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Hounds take aim at Open Cup play

By David Borne, 05/14/19, 11:00AM EDT

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Each year, clubs from each professional soccer league in the nation meet in the same bracket for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will get its first taste of Open Cup action at 7 p.m. this Tuesday, hosting the Dayton Dutch Lions at Highmark Stadium.

“We’re just going to try to qualify for the next round,” midfielder Thomas Vancaeyezeele said. “We’re the favorite, so we have to win that game. We’re going to do everything to win, and it’s at home, so we’re happy to receive the chance to play here at Highmark.”

Dayton represents USL League Two in the tournament. The club has yet to kick off its 2019 regular season slate but finished last season as USL PDL Central Conference Champions with an 8-4-3 record.

Hounds’ midfielder Robbie Mertz noted that even if the opposition plays in a lower league, it can never be taken lightly. The rookie assured the club will bring the same energy and intensity as it would on any other night.

“I think everyone is just going to be focused the same way we usually are,” Mertz said. “Things could change up a little bit because it’s an Open Cup game, but everyone that’s going to be on the field will think the same way.”

Mertz also mentioned Tuesday’s game will give the Black and Gold a chance to stay in form before returning to USL Championship regular season play. Not only will the match against Dayton provide a chance to advance in the tournament, but it will also get the team rolling before getting back into regular season action.

“It’ll be nice to have a little bit of a change of pace with a game in the middle of the week instead of just four or five days of practice,” Mertz said. “It’ll keep us at a high level of mental focus and physical preparation.”

The match against Dayton will be the first of two the Hounds have on the schedule this week. The club will head to AutoZone Park this weekend to take on Memphis 901 FC on Saturday.

With such a quick turnaround between games, the Hounds could rely upon the play of their bench to help keep everyone comfortable.

“We’re all ready to go,” Mertz said. “Everyone has been growing in training these last few weeks, and I think it’s getting to a higher level. I think the guys at the bottom of the depth chart are the ones kind of driving that and bringing it up, so that the whole team is playing at a different level.”

Vancaeyezeele kept things simple when asked about the Open Cup match, mentioning the club is just looking to put a sound 90 minutes together and grab a victory.

Last season, the midfielder did manage to find the back of the net in the tournament. While he didn’t want to make any guarantees about his offensive production, he did make one thing clear.

“I’m going to try my best to do it again,” Vancaeyezeele said.