Riverhounds (0-0-0) vs. Birmingham Legion FC (0-0-0)
Date: Saturday, March 11
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Protective Stadium, Birmingham, Ala.
Odds: Hounds +270 / Draw +260 / Birmingham -121 (Bet Rivers)
TV: CW Pittsburgh
Streaming: ESPN+ (national), CW Pittsburgh (local)
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #BHMvPIT and #HOUNDTAHN
(March 10, 2023) — The 24th season of Riverhounds soccer will kick off at the site of the team’s biggest victory a year ago, as the Hounds visit Birmingham Legion FC to kick off the 2023 USL Championship season Saturday night in Alabama.
The game is a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal when the Hounds twice rallied — first in regulation and again in extra time — with goals by Edward Kizza to send the match to penalty kicks and eventually advance on the 10th kick of the shootout, 2-2 (8-7).
Kizza returns to the scene as one of 10 returning Hounds from a season ago, as the team will trot out a revamped lineup trying to make that next step by improving on last year’s 16-9-9 record and moving beyond the conference semifinal round. The spine of the team is loaded with returning starters, from goalkeeper Jahmali Waite and center back Arturo Ordóñez, and moving forward through playmaking midfielders Kenardo Forbes and Robbie Mertz up to a front line spearheaded by 11-goal scorer Albert Dikwa. Forbes and Mertz posted 19 assists between them in 2022 — six of Mertz’s came with Atlanta before his midseason transfer — which ties them as the USL Championship’s top returning assists duo with Memphis’ Aaron Molloy and Jeremy Kelly.
On the Birmingham side, there is no shortage of attacking threats, including a bunch with history involving the Hounds. One of the Legion’s biggest offseason additions was Neco Brett, the Hounds’ top scorer in 2018 and ’19 who authored a four-goal masterpiece against Birmingham in the 2019 playoffs. The Legion also added former Hounds winger Tyler Pasher, who after breaking into USL with Pittsburgh went on to torment the Hounds with some clutch goals for Indy Eleven.
The reason Birmingham comes into the season so highly regarded, however, is the quality of their returning parts, led by their veteran attack centerpiece Enzo Martinez, who at age 32 is still coming off a career-best 15-goal season. Matt Van Oekel returns in goal for the Legion, and in front of him will be a defense that helped him post 11 clean sheets a season ago with the likes of Phanuel Kavita and Alex Croganle anchoring the back.
Season openers have been a mixed bag through Hounds history, as the team’s 7-8-8 record is almost as even as it could be in first matches. Two of the last three have gone the Hounds’ way, including last year, when then team withstood an early Memphis challenge before running away with a 3-0 win away from home. Being on the road is also par for the course, as the team begins away from home for the 18th time in 24 years, including all six seasons under Bob Lilley.
Tomorrow’s match will be the first as part of the Hounds’ new television deal with CW Pittsburgh, which will bring 22 matches to the Pittsburgh airwaves and stream those matches online, free of charge within the Pittsburgh market. Those outside of the region will still be able to catch every Hounds match this year as part of the USL Championship’s renewed deal with ESPN+.
And fans who want to meet up to watch the game have a perfect opportunity to do so at the official team watch party at Mike’s Beer Bar on the North Shore. Meet the Hounds at Mike’s starting at 7 p.m. for a chance to win an exclusive VIP Ticket & Experience package for the home opener, play Hounds trivia and celebrate the start of a new season with your fellow Pittsburgh sports fans!
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