Riverhounds' soccer playoffs draw plays to their favor
For the second time this month, the Riverhounds are flying to Florida in search of a win to keep their season alive.
The Hounds are the No. 7 seed in the USL Pro playoffs and start the postseason on the road against No. 2 Orlando City in the quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Though seeding indicates a win for the Hounds (10-8-8) would be an upset, their results against Orlando (16-4-6) indicate otherwise. The Riverhounds played a scoreless draw against Orlando on July 17 at Highmark Stadium before winning the second meeting, 1-0, on Aug. 3. That win pushed the Hounds into the top eight of USL Pro for good as the team held on for a playoff spot.
“Both times we played them, we played excellent games,” midfielder Matt Dallman said. “To shut out Orlando for two games speaks highly for our defense, but with our offense and their offense, you never know. One play could change the game.”
Dallman has been the Hounds' top playmaker this year with a USL Pro-leading 12 assists, including a handful to striker Jose Angulo, who set a USL Pro record with 15 goals this season. Hounds keeper Hunter Gilstrap has a 1.19 goals-against average behind a defense that has given up more than one goal twice in the last nine games.
On the opposite side, Orlando comes into the match looking little like the team that started league play 10-1-2.
Orlando's own 15-goal scorer and the co-holder of the USL Pro goals record, Dominic Dwyer, has returned to the MLS after his loan from Sporting Kansas City ended. Jamie Watson, second on the team with 10 goals, and opening-day starting keeper Jonathan Kempin have not played since July because of injuries.
But even against a weakened Orlando side, the Hounds expect a major challenge.
“Everybody knows what's at stake at this point,” Hounds coach Justin Evans said. “I think the one thing we can take from the draw here and the win down there is confidence.”
“I think when we play well, there's no one in the league that can stay with us,” Dallman said.
Because it is a playoff game, an extra 30 minutes and possibly deciding who advances on penalty kicks is possible.
The Hounds did just that in their U.S. Open Cup first-round game, a win on penalty kicks over Chicago amateur side RWB Adria.
“You want to make sure you're prepared for every circumstance — offensive, defensive and penalty kicks,” Dallman said. “It could help (having been in a shootout), but the pace we're playing at against Orlando compared to the pace against (Adria) is night and day.”
The Hounds ended the regular season with four games in eight days, but even if the quarterfinal goes the distance, Evans said his team is ready after a full week of practice.
“When you're playing games, it's tough to keep everybody on the same fitness regimen,” Evans said. “This week, we were able to keep everybody healthy and fit and really work on some things that we haven't been able to.”