PITTSBURGH – Between the extensive lightning delay and the heavy conditions the rain that fell caused at FNB Field on Wednesday night, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s 2-0 victory against hosts Penn FC certainly wasn’t the club’s prettiest performance of the season.
With a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs and the Keystone Derby Cup in hand, however, that didn’t matter too much to Hounds defender Joe Greenspan.
“It’s a big win,” said Greenspan. “I think to put in a full 90 minutes – it was a tough night, rain delay wasn’t great – but everybody put in a shift. Everybody battled. To keep a shutout was even better.”
The victory sent Riverhounds SC back to the postseason for the first time since the 2015 season, but arguably as importantly kept the side on course to claim its first home postseason contest in the USL’s modern era as it jumped past Louisville City FC into second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
With a victory on Saturday night in its visit to the Charlotte Independence at the Sportsplex at Matthews (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) the Hounds would earn that right as they would move clear of the fifth-place Indy Eleven. Taking six points on the road over the course of a week is never an easy task, though, and Head Coach Bob Lilley is aiming to keep his side focused on the road to a second-place finish overall.
“It’s a matter of staying on course, not giving anything away, because it’s in our hands as long as we keep it that way,” said Lilley. “We’ll put in a lineup and go after the game to win in Charlotte.”
CHANGES PAID OFF BIG FOR BATTERY: The aim with any substitution for a Head Coach is to substantially change the course of a game.
With both Victory Mansaray and Ian Svantesson finding the net, and Neveal Hackshaw providing the assist on Mansaray’s game-winner against North Carolina FC on Wednesday night, that was certainly the impact that the Charleston Battery and Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser received from their three second-half additions in a massive 2-0 victory that pushed the side closer to clinching a home playoff game for the third time in the past four seasons.
“Our thought was, let’s put in some fresh guys,” said Anhaeuser of the moves. “North Carolina were getting tired and cramping. It worked out for us. Nev got down the line and Victor scored. Then Ian, who has been working so hard, really put his foot through the ball and I think he caught Alex off guard. He wasn’t ready for it. It was great to see those two get on the score sheet. You can see them grow in confidence when they score. It was a great three points for us. It really puts us firmly in the race for a top four spot, which is right where you want to be heading into the playoffs.”
For Mansaray, his second goal of the season was a major boost in confidence after what has been an up-and-down first season in Charleston. A fine header from Hackshaw’s chipped cross from the left that put the Battery up in the first minute of stoppage time showed the qualities that the former Seattle Sounders FC Homegrown signing possesses and could hopefully lead to more as the postseason nears.
“I’m just trying to stay focused,” said Mansaray. “Just trying to do what I do. Whenever my number is called I just try to go out on the field and be ready to play.”
Charleston will clinch its playoff place on Saturday night regardless of what happens in its contest due to matchups elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, but taking all three points from Toronto FC II at MUSC Health Stadium (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) is a priority for the side as it looks to lock down a home game in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs.
With a 15-game undefeated streak at its home ground the Battery are understandably confident but are also respectful of the form Toronto has shown recently, defeating Louisville City FC on the road and putting a major scare into FC Cincinnati when it visited Nippert Stadium two weeks ago.
“We can’t have a letdown,” said Anhaeuser. “We can’t go in with the mentality that they’re going to come in here and fold, because they’re not going to do that. They have young guys who are playing for contracts and to try to get into the first team. They’re guys who need to prove themselves every game. They have some quality players in [Tsubasa] Endoh and [Jordan] Hamilton, who is a very good striker.”
NORTH CAROLINA FACES ‘MUST-WIN’: After suffering its late letdown against the Battery, North Carolina FC returns home on Saturday to host the Richmond Kickers at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) knowing the stakes are as high as they’ve been this season for the side.
“It’s a must-win situation,” said NCFC Head Coach Colin Clarke. “We’ve been on the road for three matches and have six hard-earned points. We’re disappointed to come out of Charleston without any points. We come into two important home games. It will be important not to take them lightly. Richmond isn’t having the best of the times, but everybody is capable in this league. We have to make sure we do what’s right and concentrate on what we do well.”
North Carolina missed out on a chance to move into the playoff positions with a win against the Battery, with an early penalty kick by Zach Steinberger that was saved by Charleston goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky one of the key moments in the Battery’s eventual win. That means victory against a Kickers side that has struggled on the road this season and fell against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night is a must, but the hosts aren’t going to take Richmond lightly.
“Richmond is at the bottom of the table, but sometimes they’re the toughest teams to play because they have nothing to lose,” said NCFC defender Steven Miller. “We need to be up for the challenge and I know we will. Especially on our home field, we need to take advantage of these next two games in front of our home fans.”
With the club also set to host playoff contender the New York Red Bulls II in its home finale before contests on the road against Louisville City FC and the Charlotte Independence to close the regular season. The path to the playoffs has narrowed, and North Carolina’s players are aiming to rise to the moment.
“We only have one thing in mind and that’s to go out there and get the three points,” said NCFC defender Aaron Guillen. “We can’t settle for anything less because we need to get into the playoffs. The season is coming to an end and we only have four games left. We have to put three points on the board and keep moving.”