still, the Hounds managed to rack up 11 goals against the Legion that year (the 12th was an own goal by Kyle Fisher). But of the 6 goalscorers from that season, only one, defender Jordan Dover, is still with the team. Dover scored just one of those goals.
Things can change quickly in soccer. Besides Dover, only 2 other players who were in Pittsburgh’s 18 for the 2019 playoff with the Legion are still on the roster – Kenardo Forbes and Anthony Velarde. In contrast, 9 of Birmingham’s 18 are still with the team. Add the 3 the Legion took from Pittsburgh and that’s a lot of memory to take into account.
That doesn’t mean the Hounds have completely gutted their squad, of course. They have at least two strong scoring threats. The first is Russell Cicerone. They picked him up from the now defunct Saint Louis FC this year, and he has gone on to score 16 times. That’s 2 less than Neco Brett, the Three Sparks’ top scorer. However, the Hounds as a team scored 1 more goal than the Legion. Also racking a good few goals was Alex Dixon, also new to the team this season (previously with several USL teams, most recently Hartford Athletic) on 9. The Legion’s second best scorer is Junior Flemmings on just 6.
At the other end of the pitch, they are a bit leakier than the Legion, allowing 34 goals versus 31. Starting goalkeeper Daniel Vitiello tied Matt van Oekel on 9 clean sheets, and both teams added just one more from backup keepers. Against playoff teams the Hounds allowed just 15 goals compared with Birmingham’s 18.
Despite finishing third in the Atlantic Division, the Hounds’ record overall is not too different than the Legion’s. They finished on 58 points, just 2 less. But the Atlantic was nowhere near as competitive as the Central, with 4 very weak teams. Against playoff teams, Pittsburgh went just 4-6-2 this year, with a -3 goal difference. On the road against playoff teams they were 2-4-1 with a -4 goal difference. They played only one non-divisional playoff team, tying 1-1 at San Antonio.
Pittsburgh also has an execrable history playing on the road in the playoffs. They are a perfectly imperfect 0-4, losing most recently to Louisville City last season (who also knocked them out in 2019 in Pittsburgh after that 7-0 win).
Everything here points to a pretty tight matchup, albeit with home field and some other factors working in the Legion’s favor. Overall, it should be an entertaining affair.