ROOTS FANS! It all comes down to this! One match for the Roots to lock up a plyoff berth. Every position between fifth and eighth is open for the Roots. But interim head coach Noah Delgado has the Roots playing with a fire, and they head to Pittsburgh for a 4:00 p.m. Pacific kickoff on Saturday against a Riverhounds (?) team that is struggling, having not won since September 4, and not beaten a playoff-bound team since July 9. Many people are calling this the USL’s first Willie Stargell Derby. The Roots are kicking off the viewing party this weekend with an organized trip on Oakland’s Black Liberation Walking Tour, where I hope to see many of you. Try to make a watch party if you can–this is functionally a playoff game. If you can’t, it will be on ESPN+ and KTVU Plus.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are an ancient USL team, emerging from the mists of the late 1990s. Riverhounds were part of the first professional division run by the USL in 2011. The Riverhounds have a full on History of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC wikipedia page that is a level of depravity I aspire to. The Riverhounds play in Highmark Stadium, a 5,000-seat soccer-specific stadium within walking distance of downtown Pittsburgh.
Awful. (If that looks familiar, and you haven’t made your dirtbag pilgrimage to western Pennsylvania, you may be recognizing it from whichever Christian Bale batman was filmed after they were too cheap to film in Chicago a second time) Highmark is a Pittsburgh-based non-profit healthcare company and “Integrated Delivery Network.” When the Roots get a stadium, money aside, you could do worse than “Anthem Field.” Since 2014, the Riverhounds have been owned by [brace yourself] Tuffy Shallenberger, the owner of several companies that do primarily construction and industrial land reclamation. Shallenberger apparently hasn’t made any publicly disclosed political contributions since 2011, but his recorded giving is a mixture of centrist dems and a Pittsburgh republican (who resigned after it was reported he had asked his mistress to have an abortion).
The Paw represents the dawg; that is, the dawg which is found in the Riverhounds team; hold on–they have the dawg in them–did I get that right? Anyway, the checkers represent that ska defines who they are as a team and they will never turn their back on ska, Hep! “The shield represents that we’re a cop.” The phrasing on “Because… soccer!” can only be read in the “the aristocrats!” voice (your choice between Gilbert Gottfried and Drew Carey), and I assume it is meant in that spirit. “The Waves” is the laziest shit I have ever seen on one of these (edging out “Because… Soccer!”), and I am genuinely unsure why the smudges are white on the badge but gold on the explainer. When we get around to making a RootsBlog badge we’re going to make one of these explainers and it’s going to absolutely kick ass.
Pittsburgh has a mascot, which always makes me extremely jealous, and not only do they have a mascot, they have a mascot that looks like he might be a fan who just started doing a thing and the team thought it was easier to promote them than arrest them.
The primary use of this costume is not soccer games–it’s for parts of the internet that I do not want to antagonize.
I only have easy access to records back to 2011, which is functionally the dawn of time for our league. Pittsburgh had a couple of mediocre seasons scattered over a run of generally bad seasons from 2011 until 2019. In 2019 they won the Eastern conference with a 19-11-4 record, finishing a point above Nashville SC in Nashville’s last USL season. Pittsburgh’s offense was lead that season by Neco Brett and Steevan dos Santos, who are both still kicking around the USL, and Kenardo Forbes, who still plays for Pittsburgh. In that season, and the following season, Pittsburgh were eliminated in the playoffs by Louisville City. In 2021, Pittsburgh were eliminated in the playoffs by covid, allowing Birmingham to advance without playing the game.
Around the Western Conference
|11||LA Galaxy II||33||39|
EL Paso won last Saturday, but finished out their season with a solid beating by the Rowdies in Tampa, and are now eliminated as they cannot catch Oakland on any tiebreaks. RGV held serve, beating Phoenix at home, and hold the tiebreaks on Oakland. Vegas managed to beat The Miami FC to keep the heat on Oakland as well. Galaxy II lost to Atlanta 2 over the weekend and ended any playoff hopes they had. Monterey Bay’s rescheduled fixture went forward on Wednesday and they fell 2-0, ending their playoff hopes.
So where does that leave us on decision day? A win for the Roots guarantees a playoff position. The Roots are the first relevant game on Saturday the 15th. At 5:30 pacific RGV hosts Monterey Bay, and it is hard to predict anything but a win there. At 6:00 New Mexico hosts Colorado Springs, and Colorado Springs genuinely has nothing to play for, as they can neither be caught for third nor can they catch second. New Mexico has the tiebreak on Oakland, so a draw or win for New Mexico locks Oakland out of fifth. Finally at 7:30 Galaxy II host Las Vegas Lights in a match that hopefully does not matter. The Roots have a two-point lead, but Lights have the tiebreak, so a Roots draw or Loss and a Lights win leaves the Roots the odd man out from the playoffs. The two LV guys who have bounced up to LAFC this season will likely be available, as LAFC does not play this weekend.
Are the Riverhounds Good?
Yes, mostly. The division in the Eastern Conference is so stark that we have known basically who would make the playoffs for weeks. Of teams that will actually make the playoffs (so that is, not based on their position at the time), Pittsburgh has not beaten a playoff team since July 9. In fact, they only have four wins at all over teams that will (potentially) make the playoffs. El Paso makes this a little tricky. Now, admittedly, the Roots’ record on this same metric is questionable, but the Roots have two wins over playoff teams under Delgado, which is essentially the only metric that matters for gauging how well the Roots will match up against Pittsburgh. So how have the Riverhounds been playing recently? Not great!
On September 4, Pittsburgh got its last win in an away match against Loudoun. They then drew Louisville City at home and lost to Birmingham Legion in Birmingham. Things got worse when they drew Orange County 1-1 on September 24 in a home fixture.
Albert Dikwa scored on a “simple ball through the middle” in the fourth minute, beating the Orange County goalkeeper who was caught in no mans land and then slotting home the easy finish. Reader, the next highlight is fifty minutes of game time later. Milan Iloski unleashed a belter in the 83rd but the Riverhounds keeper Waite got low to save it. Waite could not do anything about the equalizer in the 90th, when his defense got sucked over to the end line well wide of goal, and the centering pass reached Iloski unchallenged through the middle.
You can’t really fault Pittsburgh for losing 1-0 to San Antonio even if the game is at home–San Antonio are really good.
The highlights are basically all Pittsburgh, but none of them are particularly great opportunities. Waite saved what would have been a worldie from range in the 77th. The game was decided by a Carter Manley flick in the 86th that bounced off the arm of a Pittsburgh defender but then into the net anyway. Is is difficult to get fired up about a tough defensive battle as a neutral.
On October 9th, Pittsburgh traveled to Sacramento and drew 1-1 with Republic.
Sacramento was flagged for an offside that took away a Jack Gurr goal, but I think the relevant defenders had seen the flag go up. Pittsburgh ultimately did concede nine minutes into the second half, but on a Rodrigo Lopez penalty that was earned, but not the result of Sacramento getting into a great position. I mention this not to malign Sacramento (although you KNOW I would never pass up a chance to), but instead jut to point out that against good opposition Pittsburgh has not really conceded recently, even as their offense has let them down. Pittsburgh would equalize a couple minutes later on a simple chipped shot by Kenardo Forbes that Sacramento thought should be called offside. Although meaningless to the result, Arturo Ordonez received his second yellow in second-half stoppage time and should not be available for the match against the Roots. Ordonez is a centerback and has the second most minutes of any Riverhounds’ player this season.
|3/26||Monterey Bay Union Football Club of Seaside, California||Home||L||2||3|
|3/30||New Mexico United||Away||D||2||2|
|4/02||Tampa Bay Rowdies||Home||D||0||0|
|4/13||January 6 Apologists SC||Home||D||2||2|
|4/30||Colorado Springs Troop Appreciators||Home||L||0||3|
|5/14||AFC Pure Uncut Nevada Chaos||Away||D||1||1|
|5/21||Galaxia de Carson, Two||Home||W||1||0|
|5/28||Central Valley Republic||Home||D||1||1|
|6/4||Monterey Bay Union Football Club of Seaside, California||Away||W||2||0|
|6/15||New Mexico United||Home||L||1||2|
|6/22||Five Shades of Gray, F.C.||Away||D||1||1|
|7/01||“The Two” but California||Away||L||1||3|
|7/16||More like Ex Paso, Right? Is that a thing? What about Lol Paso?||Home||W||4||0|
|7/23||AFC Pure Uncut Nevada Chaos||Home||L||0||2|
|8/24||Pweese No Steppy||Away||W||3||1|
|8/27||Elk Grove Republic||Away||L||0||1|
|9/4||San Antonio All Grays||Home||L||0||2|
Azocar got the party started early in the fourth minute with a bouncing effort from distance under the Hartford keeper’s outstretched hand. The keeper was close enough to save it, but a bouncing shot struck with that much power is going to beat a lot of keepers, and Azocar earned his ninth on the season. Hartford equalized two minutes into the second half with a header at the back post by some guy. I think it was Memo’s man who just leapt over him, which is a risk of having Memo defending a set piece. Luckily ten minutes later Karlsson got his nineteenth with his best Azocar bouncing-shot impression. The goal came about a minute after Rito came on, and even if this goal was mostly Karlsson’s own effort, the Roots controlled the match with Rito on the pitch. Karlsson almost scored again five minutes later, and Azocar almost scored twelve minutes after that.
Ultimately, I think it is a sign of growth that this team has moved beyond “Only Bangers, FC” to a more reliable method of taking points, but Johnny Rodriguez will never leave Only Bangers, FC.
The three points took the Roots to 46, one over what we discussed earlier as the amount likely needed for a playoff berth.
Players to Watch
Russell Cicerone #10 – Left-sided forward Cicerone has the most goals for the Riverhounds this season, with twelve, but only has one since August 6, a period in which the Riverhounds’ offense has struggled generally. Cicerone played at the University of Buffalo, and then played on the Timbers II team with Max Ornstil, but never made the jump to the MLS squad. Anyway, his name is loosely spoonerized to Cecil Rice-a-Roni.
Albert Dikwa #9 – Central striker Dikwa has eleven goals on the season, with four in the last eight, which is basically the duct tape holding the Riverhounds’ offense together. This season accounts for just under half of Dikwa’s goals as a professional, which at 24 shows just how much his finishing has improved this year.
Kenardo Forbes #11 – Forbes plays in the center of midfield and is, at 34, the veteran presence in the Riverhounds’ attack. Forbes was playing indoor soccer in upstate New York when he picked up by manager Bob Lilley at the Rochester Rhinos. Forbes followed Lilley to Pittsburgh when Rhinos went on hiatus. Forbes’ goals are down this year, scoring only his second in Pittsburgh’s last match against Sacramento, but he has a career-high 10 assists. Like the other two people highlighted here, Forbes i 5’10”, apparently the only height the Riverhounds recruits.
Lineup and Score Predictions
I was prepared to predict Azocar over Formella before the news about Formella’s knock. I think the team just looked electric with Rito/Azocar/Memo all on the field. Otherwise, I don’t see changes even if Emrah is healthy. Fuenmayor and Barbir were brought in as upgrades to the back line, and although I don’t know if they are playing better than the Klimenta/Greene line from last season, I think you are finally seeing what the team saw in bringing them in. Pittsburgh aren’t in the best form, and although they have had a playoff berth wrapped for awhile, I think they’re probably about on a level with the playoff-cusp teams in the West. I wish this game wasn’t in Pittsburgh, but the Roots have shown some road strength under Delgado. They will need to build on that, as they are unlikely to play at Laney again this season. I think the Roots have enough for this one, but I think it’s nervy. Ultimately the Roots need this win more than Pittsburgh does. 2-1 Roots.
The blog has been told that Darek Formella picked up a knock, which opens the door for our requests on RootsPod of Juan Carlos Azocar starting at left wing. I could certainly see Noah Delgado reverting back to Mikael Johnsen–who I still think is perhaps the most technically gifted player on the team–but Azocar moving into the attack in the recent 3-1 win over Hartford could be a clue on what Delgado prefers. With that, it enables Memo Diaz back on the pitch, which I feel gives Oakland the most tools to use in a game. As for the back line, the question remains whether Emrah Klimenta returns to the starting 11. Until Klimenta is re-installed, I’m sticking with the same back three of Morad, Fuenmayor, and Barbir. As for my score prediction, I’m going with a similar season-finale to last year; 1-0 Roots.
I’ll predict Jon’s alternate scenario–that Johnsen replaces Formella if he is indeed out with a knock. This will or maybe should play more like a 3-5-2, with an emphasis on clogging up the middle of the pitch and then trying to spring Rito/Azocar down the wings on the counter. Roots seem to be absolutely flying right now, both in terms of their play on the field and in terms of the type and volume of travel they are accumulating. I hope the players get to stick these trips on their individual frequent flyer accounts–the last two away days alone probably get you 2/3 of the way to A-List status on Southwest Rapid Rewards. Anyway, I bring it up only because the travel can wear on you. I can see a sluggish start in this one, but this is a motivated team with lots of options to mix things up in the last half hour if need be. 2-1 Roots, with the winner coming after the 80th minute.