3 Things: #CLTvPIT
The Hounds are on the road again, and no place has been harder for the team to win than Charlotte, N.C. But with a six-match unbeaten streak, something has to give when the Hounds face the Charlotte Independence at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Right around the same time the smooth sounds of Grammy-winner Gregory Porter will be coming from Highmark Stadium as part of the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, the Hounds will be taking the field at American Legion Memorial Stadium in hopes of making some noise of their own.
The Hounds are 0-5-2 all-time when facing the Independence on the road, and their last win in the city of Charlotte came way back on Aug. 29, 2014, 1-0 over the Charlotte Eagles, who were then coached by future Hounds boss Mark Steffens.
So while the sweetest sounds Saturday will be coming from our Highmark home, here are the 3 Things to look for as the Hounds try to silence the crowd in Charlotte.
1.) One? Oh.
The past four meetings between the two teams have ended with 1-0 scores, three of them in favor of the Independence, but each time the games have been vastly different.
This year, the Independence bunkered down with 10 men and held an early lead, the Hounds dominated but couldn't find a second goal, and then the Independence had the better of play but sloppy weather kept scoring down. But the common thread to all three was, when a goal was scored, the team that conceded - whether through lack of will or lack of execution - never truly threatened to rally.
Regardless of which team gets the opening goal, the stakes in this match mean the conceding team's coach will almost certainly implore his team to take risks and not let this one end as another 1-0 result. That could lead to more open play and chances on both ends, and whoever gets the second goal - either making it 2-0 or 1-1 - will have a major momentum boost.
2.) Packing it in
The Hounds are likely to see one of the team's former goalkeepers, Austin Pack, for the second time this season in the Charlotte net.
Pack has shown himself as a capable fill-in for injured Brandon Miller over the past month, but the Hounds barely made him work in the previous meeting with only a single shot on net.
Charlotte is coming off back-to-back shutouts, but Pack hasn't had the heaviest workload, needing to make just 10 saves while his team has gone 4-1-2 in the past seven matches. Whether they face Pack, a just-back-from-injury Miller or an untested third choice in net, shots on goal might be the biggest metric determining if this is a successful attacking night for the Hounds.
3.) Wings flying high
While the 5-0 rout over Loudoun last Saturday might not be a match to read too much into, one positive was the offensive spark provided by Ezra Armstrong, who recorded his first two assists in USL on the Hounds' final two goals.
Armstrong did something Bob Lilley always wants to see from his outside midfielders and/or wing backs, making the overlapping run and creating havoc by getting to the goal line. While Alex Dixon has been consistently dangerous getting forward in that manner, the opposite wing hasn't had a steady threat like that, despite both Dani Rovira and Todd Wharton having good moments in that role.
Armstrong has a little more pace than Rovira and Wharton, meaning he can be more dynamic, but he lacks the consistency and defensive responsibility of the other two. Still, if Armstrong can be a consistent attacking threat when he is deployed on the opposite side from Dixon, that will stretch and open defenses for players to flow through the middle and finish.
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