It may be the first season of a new era, but head coach Bob Lilley has built a team that fits the mold of a city that prides itself on toughness.
It is accurate to say Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC is on pace to shatter club records on the defensive side of the ball and leads the league in multiple defensive statistics, but it still does not paint the whole picture of how dominant its defense has been throughout the first half of the 2018 campaign.
As Pittsburgh (8-1-7) prepares for its 17th game of the season, it will again strive to smother its opposition during a road battle against Ottawa Fury FC (6-7-3) at 1 p.m. on Sunday at TD Place Stadium. In their first meeting this year, the Hounds shut out Fury FC and held it to only three total shots.
“Everyone defends,” defender Todd Pratzner said. “Everyone does their job. All 11 guys are doing their thing and when you have that – that’s why we’re doing well defensively. It’s not just the back four. It’s not just the goalkeeper. It’s everyone locking in, everyone doing their job, everyone tracking back. I think that’s why we’ve done well so far.”
Currently, the Hounds have shut out adversaries in their last four games and have not allowed a goal in the past 397 minutes of gameplay. Furthermore, the club has more clean sheets (11) than goals allowed (seven) for the entire season.
Digging deeper into the defensive numbers, Pittsburgh is the only team in the USL to have allowed less than 10 goals in 2018. As for shots allowed, the Black and Gold have conceded 130 total shots this season, which would be the least shots of all USL teams if there were a squad named “Riverhounds SC opponents.”
“I think now everyone knows their job and knows what everyone else has to do,” Pratzner said. “Now it’s just about executing, so I think we’ve done a good job of that.”
Pratzner said the key to their defensive success has been communication and a willingness to work hard in practice and during games day after day.
This tireless work ethic has the club on pace to shatter a team record that has stood since its 2004 season. Currently allowing just 0.44 goals per game this year, it is nearly half as much as its ’04 mark of 0.85 goals allowed per match.
Whether the Hounds will continue to lower their 2018 goals-against average is to be seen, but they have had past success against Ottawa. In three all-time meetings, Pittsburgh has posted a 0.33 goals-against average versus Fury FC.
“We know we have a bit of a break after this game, so it’s an important game for us,” Lilley said. “Whenever you have a break, you want to go into that break with a good result.”
Following Sunday, Riverhounds SC will not be in action until a July 21 home date against the Charleston Battery – 13 days after its showdown with Ottawa. As the team looks to finish the first half of the 2018 campaign on a high note, it will aim higher for this season’s second act.
“Every day, we just got to keep getting better,” Pratzner said. “We’re not just going to sit on it because we’ve done well. We need to keep improving. We need to come every day and keep getting better, keep learning, keep growing, and go at it every game and defend as a team.”