This season, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ biggest problem seems to be finding the back of their opponent’s net.
But there’s another big problem that the team faces, and it has to do with the starting lineup.
Under former head coach Mark Steffens, there was some consistency with his starting eleven. Now, under head coach Dave Brandt, the lineup seems to change almost constantly.
Since Brandt has been the head coach, only once have the Riverhounds (2-8-3) had the same goalkeeper in back-to-back matches; Mauricio Vargas started back-to-back for the Riverhounds against the New York Red Bulls II on May 28 and the Charleston Battery on June 4.
But then, on June 11 against the Richmond Kickers, Hunter Gilstrap, who hadn’t started since May 7 against the Red Bulls II, got the nod to start in goal. The next week against FC Montreal, Vargas was back in net, but in the Riverhounds’ most recent game on Saturday, Gilstrap got the nod against the Rochester Rhinos.
There hasn’t been consistency with the defensive back four, either. The only player to continuously start in his respective left centerback position has been Willie Hunt. Under Brandt, natural midfielders such as Conor Branson and Marshall Hollingsworth have been playing defensively — Brandt has gone so far as to move Branson to a centerback position (twice).
There have been frequent switches at right and left back, too. Karsten Smith, who usually plays right centerback, was moved to the right back position against the Rhinos; Left back was reserved for Hollingsworth.
Inconsistency isn’t a good look for a soccer team. And frequent keeper changes really hurt a team, especially as goalies are the main communicators on the pitch. They don’t just communicate with the defense, they have to communicate up the field to the midfielders and forwards, too. Juggling Gilstrap and Vargas isn’t in the Riverhounds’ best interest.
The Riverhounds also need a consistent back four to establish some chemistry. Because players have different playing styles on the pitch, they need to consistently play with each other to avoid breaking a rhythm — that, for this team, needs to be created in the first place.
Brandt has (for the most part) kept a consistent midfield and forward group. Corey Hertzog and Zak Boggs make appearances regularly up top, and Duwayne Ewart comes on most matches as a sub. (If Ewart gets the start, he’s normally subbed off in the second half for Boggs.) But now, with the recent signings, a wrinkle has been added to the lineup as Jack Thompson has been added to the mix of forwards.
In the midfield, captain Kevin Kerr is always there. Stephen Okai and Lebo Moloto are typically by his side — although Moloto has started a few games at forward. Mike Green is also a familiar face in the midfield, but he’s played a few games at right back. The Riverhounds also have Danny Earls, Nick Thompson, Branson and Hollingsworth.
The Riverhounds need to find their consistent starting XI. While they have their midfield and forward players figured out, the team needs to address the back four and, more importantly, the goalkeeper positions.
The Riverhounds can start finding some consistency July 4 against the Harrisburg City Islanders. The match is slated for a 7 p.m. EDT kickoff.
Image credit: Terry O’Neill/Riverhounds.com