A former unsigned Columbus Crew SC selection in the MLS SuperDraft, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC midfielder Danny Griffin should have a big role to play in Wednesday's Open Cup contest. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC scored its first victory against an opponent from Major League Soccer in more than two decades earlier this month, knocking off the New England Revolution in the Round of 32 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Gillette Stadium.
On Wednesday night, the Hounds will get to be on their own turf at Highmark Stadium as Columbus Crew SC visits for the Round of 16 (7 p.m. ET | CBS Golazo Network) as the hosts try to continue a historic run.
The Crew arrive as road favorites, but here are four reasons why the Hounds can earn another result and match their deepest run in the Open Cup in club history, when they advanced to the Quarterfinals in 2001.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley set his side up for success against the New England Revolution in the Round of 32, and will have something similar planned for his side's clash with Columbus Crew SC. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsbur
In more than two decades as a head coach in the professional ranks, clubs led by Bob Lilley have never missed the postseason. Why? Because whatever the situation, the teams Lilley puts onto the field have a plan that – if executed successfully – will give his side a chance to win.
You only need look at the last round of the Open Cup, where the Hounds were never in a position where they looked overmatched against current MLS Eastern Conference leader the New England Revolution. Pittsburgh was disciplined, used its possession smartly, didn’t concede territory unnecessarily, and was solid in its defensive structure.
Columbus Crew SC has been impressive in its two Open Cup victories so far against USL Championship opposition. Lilley certainly acknowledges that, saying on Saturday, “The challenge for us is we’re going to have to disrupt them, and that means a lot of work.” You’d best believe, though, that Lilley is going to have a plan in place to set his side up for success.
There’s probably no greater motivation for a player than to go up against a club that in its estimation you weren’t good enough for. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC midfielder Danny Griffin wouldn’t say that up front – “Sure, it’s the team that drafted me, but I'm just focused on trying to get another win,” he told ussoccer.com’s Jonah Fontela – but don’t think that’s not providing some motivation for the 24-year-old.
Griffin has proven a treasure for the Hounds, so much so that they went out and re-acquired him early this month from Huntsville City FC after playing in every game – regular season and playoffs – in the Championship for the Hounds over the prior three seasons. Since his return, Griffin has quickly regained the chemistry he built with veteran Kenardo Forbes and Pittsburgh native Robbie Mertz in a strong midfield three, and of course bagged the winner against the Revolution in the Round of 32.
With all of that behind him, no-one should be surprised if Griffin delivers another stellar display here and helps the Hounds to a result.
Being in good form doesn’t always guarantee Open Cup success, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Hounds look like they’re playing their best soccer of the season right now. Including the win against the Revolution, they’ve won three in a row in all competitions, and are undefeated in six in a row.
Pittsburgh’s four goals on Saturday night against Las Vegas Lights FC was its highest single-game total of the season, and while you might look at Lights FC’s winless record and go, “well, duh,” Las Vegas has been pretty tight defensively this season. Bagging four goals without USL Championship Golden Boot leader Albert Dikwa being among the scorers was a positive sign, with the assembled parts now moving well together in the attacking half.
“We’re starting to play through the midfield more consistently, so we are having more guys get chances,” said Lilley on Saturday. “We’re more fluid right now. [Two-goal scorer Edward] Kizza has worked so hard all preseason, and he has played a lot of minutes. For us, this is what it’s about, the movement and multiple guys unbalancing teams.”
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC center back Arturo Ordonez is eager for the chance to host an MLS opponent at Highmark Stadium on Wednesday night. | Photo courtesy Jacob Rhodes / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
The last time Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC hosted an opponent from Major League Soccer at Highmark Stadium? The venue was in just its third year in 2015 when D.C. United came to town and eventually took victory after extra time against a fine Hounds squad led by Rob Vincent and Kevin Kerr. (Vincent’s performance in that game as well as an All-League campaign helped guide him to D.C. the following year.)
In the years that have passed, though, the Hounds have become a much better-known quantity locally, and that’s ramped up the atmosphere led by the Steel Army at one of the most scenic venues in North America. That backing will be a major plus – as it is for any lower-division side that gets to be an underdog at home – and is something the club’s players are eager to embrace.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity, I think that’s something we were looking for, hosting an MLS team at Highmark,” said Hounds defender Arturo Ordonez. “It’s a great opportunity to get more people in this stadium. We always say we want to win every game at home, no matter who we play, so it’s going to be a very important game.”