Subbing into the game, forward Kay Banjo soon found himself in the middle of the action.
Holding the ball on the North Carolina FC side of the halfway line, the forward soon faced pressure and distributed a key pass to Christiano François, who stood open on the right flank. François did the rest, sprinting into the penalty area and scoring the equalizer in Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s eventual 2-1 defeat this past Saturday.
The Hounds (9-3-7) now face a quick turnaround and will clash with the Richmond Kickers (5-11-3) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Highmark Stadium. This will mark the second game of a three-games-in-eight-days stretch for the club – a period that it will depend on team depth and substitutions, such as Banjo’s substitution during the aforementioned North Carolina FC showdown.
“I feel good right now,” Banjo said. “Early in the season, I picked up a hamstring injury. Those take time, and even when you think you’re fine you’re not. I stuck through it and kept working and feel good.”
This hamstring injury slowed Banjo in his second season with the Hounds. As the club underwent a change at head coach for the 2018 season, Banjo had to learn and become familiar with a new system while undergoing his rehabilitation process.
This past Saturday against North Carolina FC, Banjo posted his first point since recording six points in his 2017 rookie season with the Hounds. The Upper Marlboro, Maryland native also logged a 2018 game-high 59 minutes in this match.
As an injury has more so eased Banjo into the lineup this season, another teammate just returned from a midseason injury last time out against North Carolina FC.
“I feel pretty good,” midfielder Ben Zemanski said. “Obviously game fitness is still coming, but overall my body feels pretty good. It feels good to be back out there with the boys.”
Zemanski, who accumulated 27 minutes last time out, said as he missed contests due to injury, he still found ways to help fellow Hounds read the game and provide advice to teammates all while focusing much of his time on rehabilitating his lower-body injury.
In addition to the veteran leadership Zemanski has provided Pittsburgh this season, there has been another player who has helped younger athletes – one who has specifically helped take Banjo under his wing.
“Dennis Chin and I in the locker room sit right next to each other,” Banjo said. “As much as we’re teammates, he’s been in the game for a while so he gives a lot of advice on getting in behind and running and not being just a stand-up striker. He teaches that part of the game and he does it well. I see it every day at practice, so that is what I get out of his game and is something I need to work on, too.”
Leading up to Wednesday’s match against Richmond, the Hounds began the week with recovery from the short turnaround. The club also will look to regain its rhythm as it works in a specific game plan, one aimed at defeating the Kickers for the second time this season (Pittsburgh was earlier victorious against Richmond, winning 2-1 on June 2 at City Stadium).
“We’ve faced some weeks like this throughout the season, so we are all well prepared for it,” Zemanski said. “We have a deep squad, so guys can step up if [head coach Bob Lilley] decides to rotate the squad a bit. We’re prepared and we’re looking to bounce back after the couple losses.”