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Riverhounds trying to rediscover chemistry

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vs. Charleston

6 p.m.

Highmark Stadium

Previous meeting: 1-1, June 15, 2013, in Pittsburgh

Key players: On-loan midfielder Brian Ownby was recalled to Houston Dynamo for the MLS club's game Wednesday but is expected to be back in the Riverhounds' lineup after scoring his first goal Saturday in Richmond. Charleston striker Dane Kelly scored his first goal of the year in a 1-1 draw last week against the New York Red Bulls' Reserves.

Inside the matchup: Both playoff teams a year ago, the Riverhounds (0-2-2) and Battery (0-1-3) are mired in the bottom three of USL Pro to start 2014. Charleston defender Colin Falvey and Riverhounds striker Collins John will both miss the match due to suspensions.

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The strength of the Riverhounds in 2013 has yet to find its stride this season.

Four games into the USL Pro season, the Riverhounds have allowed a league-high 10 goals, and the defensive woes are a big reason the club is still seeking its first win, when it hosts Charleston at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The Riverhounds (0-2-2) reached the playoffs last season on the strength of a defense that allowed just 33 goals in 26 regular-season games, the fourth best mark in the league. The back line has yet to click as lineup shuffling and uncertain play has led to opponents getting plenty of scoring chances.

“We really need to get the guys' chemistry together,” Riverhounds coach Justin Evans said. “We've been changing the formation a little, trying to play with three guys in the back. We've just got to get more together with our shape and staying connected.”

One of Evans' biggest challenges is finding the right group for the starting lineup. In four matches, the Riverhounds have started seven different players on defense, and the team has yet to use the same combination twice.

The team also has shifted from the 4-4-2 formation it used almost exclusively last season to experiementing with a 3-5-2 formation. Though the attack has looked more potent at times with the additional midfielder, the gaps in the defense have lingered whether three or four players are stationed in the back.

“It's been frustrating. We have to clean things up, but we're only four games in, so it's still early,” said defender Mike Green, who has started three of the four games. “We've had some people in and out of the lineup, and it's been hard to find that chemistry, but we have to get it done no matter who is on the field.”

The lineup shuffling has led to communication trouble that has resulted in goals.

In the last two games against Wilmington and Richmond, the first goal conceded by the Riverhounds came on a shot from long distance. Multiple defenders were in good position both times, but no one stepped forward to close out the shooter, which allowed a clean look at the goal.

“You have to be comfortable knowing that if you step to the ball, there's going to be someone to cover behind you,” Evans said. “We need to be better at pressing the ball and not letting the player with it do what he wants to do. That's something we've worked on all this week.”

The Riverhounds did show improvement in defending set pieces.

After conceding two goals on free kicks and one from a corner kick in the first three games, the Riverhounds did a much better job against Richmond to allow fewer set pieces and defend the ones they faced.

“Last week against Richmond, we played much better than the first time we went down there,” Green said. “We're slowly starting to buy in to our system, playing-wise, and we just have to put in work. That's really what it comes down to — working for your teammates and wanting it more than the other team.”

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