Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC's Joe Farrell was among the goalscorers on Saturday night as the Hounds took another step toward winning the Players' Shield at the end of the regular season. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC is not a team that typically overwhelms its opposition.
Three of its five highest-scoring games this season have come against the teams with the three lowest points totals this season, as it’s been much more typical for results to come on the back of a solid back line and making the most of the opportunities that present themselves when carved out in the attacking penalty area.
The Hounds’ most common margin of victory this season is a nice, efficient 2-0 result, followed closely by a 2-1 or a 1-0. They’ve held opponents without a goal in 20 first halves this season, typically playing from the front and seeing out results with a determined back line that has conceded the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference.
As it stands, however, that’s a formula that is set to earn the Hounds their first silverware in the USL Championship era.
It’s not a done deal yet, but the past weekend couldn’t have gone much better for Pittsburgh in its pursuit of the Players’ Shield, the award won by the team with the best regular season record.
While the Hounds were securing a third consecutive victory by defeating New Mexico United 2-1 at Highmark Stadium, extending their undefeated streak to five games, both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Sacramento Republic FC were suffering defeats elsewhere on Saturday night, giving Pittsburgh a four-point cushion with three games to go in the regular season.
Not that the performance was flawless, but it was enough once again to get the job done.
“We spent half of the first half just trying to get our guys to get higher,” said Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley. “We’re at home, let’s get higher, get pressure up the pitch, and start turning them over. Once we started to click, we had energy and momentum, and that was really important.”
It also had Kenardo Forbes, who has tended to help things along.
The Jamaican playmaker provided two excellent corner kick deliveries that resulted in the Hounds’ two goals, nodded home 10 minutes apart by Joe Farrell and Arturo Ordoñez in the first half. Forbes could have had at least one more helper on the night – Farrell hit the woodwork again off another corner kick by the man nicknamed King Kenny two minutes before the halftime break – but had to settle for moving to nine assists overall this season.
While Albert Dikwa has been the centerpiece of the Hounds’ attack this season with 17 goals, currently tied for the league-lead, the execution on the side’s set pieces is simple, but effective.
“I always look at Joe and Arturo and they tell me where to put it, and I try my best to put it there,” said Forbes. “I always communicate with them.”
Forbes and Lilley have been the mainstays in the Hounds’ current run of success. Their arrival in 2018 brought the start of a current six-year postseason streak, providing a level of consistency the club had failed to achieve in its prior two decades.
In 2019, the Hounds finished top of the Eastern Conference for the first time, denied the best record in the league via the league’s all-time best regular season posted by Phoenix Rising FC. This year there is no such obstacle, but Forbes also believes the current Hounds squad is a better one than the group four years ago with its collective chemistry on the field influenced by the off-field camaraderie the side feels.
With a club-leading nine assists this season, Kenardo Forbes has helped lead Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC to a sixth consecutive postseason berth. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
“After my five or six seasons here, this is the most together group we’ve had,” said Forbes. “2019 was a good group, but since preseason here, we all get along. We all understand each other and what Bob wants. I think it’s a really good group, a really together group. Sometimes on our off days, we go golfing, play cards, so it’s a really nice group. A lot of young, hungry guys in the group, young guys willing to prove that they belong here.”
Officially, the Hounds are currently seven points from clinching the Players’ Shield.
The pivotal game in their final three of the regular season arrives on the penultimate weekend, however, when they visit the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium. If the Hounds win their next two outings – at home to FC Tulsa in their home regular season finale, and at the Rowdies – the Shield will be theirs.
As the team currently sitting with the fewest points dropped from a winning position this season, the formula is unlikely to change.
It would be a surprise if the results did either.