Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC kicks off its 2021 season this Saturday, May 8, on the road with a trip to visit last year’s Eastern Conference champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and be shown locally on WPNT, 22 The Point.
But before game day arrives, here are some things to watch in the season opener:
1.) Running wild
Many of the Hounds’ offseason acquisitions were geared toward making the attack more potent, and whether starting or off the bench, we almost certainly will see some combination of Alex Dixon, Russell Cicerone, Tommy Williamson or other newcomers as part of the forward line.
When the Hounds have been at their best in the preseason, they have been making runs to get between and behind defenders, particularly on the flanks. If they are able to force Tampa’s formidable back line of Forrest Lasso, Aaron Guillen and Jordan Scarlett to turn their backs and defend facing their own goal, it will be a good sign for both the 90 minutes Saturday and for things to come this season.
2.) Even Steevan
Saturday will be a reunion for the Hounds with former teammate Steevan Dos Santos, who was signed this offseason by Tampa Bay. The big forward started the Rowdies’ season opener and played 86 minutes in the 3-0 win over the Charlotte Independence, making his presence felt even without hitting the scoresheet.
Dos Santos’ ability to hold the ball and create chances makes him an effective foil for speedy Rowdies’ top scorer Sebastián Guenzatti, who scored twice Saturday. To prevent Dos Santos from doing so, the Hounds will want to deny Dos Santos the ball as much as possible and limit his playmaking ability with pressure on the ball when he does receive it.
3.) Weathering the weather
Fitness is always a concern at the outset of a season, but the Hounds also will have to contend with Floridian heat in addition to having to go 90 minutes.
The forecast for Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla. is for a high of 86 degrees, and that likely will only drop to around 80 by kickoff time. That could be a shock to the system for players who have been training in temperatures in the 50s and 60s this week, and it will put an added importance on how Bob Lilley balances the need for fresh legs vs. the need to make any tactical changes.
Fatigue also could be more of an issue if the Hounds struggle in possession or trail early and have to chase the game, so don’t be surprised to see the visiting side try to pace themselves in the opening minutes.